When in his first year of college Will Porter read the book “When Helping Hurts” written by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and in which they address poverty, it opened his eyes to the ways injustice persists not only in other parts of the world but also and especially in his own backyard.
“The book shifted my understanding and views of missions,” says Porter. “It showed me that I could be a religious missionary not only overseas but just as well where I live… learning about and fighting the injustices that so many people in my country, particularly in inner cities, face daily, i.e. poverty, racism, inequality, health disparity, injustice against women, etc.” “The book also helped me realize that engaging and dismantling these injustices had to be an essential part of the Christian church’s mission,” he adds.
Porter grew up in a small town in North Central Indiana, in a family devoted to Christianity and to Jesus, both his parents being children ministers at the small local Wesleyan church. He accompanied them every Sunday to service and to Bible school, also learned from them the basis of his faith.
At the age of 13, he started dating a girl, his future wife, whose father was a youth pastor in a different Christian church in the neighboring town. He switched to attending it, his future father-in-law serving as his spiritual mentor.
“As I matured I began to see religion through the lens of engaging with the world around me,” he states.
In school, Porter was very successful not only academically but also at sports, playing on the football team. In his last two years of high school, he led the school’s chapter of FCA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a nationwide organization, and facilitated a Bible study, once a week, with his classmates; they met, addressed and discussed different religious topics, exchanged, improved and deepened their knowledge and faith. During middle and high school, he also participated in his church’s mission trips to Haiti, to an Apache Native American reservation in Arizona and to Cincinnati. He helped in various manual labors, building a basket ball court in Jacmel, Haiti, painting walls and buildings, in youth activities and Bible teachings.
For three years, he was also involved, in his own town, with Kokomo Urban Outreach, which mission is to mentor and provide tools to empower others to reach their highest potential. Twice a month Porter will participate in the hosting of cook outs, in helping at soup kitchens, engaging with kids in the projects, serving the underserved and helping them face many of their ongoing issues – financial, physical, etc.
For undergrad, Porter went to Ozark Christian College in Joplin, MO, and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Justice. The summer following his freshman year he married his longtime girlfriend, who also had enrolled in the same college and graduated at the same time with the same major. Porter’s years at Ozark were eye-opening, exposing him to diverse thinking, shaping his worldviews, and guiding his faith toward justice, familiarizing him with the Bible’s teachings in that area and especially with Jesus’ outlook at injustice and how He interacted with those who experienced it, the poor, the vulnerable, those at the fringe of society.
“My awakening and passion for justice happened during my college years,” he says. “They determined my future path and involvements, my calling to a different type of mission, one which would take me to inner cities to confront and fight injustice.”
The same summer he married, Porter and his wife both got a job with Boys and Girls Club of America, a national organization of local chapters which provide after-school programs for young people. Most of the kids they interacted with were 5th grade and younger, poor, minorities, facing rough home situations. For 2 years Porter learned about their situation, helped them with their homework and functioned as their sports coach.
“It was a great opportunity for me to build a relationship with the kids, to serve as their role model and to impart a positive influence on them,” he says.
To fulfill a class assignment focusing on community service, Porter also volunteered for a year at God’s Resort, a transitional housing community which provides safe and affordable housing as well as relationship-based programs, events and activities to its residents. Located in Joplin, MO, it was based in a rehabbed church in a very poor part of town, where drugs and crime prevailed. Porter dealt with individuals with various addictions, many struggling financially, some just out of jail… He led Bible studies, worshipped with them and helped them get back on their feet in an otherwise unfriendly world.
In their third year of college and having to do a summer long internship for their Biblical Justice degree, Porter and his wife searched for one in an inner city setting. Through a conference they attended they learned of an opportunity at BLOC in Cincinnati. BLOC, which mission is to build relationships with neighbors and share hope in brokenness, was starting a performance center focused on sports activities, also a woman ministry, in their Price Hill location. Corresponding to their respective interests, the Porters visited the place and accepted the invitation to join. They have been there now for almost 2 years, interns the 1st 2 months, full time staff members afterwards.
At the performance center, Porter provides kids with general athletics training, also coaches them in basketball and football. Most of the kids, 10 to 18 years old, live in the vicinity of the center, where Porter and his wife also live. This provides the Porters a great opportunity to build and grow relationships with them and their family, and to share with them their values and their faith.
Porter’s wife works as a house manager for Weightless Anchor, a BLOC program that provides a respite to women from the world of the street by creating a safe haven where they are not shamed, but accepted and welcomed. These women struggle with addiction, prostitution, homelessness, and the center offers them a place to stay, eat, take a bath, be supported.
Through his position at BLOC, Porter is also connected to kids in and from the juvenile detention center. He spearheads his organization’s engagement with the Juvenile Justice System in Hamilton County offering, through the Tribe program, mentoring, tutoring, sports training and assistance in completing probation, to kids convicted of felonies.
“These kids on probation come to us after school,” says Porter. “We feed them, cloth them, teach them, drive them to probation meetings, advocate for them in court, etc.” “Our mission is to guide them down a path toward college or a career instead of recidivism and continued incarceration.”
Porter also goes to the detention center twice a month, on Saturdays, to organize recreation time for the jailed kids. This is how he meets other kids in detention, gets to know them, plays with them, tells them about Tribe and invites them to visit once out of jail or on probation.
“We help these kids get out of tough situations, and move back into a place where they can be active, valued and worthy members of society,” he states.
Outside of his BLOC involvement, Porter has volunteered freely his time for several months to the Amos Project, helping with Ohio issue 1, the Drug and Criminal Justice Policies Initiative, which unfortunately failed the ballot this last November. It was designed to reduce the number of people in state prisons for low-level, nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession and non-criminal probation violations.
“I think that the current drug laws within the criminal justice system in Ohio are unjust,” he says. “They only set people up to fail and prevent them from hearing the gospel of Jesus.”
During that time, Porter created and led a team of 10-15 individuals within his church and neighborhood to canvass the community, register people to vote and collect signatures for the initiative. After the initiative made it on the ballot he led community meetings, and organized door to door campaigns to educate people about it.
Even though non denominational in their Christian beliefs, the Porters have been attending the Incline Missional Community, a Methodist church open to all, located in Porter’s neighborhood of Price Hill.
“Rev. Daniel Hughes, the pastor, is my mentor,” says Porter, “and attending the church helps me share my Christian faith and my commitment to peace and justice with others, often my neighbors, who are like me.”
After this past November election, Porter has been leading a new initiative within the Amos Project, this time to reduce gun violence in the city.
“Two boys I knew were recently shot and left with serious injuries,” he says. “And East Price Hill where I live has one of the highest rates of homicides in the city.”
Porter is trying to learn how to reduce gun violence outside of gun control measures, finding out what others around the country are doing. He is researching the topic and will soon start formulating an action strategy and organizing a team to implement it.
When asked what he would like to achieve in particular in the future, Porter is quick to answer: “Help eliminate racial oppression in America.”
“As a young white male with privileges, I would like to always be perceived as a staunch advocate for black equality,” he adds, “to help tearing down the systems and societal norms that plague the black community and prevent my black brothers and sisters in Christ, to benefit from their full rights. I would like this to be my identity.”
Porter’s faith is the number one motivating factor behind his actions and involvements in the community where he lives. Like Jesus he would prefer to exist on the margins of society, always fighting for justice and peace for the outcast and the oppressed, turning the normal working of the world on its head.
A text Will Porter likes to quote: Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman(John 4:5-15) 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar... 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus... sat down by the well. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”... 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."