As parents, we realize the importance of education for a child to be self-sufficient as an adult. We teach our kids their alphabet, their numbers and colors before they ever go to kindergarten. We read our children bedtime stories: “Frog and Toad are Friends”, “The Cat in the Hat”, and “Where the Wild Things Are.” Later on, they read to us. Before the first day of school, they know their numbers, their alphabet and their colors.We invest heavily in our own children.
What would it be like to grow up in generational poverty? What if your parents are unable to read? What if there was no one to prepare you for that first day of school? … You arrive at school and you don’t know your alphabet, your colors or your numbers?
Most of the kids that New Hope is working with are at least one year behind before they ever start school. The older they are, the further they are behind their grade level.
Late this fall, we had closed our program to new students. We were full. Almost immediately two brothers walked up to the center all by themselves: “Chuck” and “Randy”. We told them we did not have enough volunteers to accept new students. They came back the next tutoring day. “Can we come to tutoring today?” We told them, “No, we are sorry. We will call you when we have room for you.”
Those two little boys came back four days in a row. On the fourth day, Kris asked the youngest one sternly, “Chuck, why do you keep coming back here?” “I don’t want to fail the second grade, ma’am.” Kris had to choke back her tears. She composed herself. “Chuck, do you understand we do school work here? This is not playtime. Do you understand that?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Chuck, we don’t put up with foolishness here. There will be no misbehaving. Do you understand?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Ok, you and your brother can come.” Kris worked with “Chuck” the entire tutoring session in order to assess his educational needs. It was a Thursday. Kris realized that “Chuck” could not pronounce his spelling words. His spelling test would be the very the next day, yet he could not read his own spelling words. Three months later, with some effort, “Chuck” can read his spelling.
In the Old Testament, God told the nation of Israel that they were socially responsible to take care of their poor: “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17). Jesus instructed the church to be socially responsible when he told it to take care of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).
The needs in our cities represent a “justice gap.” That “gap” is the difference between the way things are and the way God designed them to be. This “gap” provides an opportunity for God’s church to demonstrate Christ’s love to a hurting world in very tangible ways. Yes, we need to take responsibility for our own lives, but Jesus calls beyond personal responsibility to social responsibility. Jesus simply called it “loving our neighbor” (Luke 10:27).