Is our bible club doing enough for the kids in this community? Is our ministry really meeting a need? Or is it time to do something more?
10 years ago, these were questions that rolled around my head as I contemplated how or if our ministry was actually making a difference. Our ministry, The Backyard Bible Club, congregated at a public park in town each summer. Approximately 30 children would show up to the bible club but we only saw the kids for that one week. I began to ask myself “Were we making much of an impact?”
Something else needed to be done. And on a more regular basis.
More thoughts circulated as we noticed another problem in our community. Many of the high school students had dropped out of school, gotten pregnant, or lived in poverty. Adults were in and out of jail. Drug use was prevalent. In short, we had many of the social problems that exist in inner-city Atlanta except we were in a small town in southern Georgia. So what could we do?
Jesus was the answer. But what about a change of perspective as well? These kids needed to shift their focus from the circumstances that surrounded them to the possibilities that lay ahead. We needed to find an opportunity that broadened their horizons and prepared them for the future. Something that could open an even greater door for them to hear and respond to the gospel of Christ.
Sure enough, the opportunity showed itself through the use of the government housing project nicknamed the “wild west”. After getting in contact with the agency, we presented them with our plan to help the children that stayed at the project. Furthermore, we wanted to bring high school students from our church to the complex and tutor the children who lived there after school.
Our prayers were answered and the agency approved our plan to begin working with the kids! To our surprise, the housing authority even gave us an empty apartment to use for tutoring children K-6.
We got to work quickly! After setting up 4 classrooms in the apartment, our group went around the complex and passed out flyers giving families a brief explanation about our ministry, goals, and objectives. Since available time and our number of volunteers were low, tutoring was made available only once a week on Tuesday afternoons.
During the course of our ministry to those kids, a major goal was to recruit teens to carry out this ministry. To be honest, our youth weren’t too thrilled in the beginning. Many of them were afraid of the housing project, especially since violence and drug use were common. Some parents were also reluctant to let their students be exposed to what they thought could be a dangerous situation. However, our team was committed to doing this even if our youth refused to help.
After all, giving up was not an option.
Thankfully, our youth did eventually respond. At first, it was just two families that volunteered to help and their parents came to ensure everyone’s safety. Although it was chaotic due to the little help we had, we began to see a few more youth show up in the months following.
The government housing project informed us two years later that we were no longer allowed to use the apartment. However, the transition to our church was easy since the children were so familiar with us. To this day, our bus picks up about 35 children every Tuesday and they’re driven to the church. (Let me add, transporting kids can be a daunting task!)
Several years of tutoring passed and we felt the need to make more of a spiritual impact. A summer Day Camp at our church was started during the school year and to this day continues to be an all-day camp free of charge. Depending on the available resources, the Day Camp lasts for either one or two weeks and requires 20 or more youth to assist the 30 or so children.
Since starting this ministry 10 years ago, our long-term commitment to these kids has not changed. We have rejoiced to see several children come to Christ while others have eventually gotten involved in our youth ministry when they became teenagers. Furthermore, when I go to eat lunch at the schools each week, many of the minority kids we tutored at a young age are very friendly to me and my staff. Finally, many of the parents, generally moms, have come to trust and actually believe we care about their kids, which is something we didn’t see 10 years ago.
Recently, there was a domestic violence shooting at the housing project along with several police cars swarming the area. As we loaded up 35 loud and rowdy children on the bus that day, I thought to myself “This is why we do this.”
It’d be a rare site so see police cars swarming around my safe middle-class neighborhood. And the politicians, as much as they want their votes, don’t work to either improve the neighborhood’s conditions or build any type of relationship with the families there.
If we don’t do something, no one else will.
Still, not everyone is convinced. A man in my church recently told me that we were wasting our resources doing this and that the odds of even one kid “truly” changing were 1,000 to 1. I said, “Well if we don’t do it, the odds are 1,000 to 0.”
Trying is our only option, even if the situation seems grim.
We have a saying in our youth group. Tuesday is for tutoring.
– Bill Hughes is the Minister to Youth, College, & Singles at First Baptist Church Tifton, Georgia.