Willing to pay the price
Price Hill neighborhood is one of Cincinnati’s worst—a mix of drugs, gangs, prostitution, and transients. Heroin overdoses are setting records.
“It’s not a safe place when the sun goes down,” says Captain Doug Richwine, the co–pastor of the Cincinnati West Side Corps. “It’s just a really rough neighborhood.”
Into this tempest, the corps has sent a four–member Urban Mission Team as an outreach to the troubled community.
The team includes James Eller, 22; Kyle Mottinger, 23; and twin brothers Curtis and Chris Zarmbus, 21. The Salvation Army has a similar Urban Mission Team in Dayton, Ohio, a program initiated by Major Larry Ashcraft, commander of the Southwest Ohio and Northeast Kentucky (SWONEKY) Division.
Captain Doug and his wife, Captain Patricia (Patty) Richwine, say the Urban Mission Team has revitalized the corps by reaching out to at–risk teens.
“There’s been slow growth and the bedrock is the Urban Mission Team,” Captain Doug said. “That’s what’s bringing vitality to this corps. It’s helped our corps immensely. There’s life in it now. There’s purpose.”
“Both of these guys got saved coming here,” Captain Doug said of the brothers. “They were not churched, and they got saved in this building. Now they’ve turned it around and they’re leading others.
“I’m a pastor, teacher, discipler, and mentor,” the captain continued. “I give evangelistic messages, but I’m not an evangelist. These guys are evangelists. People get saved under their ministry.”
Outside the church
Captain Patty said the brothers have grown spiritually and socially, adding, “They get out in the streets and they know how to talk to people.”
The Zarmbus brothers said growing up in the neighborhood is an advantage in their outreach.
“They can relate to us,” says Chris. “They know we come from the same background. We lived in the neighborhood and they know us.”
The corps didn’t have many teens before, but now anywhere from 10 to 15 show up Tuesdays for Bible study, Fridays for video games and pizza, and Saturdays to play card games. They also come to church on Sundays.
Some of the teens show up on Thursdays to help teach children in the Kid’s Club.
“[Attendance] continues to grow,” said Curtis. “Every week, we get two or three more.”
The corps has taken some of the teens to Youth Councils and other divisional events.
“We’ve had a few profess to be saved,” said Captain Doug.
Eller, who has been a part of the Urban Mission Team since 2014, teaches the teen Bible study and said he has seen growth.
“They were engaged right from the beginning,” Eller said. “Most of them knew nothing about the Bible and they knew nothing about Jesus or Christianity. It’s been a year now since they first came and the improvement has been tremendous.”
Eller said the teens are involved in Bible Bowl this year. Many are already memorizing Scripture in Corps Cadets and Senior Soldier classes. A new drama program has been a draw.
“Once we get a solid group, we’re going to start performing,” Eller said. “They’re really invested in the corps and they’re also sharing the Gospel with their friends, who have come to church.
A shining light
“They’re growing and they’re engaged and they’re investing in this church and I believe it’s changing their lives.”
Kyle, who started with the Urban Mission Team in August, said his favorite activity is helping out with Kid’s Club, where children come for crafts, gym, snacks, and the Bible.
“A lot of the kids grow up without fathers and get influenced by drugs and violence,” he said. “I see The Salvation Army as a beacon of hope amid the darkness. I’m just trying to make a difference in the community where I’m living.
“My main goal is just to build relationships with some of the kids and adults in the area and just be a positive influence and a friend.”
Kyle, a student at Cincinnati Christian University, met The Salvation Army there during a ministry fair. He lives in the neighborhood with James and the Zarmbus brothers.
“We often walk through the neighborhood and talk to people,” Curtis said.
Bringing in the sheep
Many teens hang out at a local library. Chris remembers reading his Bible at the library when three teens asked him questions. He invited them to church, but was surprised when they showed up at his house at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday ready to go.
“They came to church and heard the sermon,” he said. “It kind of drew them in. They’ve been here ever since. I love doing what God asked us to do.”
One of the first things Curtis and Chris did was invite the teens to the corps on Saturday to play a card game called Yu–Gi–Oh. The event drew 18 teens the first week and 15 every Saturday since.
“All of this from a card game,” said Captain Doug, shaking his head in amazement.
Just being there
On Friday nights, the teens can enjoy an open gym and also eat pizza and play video games, board games, charades, and lip sync.
“It’s a time to hang out and talk, and if anyone has any problems, they can come to us,” Curtis said.
Many of the teens have difficult home lives, and the team is around for encouragement and prayer support.
“Coming to the corps gives them an opportunity to get out of that environment and into a good environment, even if it’s only for a few hours a day,” Curtis said. “They do know that there are people here who love them and we’re going to be here for them and help them and pray with them. To be able to speak Scripture with them is great.”
Curtis said some of the teens have confided that they bounce around from house to house and don’t always get to eat. The Salvation Army meal goes a long way in their lives.
A place of safety
“They ask for prayer a lot,” he said. “They know that even though their home life is not the best, they have a family with us and with The Salvation Army.”
Captain Patty said that, for many of the teens, the corps is an oasis from what goes on outside.
“There is stability here,” she said. “They know they can count on these guys.”
The road each member has traveled to the Urban Mission Team is unique.
Curtis said he came to the corps three years ago to stand kettles, but he admits his only motivation was to make money.
“Once I started working with them, it just changed my life,” he said. “I got to see where the money goes and how it helps. It completely changed me. I suddenly wasn’t doing it for the money anymore; I was doing it to help people.”
Finding their calling
Curtis said the Richwines helped him deal with the loss of his parents and to discover his spiritual gifts.
“What is calling me to continue doing this is seeing the faces of the people we help,” he said. “It’s just so amazing to see the lives that have been changed.”
Chris said, when he and Curtis were young, his family struggled. There wasn’t a lot of food, clothes, or even money to do laundry. He remembers sitting in his room and praying for his family to be closer.
“I didn’t get a personal family, but I got a spiritual family,” he said. “I have gotten a family with this corps … and that’s how I know God exists. I know He is looking out for me.”
Chris said he feels called to officership.
“I want to help save as many people as I can,” he said. “I feel officership is the best opportunity for me to do that.”
Mottinger, a native of Indianapolis, had dropped out of Ball State University and was living as an “agnostic” when his father invited him to church.
“I felt the love of God for the first time through the people in that church,” he said. “It changed my life.”
Mottinger said that’s the kind of selfless love he wants to show the people of Price Hill.
“I’m very aware that being in the trenches of a rough area and reaching out to these kids, I know it’s going to deeply impact me,” he said. “It’s going to change my perspective. It’s going to hopefully draw me closer to Jesus and help me with my faith.”
A fourth–generation Salvationist, Eller grew up in Dayton. Before coming to Cincinnati, he was a dishwasher at the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in his hometown.
His life changed dramatically at age 16 when Lieutenant Stephen Mayes, who was then a youth pastor in Dayton, taught him about holiness. Eller wrote, “My goal in life is for people to look at me and see Jesus.” He kept the written goal in his room.
“From then on, I began a journey toward holiness,” he said. “I’ve come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. The work I do for the Urban Mission Team, and everything I do here is just a part of that journey.”
photography and story by Robert Mitchell