How much time do you spend listening to what your community is saying?
Think about your city. Think about individual neighborhoods—rich, poor, and everything in between. Now, challenge yourself to think about the forgotten neighborhoods (perhaps filled with forgotten people). Maybe, you have to admit, you’ve forgotten them too. What challenges does your city wrestle with? Inadequate transportation, lack of jobs, illiteracy, and latch key children are a few of many that may come to mind.
Our own thoughts and ideas about ‘fixing things’ make for good chatter at dinner parties. But, if we are serious about change it requires a deeper understanding of our neigborhoods, neighbors and their perspective. We need to listen. We seem to make this complicated. It’s actually pretty simple–In order to listen you need to be in relationship. We need to be in places where needs are presented and opportunities for collaborative community-driven Christ-centered action are available. (Note: this might mean (1) rearranging our priorities and calendars and (2) forming cross-cultural and cross-denominational friendships.)
Consider the story of Nehemiah Network in Little Rock, Arkansas. I think it will inspire you:
Literacy in Little Rock
Several years ago the city of Little Rock, Arkansas uncovered a problem. And, it’s a problem that your community may also share. Nearly 50% of fourth grade students in Central Arkansas are reading below grade level—and community leaders have identified K-12 education as the top issue affecting the economic future of their region.
As community leaders began to research effective solutions and benchmark existing literacy programs throughout the U.S., they quickly recognized that consistent one-to-one tutoring coupled with effective mentor training and support was the key. “People began to ask ‘How will we find these volunteers and where will they come from?’ and we were at the table to say ‘We have relationships with hundreds of churches, ministries, and civic groups,’” shared Traci Wheelis at Nehemiah Network.
“Things began to take off from there and at so many moments during this journey, which has been over a year now, God has had a hand in the process. We could not have done this on our own,” Traci said. “We found that we really began to build momentum because no matter what the size of the church, how large or small the elementary school, what neighborhood people were coming from or going to, the issue of literacy was easy to rally around. We all recognize that the future of our children is important, and that one individual could really make a difference. Anyone could help.”
After successful pilots at several elementary schools in January 2012, the new school year will prompt The Nehemiah Network to launch AR Kids Read and mobilize over 1,000 church members as individual tutors for third graders throughout three school districts and assign team captains to 73 elementary schools.
“We encountered several significant obstacles along the way,” Traci shared. “There were times we didn’t know how this was going to be funded. And, it was all so new and unfamiliar at the beginning that we really had to work hard to be unified and blend many perspectives and ideas into one cohesive program. I have to say that one of our biggest challenges was, and will continue to be, logistics. Meet The Need has really helped with this and provides us the tools to mobilize an entire city to serve children. We are so excited to see how things take shape this fall and know that the Meet The Need team will help us along the way.”
About Nehemiah Network: A Meet The Need partner, Nehemiah Network was founded in 1999 by thirty-one pastors representing diverse backgrounds and denominational traditions. The Network has grown to a broad-reaching relational network of pastors and Christian leaders including 100+ churches and ministry organizations with a mission to unite the Central Arkansas Church.