Rev. Mark Rambo, Associate Pastor, Olympia FBC
Six years ago one of our members came to me asking what I thought about our church helping with a local elementary school’s Fall Carnival. Her son was a member of the PTA and her grandchildren were students at the school. After some prayer and conversation we agreed and co-sponsored the school’s Fall Carnival with the PTA. We provided games, game stations, prizes, candy and workers. This allowed parents the freedom to be with their children and families, and enjoy the carnival. That was the beginning of our relationship.
Why Roosevelt? It began with an existing relationship. But after that first carnival we began to think, pray, and discern what other ways we could be of help to the school’s families, faculty and staff. We discovered that the school had a high percentage of single parent households as well as a good size population of children living near and/or below the poverty line. What if we could redefine our church’s Children’s Ministry model, which was inward focused, to be more missional and include this school?
Within the year we had groups of people acting as Reading Buddies, Lunch Buddies, Teacher Assistants, office help, etc. By the beginning of the next school year, we had people signing up to help. We have now had teams of people involved in one of those capacities for five years. We collect school supplies each summer as the school has faced shrinking budgets. We have helped some of their families who have many needs, with clothes as well as provided food and gifts for the Christmas season. The last two years we have had people become an integral part of the school’s Passport program once a month for 2-3 hours. Here the hildren are tested on their knowledge of world geography. We have teams as small as six and as large as twenty working at the school at least once a week. We continue to co-sponsor the school’s Fall and Spring Festivals/Carnivals where anywhere from 18 to 45 people from the congregation help put on games, food, etc for the school and its families.
Beginning in January, I will be using our church van to transport children to their homes after one of the after-school programs. Again, this will affect children who live near or under the poverty line and would have no way of getting home from such a school program. Also, we are in discussion with the school administration about starting a homework club at the school which would be staffed by church members. We are in dialogue about providing a parenting class that would initially meet once a quarter and include a meal, along with a separate program for children. The school is receptive to this idea, but it will take time to work out the potential kinks and make sure we are all on the same page. We are excited about the possibilities that God continues to open up for us at the school.
Make no mistake, God is present. I’ve been told by staff that there is a different spirit at the school that just happens to coincide with our becoming more involved there. The biggest challenge is reminding ourselves that we are there to be of help to the school and its families. We are not pushing an agenda. We do not see this as a way of getting folks into our church. We are not running a bait and switch ministry. We are there to be the hands and feet of Christ; to build relationships and see what God does in the midst of it all. We have had good conversation, changed some perspectives about what followers of Christ are like and about, and built relationships with some great kids who need another avenue of love, support and encouragement. It’s amazing what God does when we force ourselves to expand our focus beyond the walls of our local communities of faith and integrate ourselves into the fabric of the communities we live in. Praise be to God!