I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but when the time arrived, I set my sights on Army Officer Candidate School. On my application, I stated that it was important to me to fully believe in the organization I worked for, and to participate in activities that would be not only meaningful to me but would have a big impact on others and my country.
Fairly lofty conditions, considering the ink had barely dried on my college diploma and my only previous job experience had been at Winchell’s Donuts and A&W Root Beer. The Army showed me who was boss, though; I got commissioned, but in total disregard of my hard-earned journalism degree, they pronounced me a petroleum officer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about those Army days recently, probably because in the past year, my life has made another unexpected and dramatic about face. It started with a simple prayer prior to the 2010 Morning of Missions activity at the Texas Baptists Annual Meeting in McAllen: Let my morning’s involvement have an impact on others and myself that will last long beyond this day.
I ended up at a Books for the Border family reading fair and witnessed beginning home libraries—Bibles, health literacy books, story books, and bookcases—being given to families living in poverty. I met Literacy Connexus executive director and founder of Books for the Border, Lester Meriwether, who, after a moment’s introduction, asked if I would be interested in writing the planning guide for his ministry. Yes, Sir! Never had I been so certain of God’s immediate answer to prayer.
My biggest obstacles in attacking this assignment were knowing nothing about Books for the Border except for what I had seen that morning, and knowing even less about literacy missions ministry as a whole. But Lester was a veteran, and with his leadership–and a frontal assault on the internet–I managed to gain steady ground over the next couple of months.
I found a barrage of evidence pointing to the need for literacy ministry. More than 3.8 million adults in Texas possess a level of literacy inadequate to earn a sustainable living. Families in poverty often remain stuck, generation after generation, because homes without books produce kids who can’t read. If a child has scarcely, or never, been read to prior to kindergarten, he will likely start school behind his peers and lag even farther as time goes on. Kids in poverty often find themselves on a trajectory toward high school dropout, unemployment, crime, and lifelong struggle.
But there is a war being waged against illiteracy as a root cause of poverty, and as I became indoctrinated to the strategies employed by those on mission, I knew I wanted to enlist. I learned that effective ministry involves recognizing the gifts of every person and the assets of every community, and then using those strengths as a starting point. Effective ministry means understanding that all people are loved and gifted by God. With sensitivity and collaboration, we come alongside of those in need and work with them, not for them, to shore up their flanks. The results are sustainable solutions that will annihilate the cycle of generational poverty.
My tour of duty with Literacy Connexus has put me on soldierly alert to the pervasiveness of poverty and to the work to be done. I can see how my experiences in the military, raising a family, and serving in my church and community all combine to give me the skills needed to help me do this job. It’s exciting to me that God gives us the experience long before we know what it’s for, and the awareness and the passion at just the right time—and at Literacy Connexus, a generous dose of esprit de corps on top of everything!
God knew exactly what I would want to do when I grew up. And He had in mind for me the very things I mentioned on my OCS application—an organization I could believe in, meaningful activities, and the opportunity to impact others. The U.S. Army was merely the warm-up.