Even before they met at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Revs. Linda, MDiv ’91, and Trevor, MDiv ’92, Rubingh were called by God through the words of Isaiah to somehow be a part of “rebuilding the ancient ruins, and restoring the places long devastated.”
“God had independently called both of us to the first four verses of Isaiah 61 before we even met each other,” Linda says. “At Princeton Seminary we met, we dreamed…we married and said yes to a northern New Jersey church planting initiative.”
Within three years, they were running a Saturday “Kids Church” with about 250 kids attending each week.
“It was an urban, Nickelodeon-on-steroids worship service with games, contests, balloons, flashing lights, live music (youth band, youth worship leaders), skits and a sermon, heavily led by a posse of those kids — a.k.a. ‘youth leaders’ — that we couldn’t get rid of,” Linda recalls.
Although the services were filling the need identified by the members of their Jersey City community, they knew something was still missing.
“Our kids were hearing and responding to the gospel, but failing academically, not going to college, not equipped to break out of the strong systems of inequality set up for them,” Linda says.
At year eight, they came up with a solution: Employ teenagers (who have a need to express agency and be in community) as teachers and tutors to lead younger students (who need positive role models and a safe, structured learning environment) in an after-school setting. Not just a few hours a week, but every day, through a holistic platform of development that combines spirituality, leadership, academics, and music.
“As the teens developed as leaders,” Linda recalls, “they, not us, became the truth of Isaiah 61: THEY will be called oaks of righteousness, THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins, THEY will restore the places long devastated.”
In 1994, faith-based nonprofit New City Kids was born.
“It took us quite a while to get that our focus needed to be on children if we wanted to contribute to systemic change,” Linda says. “That paradigm shift is probably the most unexpected and the one for which we are most grateful. Greg N., one of the first kids we met, went through our program as a child, then worked as a Teen Life Intern, and is now a college graduate, married with a beautiful family, a man of deep faith, and a key New City Kids staff member. To be able to witness this has been an incredible gift,” she relates.
Working as a husband-and-wife team hasn’t always been easy.
“Our biggest difficulties in working as a team came mostly in the beginning, when we didn’t quite know ourselves or one another yet to understand our gifts for ministry — some of which hadn’t even been called out of us yet. We are both strong leaders, but have really different styles,” Linda says. “We often have a hard time turning New City Kids ‘off.’ But having the love of your life as your ministry partner has meant this unique opportunity to build a life’s work together. Our first ‘baby’ was New City Kids.”
Today, their baby is still growing, serving young people in Paterson and Jersey City, New Jersey; and in Grand Rapids and — since October 2020 — Detroit, Michigan.
Linda says the best way to get to know New City Kids is to see it firsthand.
“Just about everyone who comes for a visit says ‘You know, you told me what New City Kids is, but I really didn’t get it until I saw it for myself. This is amazing!’” Linda says.
New City Kids programming includes:
- After School Center, which provides children in first through eighth grade with lessons in English, math, geography, fine and performing arts, music, and more.
- Music School, which offers teen-led, skill-based classes in drums, bass guitar, voice, and piano for beginner to advanced students.
- Teen Life Internship, a yearlong, part-time paid internship where interns serve as tutors, lead a music class or activity class, or manage other teens, while receiving job and life skills training, college preparation, and extensive one-on-one coaching and support.
“Whatever we do at New City Kids has to be God’s idea, not ours,” Linda says. “And when it gets hard, which it does regularly, we don’t give up because it was God’s idea in the first place. Getting called to do it, and getting to be a part of this thing is a just a merciful gift.”