It was a job interview that no one involved knew was a job interview and yet resulted in decisions that continue to transform Touching Miami with Love, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministry that serves impoverished youth and families in South Florida.
The 2010 conversation occurred in the living room of TML leaders Angel and Jason Pittman as they listened to friend and neighbor Trina Harris share her longing for a job in which she could live her faith by working with children.
The Pittmans locked eyes. They had just been discussing their need for a children’s program director. “So, Jason goes, ‘OK, you’re hired,’” said Angel Pittman, CBF field personnel.
Harris, whose job working with kids through Miami parks and recreation was being phased out, was stunned. “Never in a million years did I think something like that would happen,” she said.
And now that surprise has borne new fruit: On July 1, she replaced Angel Pittman as vice president of the ministry, which long as has been a flagship of CBF Global Missions.
The transition represents new phases in ministry for TML and for Angel, who is moving into a newly created educational advocacy position with CBF.
Touching Miami with Love was founded in 1995 in Overtown, one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods. When the Pittmans arrived about 15 years ago, it was serving about 30 children at one location. Since then it has become a two-site ministry providing comprehensive educational and mentorship programming for 400 youth a week.
As a longtime business owner, Harris brings an entrepreneurial know-how the program needs to explore new sources of revenue, youth training and job development, CEO Jason Pittman said.
“As our youth grow up in our programs, we want them to see role models who look like them and represent their history and their racial identity and ethnic identity.”
Being Black and a life-long resident of Overtown, Harris will be able to connect with the community in ways he and Angel cannot, he explained. “As our youth grow up in our programs, we want them to see role models who look like them and represent their history and their racial identity and ethnic identity. Angel and I, being white, don’t fit that characteristic. Trina does.”
CBF Global Missions Coordinator Steven Porter said Harris’ trajectory within TML, and Angel’s departure, reflect a powerful value within asset-based community development ministry.
“In those circles, the goal of a leader is to work oneself out of a job by developing leaders within the community,” said Porter, who himself previously served at TML. “We believe that commitment, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is critical to lasting community change.”
TML has been changing people since its founding, he added. The ministry has been a major draw to youth and college church groups, Student.Go interns and partners of CBF Florida, among others. Thousands have visited for short-term mission projects.
“A number of TML’s ministries have been replicated in communities across the country,” Porter said.
Replication also was quietly happening within the leadership of the ecumenical ministry.
Angel said she sensed a call years ago to shift her ministry into some form of broader advocacy aimed at helping schools, students and families. “I wanted to have an impact in a different way.”
In part it is why she and her husband locked eyes that day a decade ago when Harris poured out her calling to them. A few years later, the couple began prepping Harris for the eventual transition to her new position.
“We have told Trina for five years that she needs to be vice president,” Angel said. “I wanted to recognize Trina’s leadership. I can’t live into ‘I love my friend’ but stand in her way.”
Angel knew she wanted to work in education advocacy, but how and when that would happen wasn’t clear at the time. Her prayer was, “What am I going to do?”
The answer came in conversations with CBF leadership, who saw in Angel an opportunity to pursue a goal of expanding educational advocacy for families and children in poverty, Porter said. “Global Missions also sees her potential to resource other CBF field teams, churches and partners through such work.”
Angel said she had been prepared to go out on her own and was astonished when the conversation took the direction it did.
She will assist CBF Florida and Pastors for Florida Children to advocate for equitable education for all students. But she also will maintain relationships with local children and families developed through TML.
“My role will have a local ministry component,” she said. “I will support students’ educational journeys by seeking to create impactful partnerships with schools.”
For Harris, the improbable way it all came about proves the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the arrangement. “I had said, ‘God, I need some clarity here. I need you to show me my path.’”
Two weeks later came the pivotal conversation in the Pittmans’ living room. “At that time, I didn’t even know the level of programming TML was offering. This is miles different than the usual after-school program.”
Harris enrolled her own children at TML, which changed their lives. “It provided them experiences I couldn’t provide. They have been backpacking in Colorado, gone to Christian camp each summer, and they are involved in devotional studies.”
The coronavirus has presented significant challenges to the ministry, Jason Pittman said. Some staff members have suffered from COVID-19, and a summer program had to be shut down due to the outbreak.
TML is looking at the feasibility of allowing students to use its computers during school days and is exploring ways to connect children one-on-one with volunteers online. “Right now, we are focused on trying to create as many virtual opportunities as we can,” he said.