My first thought on this way your church can bless your community through literacy: “It takes one to know one.” And not a playground retort. Rather, it takes a retired educator (teacher) to know how to honor, celebrate and support teachers at a local school.
Case in point – Caroline Bell – retired three years ago after teaching for 36 years in Fort Worth and Crowley–mostly Kindergarten. As you might guess, Books for the Border and Beyond is a special passion for Caroline. But this week we’re taking a look at how your church can make a difference in the lives of teachers at a local school: Put a smile on their faces. Help them know that they are not alone. Assure them that their work is appreciated.
In the past two years Caroline has led her church, Western Hills Baptist of Fort Worth, to celebrate the teachers of their adopted public school on special occasions like Valentine’s Day. She has made sure that teachers have special food items on teacher workdays, and has brightened their faces with encouraging notes. Next week, New Year’s resolutions will be severely tested by the arrival of cinnamon rolls from a famous local bakery.
Caroline has also lightened the load for teachers by encouraging her church to devote funds to special projects chosen by the principal. She has been reading to first graders on a weekly basis through the Fort Worth ISD’s Read 2 Win program. Working with a local food pantry, Caroline helps prepare “snack packs” for children who lack food at home. Her compassion for the children is evidenced by what she does—and leads others to do—as well as how she blesses the teachers and administration in this adopted school.
The principal put it like this, “The amount of support that Western Hills Baptist provides to our campus is so meaningful and makes such a huge impact.”
Literacy Connexus seeks to be a catalyst for change in communities. As a board member, Caroline Bell sets a great example by leading her church to honor, celebrate, and support teachers.
Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) is a new organization that mobilizes local churches to provide both wrap-around care for local schools and advocacy for adequate funding to support those schools.
Bread Fellowship of Fort Worth
Can you imagine what the story of Thanksgiving sounds like to someone learning English? Perhaps that adult in an ESL class in a church somewhere in Texas has just arrived as a refugee from Congo or Burma. Her children have brought home pictures of pilgrims and Native Americans. Perhaps one child described the story of how these two different groups celebrated a bountiful harvest together. Maybe school lunch for the day consisted of turkey and trimmings. Mix in a few Black Friday ads on TV and you have a recipe for cultural confusion. A cultural challenge, no doubt.
I find myself thankful today for those who are taking the time—week by week—to be cultural interpreters. Those who help others bridge from one culture to another. Perhaps you know one of these ESL teachers. According to Robin Feistel, ESL Coordinator for Literacy Connexus, we know of more than 1,900 of these dear saints who, combined, teach English each week to more than 11,000 adults from 85 countries in 245 church-based programs. Thank you, ESL teachers, you are showing the way. Thank you, Robin, and those you are training to lead workshops for new ESL teachers.
Whether we teach English or not, we can help others new to the United States. Patty Lane’s A Beginner’s Guide to Crossing Cultures (Intervarsity Press) is instructive. She encourages her readers to begin a journey of understanding one’s own culture to best respond to persons of other cultures. She lists six ways we typically approach those coming from other backgrounds:
- Xenophobia (fear)
- Ethnocentrism (superiority)
- Forced Assimilation (Americanization – You’re welcome if you become like me.)
- Segregation (remain separate)
- Acceptance (coexist, accommodate, and build relationships)
- Celebration (valuing other cultures in their diversity).
I’m grateful, too, for Jesus’ example of accepting those of different cultural backgrounds. His care for a Samaritan woman led to a whole new life for her and her village. May we, too, accept others and respond to them in love.
Adapt the family reading fair concept in other settings where families lack books at home.
What, then, is the family reading fair concept? It is simply sharing books with children who lack books at home in the best way possible. In some settings, it means families receiving a new bookcase and bags of new and used books. In other settings, it is just one new book. Just one.
Ashley Magers is a student at the North East campus of Tarrant Community College in Hurst, Texas. She is president of Psi Beta, a service club under the direction of Shewanda Riley (Literacy Connexus board member). Last Saturday Ashley and two other students sorted books at the Literacy Connexus book bank at Western Hills Baptist Church in Fort Worth. They left with six hundred books for distribution at an elementary school in Grapevine, Texas. Last year the group distributed 800 books at an elementary school in Haltom City. Ashley recalled the excitement of the children who received the books, who were delighted when told they got to keep them!
LaVerne Moore volunteers at WestAid – a food pantry in Fort Worth. She and her husband have a passion for sharing books. They search out books to give to families who come to WestAid looking for food: something for the soul as well as the stomach.
Carol Prevost is a retired educator in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and former Literacy Connexus board member. Her idea to share books helped spark Books for the Border several years ago. Now she leads her church to collect books for distribution at a local homeless shelter.
According to RIF (Reading is Fundamental): Two-thirds of America’s children living in poverty have no books at home, and the number of families living in poverty is on the rise. Many public and school libraries are being forced to close or reduce their operating hours. Children who do not have access to books and do not read regularly are among the most vulnerable Americans.
The Literacy Connexus website provides guidelines for sharing and sorting used books. Our hope is that you will find ways in your community to share books with children at risk. And share those ways with us, please.
2. Put the lens of literacy on everything the church does and make education a priority in your church. Encourage church leadership to act on this.
I once had a camera with the capacity to interchange lenses: telephoto, wide angle and portrait. Now, that’s done electronically by all but serious photographers. Each special purpose lens or setting accomplishes something different. The key is the intention of the user. For example, a wide angle approach to a panoramic view makes all the difference.
Intentionally having a literacy lens for churches is the key to improving results regarding education. Have you heard the story of the last time a low-level reader went to Sunday school? It followed the teacher asking each one to read a verse from the lesson. Asking for volunteers works much better. Sensitivity to the needs of others can lead to ministry.
Years ago, the husband of one of the members of my Sunday school class was one of those whose heart would have actually stopped beating if he had been called on to read aloud. His wife shared this need with me. We met before Sunday school to work on his literacy skills. You would never have guessed that he had a problem with reading. With four million adults in Texas lacking high school completion or a GED, there are others. Perhaps in your church. Certainly down the street.
On a positive note, the items that follow on the list of 50 ways churches can bless their community through literacy, items 3-49, flow out of prayer and intentionality. They don’t just happen. Check out the list. Ask for guidance considering the needs of your congregation and community. Speak with your pastor and other leaders about how your church can be impactful, intentional and missional through literacy ministry.
Take a minute to consider #50. It’s blank of course. Our way of saying that we don’t have it all figured out. Having looked at the list now, what would you add? Please share.
Congregations have the opportunity to address needs all around them through literacy ministry. Take a journey with us through 50 Ways to explore the possibilities. We’ll use our new poster as a guide, blogging our way through the church, community, and capitol. But not in the order of the list. We’ll cover the first two, and then take a seasonal approach – making connections with calendar and other considerations.
Ministry through literacy may be done at many levels and with various age groups. Churches are full of people with diverse skills, passions, and gifts. Each member can take part in assisting and equipping other members in the areas of literacy and education.
Churches large and small can pray. Not every church can host a family reading fair on the Border or begin a program to teach English to speakers of other languages. But every church can pray for its community.
Many studies have been conducted on the efficacy of prayer—whether and how it works. Some measure impact of the one or ones who pray; others the object of the prayers. This blog will not add measurably to that discussion. What can’t be denied is that a church praying for its community is more aware of need and more willing to address that need.
Pray with me as we drive from my church north a couple of miles:
It’s hard getting out of the parking lot on school mornings. That’s where parents park to walk their children to school. Pray with me for the children and their families. For the teachers and others who work there.
Our neighborhood is changing. Residents of several homes would be greatly affected by immigration legislation now pending. Pray for persons living in the shadows, fearful and hopeful.
The businesses on the corners have changed in thirty years. Bustling grocery stores and restaurants are now in third, fourth, and fifth iterations. Changes in the global economy has impacted how people are able to make ends meet. Pray for the ones looking for jobs.
As we continue north, we’ll pass by many apartment complexes no longer the upscale singles destinations in the original developers’ minds. Here Katrina refugees lived for a season. Now refugees from other kinds of storms may be seen walking to the Laundromat. Pray for people figuring out how to cope with life’s challenges.
Now we arrive at the elementary school our church adopted last year. Our smallish church with less than 100 attending services. Yet, because we prayed and got involved, persons have been blessed.
What does it look like down the street for you? Join me today, please, in praying for our communities.
Recently Literacy Connexus received a grant from The Trull Foundation to update our Fifty Ways Your Church Can Bless Your Community Through Literacy poster. We consolidated and combined, added to and subtracted from the first edition. Most of the items on the first run were borrowed from others, with some modification. In addition to covering the design and printing costs, the Trull Foundation grant enabled us to launch the new product with a presentation at the Literacy Texas Annual Conference in San Marcos in August.
Perhaps you have already seen the new version. We grouped the ways churches can help into three categories by location: on the church campus, in the community, and at the capitol. The idea is to stretch our thinking and improve our serve. Here’s a challenge. Look at the list and identify how many your church is currently doing. Not a competition; just an exercise in awareness of community connection.
Before our first daughter (Leslie) was born, Donna and I participated in a Lamaze class. At one point there was a competition among the dads for speed diapering. What a laugh to see expectant dads racing to diaper large baby dolls. Later it occurred to me that speed was not the most important factor in diapering . . .
Just as speed is not the most crucial aspect of diapering babies, quantity is not the best way to approach the Fifty Ways list. It’s not how many of those on the list describe your church, but how serving through these ways blesses your community.
Oh, and please notice that #50 is blank: Share your idea with us! What is your church doing to bless your community through literacy and education? Recently, at the WMU Fiesta at Green’s Creek Baptist Church, Pam Patterson suggested taking books and magazines to Veterans Hospitals. Great idea! This is the first #50; perhaps you have another. We’ll be sharing these on the website.
Big Tex is waiting to greet you at the state fair of Texas in Dallas this Friday afternoon. He’s had quite a year since the fire that damaged this friendly landmark. New duds in Fort Worth. A complete makeover for this 61-year-old. A sight to see: Big Tex-welcoming fair goers at the State Fair of Texas.
Another TEX has had a busy year, too. The Literacy Connexus approach to training volunteers to speak English is also known as TEX–Teaching English with Excellence . . .
Saying thank you is important for anyone who receives a gift—especially a not-for-profit organization. More than just being polite, there are tax implications. So, thank you to all who support Literacy Connexus through your donations and other support.
Some gifts are monetary; others in-kind (a fancy word for things used in doing one’s work). In the last week many books have been donated for Books for the Border and Beyond. This is one of the most important in-kind gifts we receive. The books go to one of three book banks affiliated with Literacy Connexus. Donated books are sorted by volunteers and shared with families lacking books at home.
At the world-wide headquarters for Literacy Connexus (4802 Hwy. 377 S, Fort Worth) I am sitting at a desk donated by a company going out of business. Someone donated the chair I’m sitting on.
I am using software made available by Tech Soup at a greatly reduced price through Microsoft. The lateral file cabinet to my right and the bookcase behind me were donated by United Way when they moved to new offices. The list is long for those kinds of gifts. Thank you!
But Literacy Connexus really lives in volunteers serving through churches in the cities and towns across Texas. A couple of years ago we learned that each week in Texas more than 10,000 adults from 88 countries learn English through the efforts of 1,500 plus volunteers. This past weekend volunteers trained new teachers in three cities. These 75 new teachers have returned to their churches with clear ideas about how to prepare lessons and make learning fun. Thank you Robin Feistel, Martha McDade, Connie Anthony, Karen Peiser, Ella Moore, Carol Coburn, Dora Parnell, Blenda Wilson, Elsa Romero, and Beth Avery for your dedication to teaching English with excellence. Thank you teachers everywhere for you service to persons seeking to learn English.
This blog will be launched on the Literacy Connexus website as a part of the ongoing work of Pam Moore. Thank you for three years of dedicated service.
Thank you, Literacy Connexus board members: Caroline Bell, Lynda Bertram, Kathy Cervantes, Lyle Crossley, Larry Floyd, and Shewanda Riley. From cleaning up trash along the highway to reviewing tax returns and donating to the cause, your service is much appreciated.
And thanks to all who pray for the work of Literacy Connexus. It matters.