Phyllis and Jim Null are urban missionaries who asked, ‘Lord, where do you want us?’ and found that the answer was the Village of Lockland. That’s where they started The Metanoia Center, a faith-based nonprofit organization focused on life-skills, education, and ministry.
Metanoia’s mission is creating relationships that will transform people and the place where they live. This philosophy guides everything the Nulls do in Lockland, a diverse community plagued with poverty and unemployment.
“One of our core values is we don’t want to be outside experts coming into a community saying ‘this is what you should do,’ ” Jim said. “We want to become a part of the fabric of the community … rather than trying to come in with all the solutions and all the answers.”
The couple has been a part of the community since they bought a home and moved to Lockland in 2018. They spent the next two years walking around the 1.2-square mile village, meeting people and building relationships.
“We’d stop and introduce ourselves and ask questions,” Phyllis explained. “We asked the Lord to knit our hearts to the community, because we wanted to be totally and completely integrated in the community.”
What can we do together?
Jim and Phyllis met residents, business owners, school administrators, teachers, elected officials, and pastors. They asked, ‘what can we do together to improve this community?’ And they listened.
“The same themes kept bubbling up to the top,” Jim said. “Jobs, medical care, help with education, and help with finances.”
Lockland Schools let Phyllis and Jim use a classroom to teach adult classes at night. They started with Faith & Finances, a financial education course for low-income adults. Next came English as a Second Language classes (Lockland has a large immigrant population), computer training, and faith-based afterschool programs for all ages.
Metanoia gets a home
When a run-down abandoned building on N. Wayne Avenue became available in early 2020, the village sold it to the Metanoia Center for one dollar. When the building next door went up for sale, a donation allowed them to purchase it.
Both buildings have been gutted. It took 170 volunteers to clear out 37 tons of trash and debris.
The Metanoia Center will eventually be home to a medical clinic, a laundromat, and a commercial laundry service that will employ residents. There will be space for classes, mentoring, and tutoring. Two second-floor apartments will generate revenue.
The buildings at 113 and 115 N. Wayne Avenue are a metaphor for the Metanoia Center’s mission in Lockland.
“We’re transforming the buildings,” Jim said. “It’s painful, it’s hard work, it’s difficult, and it’s long term. And that’s what happens in people’s lives. People’s lives are slowly but truly changing.”
The buildings were abandoned and left in disrepair, and many people in Lockland feel the same way. “We tell people that we’re here to stay,” Phyllis said. “We tell them we care for them and we want to hear their story. We want to assure them that we are hearing what they are saying, and that we’re in this with them.”
While there’s much work to be done, the Metanoia Center has already brought to Lockland a sense of hope and a sense that somebody cares. “We love this community and we love what’s happening,” Phyllis said.
Jim adds, “None of it is easy, but it’s a lot of fun.”
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