Christmas and Refugees

Of the 68.5 million refugees in the world 52% (25.4 million)* are under the age of 18. Displaced from home and country, on the run for their lives, many completely on their own; they are in urgent need of protection and provision. How does Christmas intersect with refugee children?
Matthew’s Gospel has a refugee story in Chapter 2. Having arrived in Jerusalem after a lengthy trek, Magi from the east were inquiring about the birth of a new Jewish King. They told of observing a celestial sign and undertaking the search for a child to be worshiped. Jewish priests and scholars identified Bethlehem as the prophesied birthplace of the future messianic king. The paranoid, maniacal Herod ruling Judea at that time was disturbed by this news and solicited the Magi’s help in locating such a child. His pretense was to participate in such worship and he wanted the child’s address.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem and finding the child with his mother Mary “in a house” the entourage from the east bowed down and worshipped him and presented valuable gifts. Then, warned in a dream not to report this location, they detoured Herod and departed toward their home country.
Realizing he’d been duped, homicidal Herod ordered the execution of all the male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were two years old and under according to the time the Magi had reported seeing the celestial sign.
An angel appeared to Mary’s husband, Joseph, in a dream. The angel instructed Joseph to take both mother and child and escape into Egypt because death squads had been dispatched by Herod. Joseph immediately obeyed and consequently, Jesus and his parents became refugees.
 *Statistics from UNHCR

Leatherberry Letter from Greece

I am in Athens, Greece following up with BelPres’ pastors and ministry leader partners working among Muslim refugees. Many refugees are experiencing Jesus’ love, grace, and truth through the tireless efforts of these pastors and ministry leaders.  Consequently, large, unprecedented numbers are coming to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Never before has this happened in Islam.  The task in front of us is to disciple these new believers to become conversant with the life and character of Christ.  This is a unique time that we have to respond to what God is doing in the Middle East.  Isaiah 19 looks ahead to the day when God takes charge to do a new thing in the Middle East.  Isaiah writes:  “In that day, there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians (modern day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria) will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria.  The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day, Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork and Israel my inheritance.’”  This is a remarkable vision and we believe we are living in a time when God is fulfilling it.

After Athens, I begin an Extended Study Leave and will be away from the office until Dec 1. I am very grateful to our Personnel Committee who makes this possible and the Mission and Serve staff for the extra workload they carry while I am away.  During this time, I will look closely at discipleship, studying Jesus’ signature discipleship sermon (Sermon on the Mount), reading and interviewing leaders who are doing good things with discipleship.

One more update I want you to know about is our Roadmap Initiative around racial justice.  Mission and Serve was selected to receive a new pastoral resident to provide focused leadership around racial justice.  I am excited to welcome Anthony Ballard to our team!

Anthony grew up in a very diverse area of Compton, CA.  Before BelPres, Anthony’s ministry included work at the Boys and Girls Club, helping found a young adult ministry in Los Angeles and working with “Reality Check,”   http://www.realitycheckla.org.   He facilitated “Reality Check” events in churches and public schools in Los Angeles.  Anthony will be working closely with our Justice and Racial Reconciliation Team and with Pastor Harvey Drake.  You will often find him in the lobby on Sunday mornings.

 

That’s my update for now.  See you in December.

 

Grace and Peace in Jesus,

Rich

KidREACH spells Success

Jasey said, “I finished my first year pursuing a Masters in Social Work at the USC graduate school. Though USC has extremely high standards, through blood, sweat, and tears I was somehow able to meet their expectations.” There was a time when this level of success did not seem obtainable for Jasey.  When she came to KidREACH during high school she was struggling academically. “There were times I didn’t think I was going to make it or was cut out for this. It has taken a lot of patience and hard work. I don’t think I would have gotten this far without the help of KidREACH.”

KidREACH offers free one-on-one tutoring for students in grades K-12 who would otherwise be unable to afford it. Tutors not only support a student academically but have the opportunity to walk alongside and share God’s love with them. Tutors positively impact student’s lives by encouraging and appreciating them, celebrating their progress, supporting them in their struggles, and loving them as Jesus does.  In 2001, a group of BelPres members saw the need to actively serve the community by establishing KidREACH.  In the words of a former director, “In this ministry much more than solving tricky math problems or preparing for a vocabulary quiz takes place. God’s Kingdom comes alive in the energy and joy tutors find by serving the students. The smiles and laughter of the students and the peace experienced by the entire family are rewarding for tutors at the end of their busy days.  Now, after 17 years KidREACH is a thriving supportive community.”

Brandon, a current student, says, “My KidREACH tutor Drew helped me a lot. I started the year with all F’s and C’s, and by the time I hit summer vacation, I already had 4 A’s and three B’s thanks to my tutor.”   Brandon’s mom, Neta adds, “We feel blessed to be a part of the KidREACH family. The day we come for tutoring is our family’s favorite day of the week. We always feel welcomed and cared for. My sons love meeting with their tutors not only for academic support but also for emotional support. They enjoy talking and sharing with their tutors about how their day went and how they feel. The tutors and KidREACH Director, Lisa, are always there for us and continually offer help and support to our family. We are very grateful to them! KidREACH changed our life!”

KidREACH is currently looking for tutors for this school year.  There are students enrolled in most grade levels. KidREACH meets in the Upper Campus of BelPres on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. No experience is needed to become a tutor.  A weekly commitment of one evening and a heart for youth are all that is required.  For more information, please contact belpresserve@belpres.org

Crisis Adverted- Hope Restored

Not long ago, a young single woman faced a seemingly insurmountable life crisis. Freshly unemployed, homeless, on the losing end of alcohol consumption and in a toxic relationship, she discovered she was pregnant.

The next steps seemed obvious. This was not a woman ready to become a parent. The only reasonable course of action, they assured her, was to abort. Instead, she scheduled an appointment at a Care Net of Puget Sound pregnancy center. Nine years later, her “crisis pregnancy” became her greatest blessing. He’s a curly-headed third grader with a passion for orphans and a keen interest in presidential trivia.

His mother is the ever-grateful narrator of this story, now gainfully employed by the very organization that ministered life to her nine years ago. It is an unspeakable joy to now help women and families in Puget Sound with life-affirming hope and encouragement that Care Net has so faithfully provided for over 30 years.

Care Net offers hope by providing compassionate practical care, accurate information and life-affirming resources on pregnancy, sexual health, and abortion recovery. We are fiercely committed to the value and dignity of every life and our work starts long before a woman shows up for a pregnancy test. Our Smart Programs faithfully engage young people on sexual health and safety. This past year, Care Net engaged 9,000+ students in 200 schools. Teachers and educators in the region regularly request our presence in their classrooms.

One recent Smart Programs participant, after hearing our staff presenter, reached out and let her know she was pregnant. The staff member meets with this young woman weekly to help her make important life choices preparing her to navigate the road ahead successfully. Her eyes welled up with tears when staff gifted a basket full of clothes and necessary supplies for her baby boy last month. She has now signed up for parenting classes so we can continue pouring love and support into her as she continues her journey.

And while we are overjoyed that 97% of our pregnant clients who have an ultrasound in our centers choose life for their babies, we know that 3% do not. We offer continued support to these women. We make sure they know they are welcomed back in our centers for additional services and resources as they need them.

At Care Net, we realize, for many, the mention of the “a-word” can feel like pushing on a painful bruise. The emotional and spiritual wounds of past abortions are very real. Often, women believe they must shoulder the burden of these wounds alone. Our Healing Tide program provides a safe, confidential and non-judgmental place for women to process and release painful post-abortion emotions so they can begin healing and restoration. A recent participant remarked, “For the first time in decades, I feel restored and healed.”

That’s exactly what we are about at Care Net – extending hearts and services to those needing hope and transformation by the saving love of Jesus Christ so they can freely live out the abundant lives He designed them to enjoy.

URBANA in a Nutshell

When I was a sophomore at Whitworth University (2009), I went to Urbana missions’ conference for the first time. I kept hearing about Urbana: “It will change your life!” I was skeptical, of course, but it definitely intrigued me. I was excited about the thousands of college students from around the world gathering in one place to learn more about missions. And so, I went…and, indeed, it did change my life.  (That’s where I first heard about InnerCHANGE. Immediately, I connected with the Guatemalan team, maintained a friendship over the past 8 years and now, have worked as a missionary with InnerCHANGE for over a year in Los Angeles).  When I got there, I realized that I really didn’t have a paradigm for HOW BIG it would be. It was amazing and also a bit overwhelming but in a good way.

There are SO many connections: so many mission organizations, break-out sessions and specialized tracks for people to focus on, as well as Bible studies, awesome speakers and amazing multi-cultural worship.

Things to know:

  • The focus is definitely on the college-age crowd, but anyone can come – so don’t feel dissuaded if you don’t fit in that group, especially if someone is excited about missions. It’s an AMAZING experience and I highly recommend it.
  • It’s HUGE. Thousands of people gather together; lots of energy and lots of information! It’s really exciting, so take advantage of it…but also take care of yourself.  You actually will be more engaged if you take some time to rest, process and pray, instead of feeling pressured to squeeze everything in (that was helpful for me, at least, as an introvert).
  • Be prayerful as you engage in Urbana, and be open to how God might move or work while you’re there. You never know what will open, or how God will speak to you:  through a speaker, worship, a conversation or a time of prayer.
  • Take notes, journal, have conversations, pray. It could be helpful to take something home to look over again later (notebooks with schedules and speakers are provided, but if you have your own that you prefer, bring it!).
  • Get ready…because, whether in a big or a small way, it WILL change your life if you let it!
  • Also, St. Louis is a fun city with lots of free things to do. There may not be a ton of free time, but you can take advantage of things that the city has to offer. It does get COLD in the winter, so bring winter clothes. My sister has lived in St. Louis for the last 5+ years. If it’s helpful to get a list of fun things to do or places to go, I’m happy to ask her! Urbana also does a good job of letting people know which restaurants to go to and helps direct the traffic so that no place is too flooded during lunch time.
  • Since Urbana is so big, it’s nice to go with a group of people you know. Groups can help people process, engage in conversation, explore, etc. and you can also split up and go to different sessions and share what you learned later!

To sum up Urbana in one sentence:  Thousands of people fired up for missions. Come to experience the joy, energy, and inspiration of Urbana. See how God is inviting YOU to participate in missions in your own backyard or across the world.

 

Bring Jesus’ Healing, Build Community, Transform Lives

In 2005, a small BelPres team gathered in a vanquished old church building to pray and discern the “needs” of Bellevue; needs that would make Jesus weep and pound His fist on the table.  We were led to the principal of neighboring Lake Hills Elementary: Judy Buckmaster, who spoke from her heart.  We took notes, listened and learned.

Judy led us to five more principals, then to a group of school counselors and finally to a team from Bellevue’s Human Services Department.  Our methodology, Love, Listen, Learn, evolved as we became aware of how unaware we were of our city.  Unaware that we live in a “minority majority” community where 62% of our student population is foreign-born and 89 languages are spoken in a school district representing students from 124 countries.  Unaware that 69% of students at neighboring Lake Hills Elementary qualify for Free & Reduced priced lunch, with an annual household income under $30,000.

Jubilee REACH was born out of BelPres’ 50-year Jubilee to emancipate, restore and revive.  The vision was cast: “Bring Jesus’ healing, build community, transform lives.”   REACH became an acronym for Relationships, Education, Assistance, Community, and Hospitality.  

From the long list of needs, we started with one and served it well.  Children were being dropped off at school as early as 6:00 on cold, dark mornings while hardworking parents got to jobs to sustain their families.  Judy selected 20 children.  Jubilee REACH Center opened September 2006 with 32 volunteers from BelPres to love and nourish children before school; then walk them to school.

Jubilee REACH was an answer to my prayers. ‘Thank you’ will never be enough to express my gratitude,” said Christi, a single mom on the jagged edge, working two waitress jobs, trying to complete her radiology degree at Bellevue College and struggling just to pay rent.  “I prayed for love, support and a nurturing place for my second-grade daughter, Taylor.”  Judy (Taylor’s elementary school principal) walked both of them over to Jubilee REACH.  Because of the loving support of Jubilee REACH volunteers and other volunteers who came alongside Christi for years, Taylor thrived and Christi completed her degree.  She became a professional radiologist, homeowner, and a wonderful mother.

That was in 2006.  Today Christi is a successful professional, a happily married wife and loving mother with a second daughter.  She’s also a “joyful giver” and a Jubilee REACH advocate.  Taylor is a beautiful young lady completing her degree at Central Washington University.

Jubilee REACH expanded rapidly from a mustard seed providing Before School care by simply practicing Romans 12 hospitality.   Pastor Henri Nouwen refers to hospitality as the “love of strangers or those who are estranged from country, culture, family, friends, even from God.”  Now over 1,250 neighbors come to the Jubilee REACH Center monthly to love, be loved, belong and be part of over 30 services and activities that evolved from the original list of needs we discovered.

In 2010, JR was invited to replace an After School program in Bellevue’s highest needs middle school.  After prayer, discernment, “loving, listening and learning” from more principals, two young, culturally diverse “fishermen” were selected as Site Coaches to lead us in faith to our first middle school.

Today, Jubilee REACH Site Coaches serve as “shepherds” before, during and after school in 6 elementary, 7 middle and 1 high school.  We’re reaching almost 10,000 students through a simple belief that “every child desires to be known, loved, affirmed, to belong and become part of something greater than self.”   We “build community and kingdom in and around schools” by loving the lost, the least, the last and the lonely; by building relationships and earning trust so we may hear the deeper needs.

For example, there are currently 262 known homeless students within the Bellevue School District.  An elementary school counselor’s heart ached for a homeless family with two daughters: a kindergartner and a 4th grader.  Our Site Coach stepped in the gap, building a relationship with the girls, earning the trust of the parents, hearing their heart, their story and their deeper need.  Jubilee REACH then mobilized an encouraging, accountable community of care around the family to provide essential resources for employment and safe transitional housing.

There is always more to the story: always a catalyst, a past that contributed to the present. God uses these to build positive pathways to productive futures and transformed lives.  The path is often messy, fraught with frustration.  We have found that when we stay long enough and love deeply, we find hope and transformation.  The father is now productively employed, stable housing is in place and the daughters are beginning to thrive in school.  Sure, there is work to do and we know that His love never fails.

We love One at a time…one child, in one school, saving one family from homelessness.  Then God multiplies it to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.  Because His love is a game-changer!

Thank you

BelPres for planting and nurturing the mustard seed that is now Jubilee REACH!

Meeting Kids at their Turf

Teenagers need support.  They need an adult in their life pointing them to the only thing that will satisfy them….a relationship with Jesus.  For most teenagers, no one in their life fills that role.  As they face daily pressures from peers, parents, and culture, often nothing encourages them to grow in their faith.  Some simply feel unsatisfied with what the world has to offer.  Many feel hopeless which leads to depression.

Here in Bellevue, there is a group of young adults (and some who act and feel young!) that build friendships with students to point them to Jesus.  They are groups of Young Life leaders at Interlake HS, Bellevue HS, Newport HS, as well as at many of our middle schools.  They go where kids are…to their turf…and build the friendship and trust of teenagers with the hope of introducing them to Jesus.  Whether a kid wants to follow Jesus or isn’t interested, they keep caring for them.

One of those kids recently graduated from Bellevue HS.  Outwardly, you would think Alicia had it all:  a nice home, nice clothes, good grades and even a boyfriend.  On the inside, Alicia was lost.  Her parents were fighting and eventually divorced.  Her boyfriend made her feel pressured and judged.  Her friends were all getting straight A’s.  It seemed impossible to keep up.  She felt like a failure while watching her family fall apart.

Alicia came to Young Life camp after her 8th-grade year.  It was the first time she had heard the gospel shared that made sense to her.  She says now that it was the “bridge” she needed from hearing about Jesus as a small kid in bible stories to making Jesus matter in her life now.  Along the way, she met a Young Life leader who befriended her at camp.  That leader wasn’t just in Alicia’s life for a week in the summer.  They both came home from camp and the leader started to text Alicia, call her and invite Alicia out for coffee or to just hang out.  As their friendship grew, so did Alicia’s understanding of who Jesus really is.  That happened because her leader modeled the love, caring, compassion and pursuit that Jesus offers all of us.

As Alicia went through the challenges of high school, she had a Young Life leader by her side.  Wrestling with anxiety in school and the heartbreak of divorce, there was someone pointing her back to God’s Word and her relationship with Christ.  That long-term friendship of a Young Life leader was the difference between Alicia having a great week at camp, versus having a meaningful relationship with Jesus that sustained her life.

Young Life is a Christian organization that introduces teenagers to Jesus Christ and helps them to develop a Christian way of life through activities that contribute to their academic, physical, social, and spiritual growth. Young Life offers summer camps which are often a teenager’s first experiences hearing the word of God.  Young Life is in need of more volunteer camp leaders due to the popularity of their camps. 

Praying for Muslims during Ramadan

The evening of May 15 marks the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month for all Muslims.  Every year, Muslims look forward to Ramadan with great excitement.  It’s a time characterized by religious zeal and deeper community with other Muslims.

The word “Ramadan” comes from the Arabic root word for “parched thirst”.  It is expressive of the hunger and thirst Muslims feel while they fast from all food, drink and other physical desires from dawn to sunset for 30 days.  Muslims consider fasting as an act of faith and worship towards Allah and as atonement for sins.

A typical day starts with getting up early and sharing a meal together before the fast begins at dawn. Prayers are offered throughout the day until the fast is finally broken at sunset.  Then, participants will eat together and go to the Mosque, where a part of the Qur’an will be read and a final prayer offered.

The last ten days of Ramadan are particularly significant, especially the 27th night called the ‘Night of Power’ or the ‘Night of Destiny.’ This is when Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur’an.

Ramadan is a time for Muslims to purify the soul, refocus attention on God and practice self-discipline and sacrifice. Through fasting, a Muslim sympathizes with those who are hungry and have very little to eat every day. Through increased devotion, Muslims seek to draw closer to their Creator.  Through increased charity, Muslims foster generosity toward others.

For 12 years, Belpres has joined with Christians around the world in praying for Muslims during Ramadan using the “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” guide.  Each day, the guide introduces you to specific Muslim people and places where they live, like Cairo, Egypt.  You’ll read the stories of Muslims who have encountered Jesus during this holy month and learn specific things to pray.

“We are in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in 14 centuries of Muslim-Christian interaction.  More than 80% of all the Muslim movements to Christ in history have occurred in the past two to three decades, a time period that coincides with the modern prayer movement for Muslims.  At the heart of this modern prayer movement is 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World.” David Garrison, author of ‘A Wind in the House of Islam.’

 

Feel free to pick up a copy of the “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” on the info-walls around BelPres today or download a PDF version at www.30daysprayer.com.   Join the great movement of Christians who are praying throughout Ramadan. 

Our Asylee Friends

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

Twenty-two members of the BelPres community have partnered as a “Good Neighbor Team” (GNT) with World Relief Seattle, a non-profit organization working with local churches to provide refugee resettlement services.  The GNT’s purpose is to come alongside immigrants granted asylum or refugee status to help with their start in the United States. (Asylee: a person who is seeking or has been granted political asylum)

A little over a month ago, we met Walter from Cameroon (a country in Central Africa), Abdulmanan and Teddy, both from Ethiopia (a country in the horn of Africa). All three men were recently granted asylum in our country.  We have come to know each of them as very friendly, compassionate individuals simply looking for a new beginning. The GNT has committed to assist our new friends for up to 6 months, at which time, we are hopeful each man will be on his way to self-sufficiency.  We can already tell that these will be life-long friendships.

Our commitment is to assist “our guys” with the day-to-day activities like finding housing and employment, establishing a bank account, managing a budget, learning bus routes, transportation to and from medical appointments and helping them enroll in ESL classes.

God has already answered our prayers in so many ways: at first, we were able to assist each to secure a job. Walter and Abdulmanan work at the Northwest University campus in food service. Teddy began learning new skills for a local general contractor.  Each man works very hard and is extremely happy to be living in our country. We often tell people that there is no one that wants to be in our country more than our three guys.

We were blessed to find a reasonably priced apartment in Kirkland. The apartment is next to a major bus line and a few blocks from a local supermarket. Through the generous support and donations from many BelPres people, the GNT was able to completely furnish the apartment in one Saturday afternoon. As Walter told us later that day, “this place really feels like home.”

Our guys enjoy living in our beautiful Seattle area and the GNT has enjoyed taking them on several weekend outings to show them more about our culture and why we love this place we call home.  Some members of the GNT first took Walter up to the mountains to experience snow for the first time.  It was his first time throwing snowballs, snowshoeing and making snow angels. A few weeks later, we toured the Theo Chocolate factory in Seattle and discovered that cocoa beans from Africa are the main ingredient in their chocolate.  We witnessed how the beans are processed to make tasty treats. Another outing was a day trip to Pike Place Market to see the city’s historical center for fresh local produce, specialty foods and the diverse small independent businesses. Most recently, we walked Seattle’s Gas Works Park showing the guys beautiful Lake Union and unobstructed views of the city skyline.  We saw many families enjoying the park and flying colorful kites in the gentle breeze.

The main refrain we hear from all three men, now that they have settled into our neighborhood, is that they are trying to find a better life for themselves and their families. Their courage and determination are evident to all of us, as they have risked everything to get into this country. At one of our recent GNT gatherings, we watched a CBS documentary on the “Darien Gap;” a remote, roadless, 60-mile swath of jungle between Panama and Colombia. We learned that tens of thousands of migrants each year risk their lives to cross the gap by foot from South to Central America including our own Walter and Teddy. The dangers include torrential rains, crossing chest-high swift rivers, steep terrain, poisonous snakes, jaguars, malaria, and confrontations with violent paramilitary groups, controlling the drug smuggling corridor in the jungle. When the film concluded, Walter, with tears in his eyes, told us all how much we have helped each man and how grateful they are. We are all deeply moved by their stories.

We continue to pray for Abdulmanan, Teddy, and Walter as we know that God has a purpose for their life here in America. Walter’s hope is bringing his wife and four children from Cameroon to live with him here in his new country. We continue to ask the BelPres community if they have knowledge of affordable long-term housing as this is our biggest challenge.

Please read Walter’s letter to the Bellevue Presbyterian Church:

Dear people of God,

My name is Walter and I am writing to say thank you for what you, through the “Good Neighbors” has done to my life. 

I came to this country; mid last year and spend four months nine days in the detention center in Tacoma seeking political asylum. God being on my side, my request was granted on the 9th of January 2018. DHLS open the doors of the detention center and I was released.

When I came out, I was desperate and confused not knowing how I could survive but because of you THE BELLEVUE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, through your wonderful people of the ‘GOOD NEIGHBOR TEAM’ I now have an apartment which I share with my two Ethiopian friends (Adulmanan and Teddy) who are also refugees. Because of you, I am now working and able to send money to my trapped family back home. What else can I say than to say thank you!       

Walter 

If you know of housing opportunities, or if you have questions related to BelPres GNT, please contact Kristen Chesmore at 425-761-8583.

More Than M&M’s

I love M&M’s:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, brown, chocolate goodness…Anyone else?  And I’ve discovered a conspiracy with every mouthful.  Each one tastes the same. You would think some M&M developer would have captured the energy of color, pressed it into the flavor of chocolate and there would be more variety.  But that’s not what happened, is it?  Every bite is always the same.  In fact, the original corporate name was “M&M Limited.”  But they dropped the ‘Limited’ and the conspiracy began.  I guess a chocolate called “More and More of the Same” doesn’t sell like “M&M’s.”  That doesn’t stop me.  I keep stuffing my mouth with those little sugar-coated chocolates:  sweet, milk-chocolaty and familiar.

What if there was a way of making a multi-color chocolate that burst through our limited M&M world and delivered something richer, better, more flavors with each mouthful?  If I ever find that chocolate, then it’s “See ya later M&M’s” and “Hello Multi-flavored Chocolate Better Thing.”

Maybe you see where I’m going with this.  I grew up in white suburbia, sweet and familiar.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know:  that there was something richer, better, more than the kind of community I was living in.  “More and More of the Same” filled me up and I wasn’t hungry for anything different. I thought I was full.  Then I took a group of high school students on a mission trip to an orphanage in Mexico.  We ate our meals together, held morning devotions together, worked together, worshipped together and prayed together for the staff and orphans who lived in the buildings next to us.

As the “M&M’s” pastor, I was having the experience of the year.  It was sweet, comfortable, familiar and…More and More of the Same.  Same people, same community, same rhythms in our day. Then the week was over and it was our last night there.

Some of our students invited kids who lived there to join us for dinner and worship.  Within a couple of hours, our little community transformed into something better, something richer…something more.  We quickly experienced a deep love for each other and a spirit of unity that comes with followers of Jesus.  Our new friends prayed with more faith and worshipped with greater joy. That inspired us to pray with more faith and worship with greater joy.  Afterwards, we hung out with each other and by night’s end, we realized we were more than friends.  We were sisters and brothers, separated by a couple thousand miles, who were citizens of a global Kingdom reviving our world.

That’s when I finally saw it.  We have been created for more than M&M’s.  It’s so easy to isolate ourselves and create more and more of the same wherever we go, whatever we do.  But life together with those who are ethnically different is richer, better, fuller.  And it’s so much more FUN!

The Book of Acts starts with a multi-ethnic Kingdom vision, (Acts 1:8); then comes Pentecost.  Jews and converts to Judaism from surrounding nations come to celebrate the Jewish festival.  Suddenly, the Holy Spirit fills the disciples and they begin speaking in the different languages of the people who were there; Persians, Arabs, Greeks and more (Acts 2:1-11).   Many of them believe Jesus is Lord and Savior and are baptized.  The chapter concludes with a beautiful picture of what it looks like when followers of Jesus are in community with one another (Acts 2:42-47).  My point:  the church began as a multi-ethnic community.  God waited to fill the apostles with the Holy Spirit when all those ethnically different people were in Jerusalem.  Interestingly, the first church dispute happened when the church ignored its multi-ethnicity and began favoring one ethnic group over another (Acts 6:1).

Stanley Hauerwas, author of Resident Aliens, writes “The most creative social strategy we have to offer is the church… We serve the world by showing it something that it is not; namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.”  Colossians 3:11 says it this way: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.”

So where are the M&M’s in your life?  Who can you invite to coffee, to an event or a meal that is ethnically different from you?  Jesus, please encourage us to seek more than M&M’s.

Becoming Multi-Ethnic

I grew up in a sleepy suburban town, nestled along the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California.  The city of Arcadia began as a community of chicken ranches and fruit orchards.  But as Los Angeles grew, people began moving away from the urban center to places like Arcadia.  Increased property values incentivized local ranchers and farmers to sell to housing developers.  Arcadia transformed into a city of small shops and suburban neighborhoods.   Socio-economically and ethnically monogamous, the schools I attended, city leadership, police force and business sectors all served a largely middle class, religious and 95% white population.  My family fit that demographic.  We were “Creasters” -Christmas and Easter churchgoers.  The church we attended was similar to the way BelPres is now; multiple staff, multiple programs, 2,500+ member church.

That was the Arcadia I grew up in.  But by my Senior Year in High School, my city began to transform again.   Families, who had the financial means to do so, were buying homes, tearing them down and building larger, 6000 square foot homes.  These families fit the financial profile of the average Arcadian but were ethnically different.  The new Arcadians spoke a different language, raised their children differently, and were not interested in giving up their culture or ethnic heritage in order to become like the majority demographic who already lived there.   Businesses, restaurants, financial institutions and schools adapted and made changes in order to serve the new non-white demographic.  But my Creaster church didn’t.  It remained focused on the 95%.  That was 40 years ago.

Today, Arcadia is a different city than the one I grew up in.  It is bigger, multi-ethnic, and vibrant.  The church of my childhood is different too; down to 200 members and a few staff.  The church never figured out how to engage its community and be a church for all people, all nations, all ethnic groups.

We, at BelPres, are partnering with Jesus to revive the Eastside and beyond.  We believe that revival will look like lots of things; i.e. not old-time tent meetings and altar calls, but healed relationships, breaking down the forces which create and sustain poverty, schools thriving, people experiencing Jesus love and making decisions to love Him back, etc.  We all have a part in that wherever we live, work, learn and play.  But our context is changing.  The number of languages spoken on the Eastside is approaching 100!

There are lots of reasons why we want to become a multi-ethnic church; 3 reasons specifically.  First, Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, all people, all ethnic groups; (Matthew 28:18-21, Mark 15:15-16; Luke 24:46-49, John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8).    Second, the first church at Antioch was multi-ethnic and reflected the fact that God’s Kingdom is multi-ethnic too.  Third, our worship and the quality of our life together is fuller, richer, better as a multi-ethnic community than it is when we are not.  It is just more fun, more meaningful, more vibrant and life-giving.  We don’t know what we are missing until we are with people who are ethnically different than us.  We need them.  We can’t experience the fullness of community and worship without them.

So what can you do?  If you heard the sermon by Sergio Chavez earlier this year, you can PUFYTB- Put your feet under the table.   Share a meal.  Invite someone to coffee, or lunch or to your home who is ethnically different than you.  Pray for them.  Begin reading about or learning about the culture of one of the 100 language groups on the Eastside.  What can they teach you?  Do you have other ideas or a story to tell?  Share it.

 

If you have a story you would like to share with us, please email it to missionstories@belpres.org

 

REVIEW OF JOSEPH CASTLEBERRY’S “THE NEW PILGRIMS”

Immigration is at the center of our national debate.  While almost all would agree that the current system isn’t working, people of faith have varying opinions on what our country’s immigration laws should be.  Debates on immigration often focus on economics, national security, or our responsibility to the vulnerable.  Castleberry has a very different perspective – evangelism.  He quotes a friend’s saying of immigrants, “They either came here to evangelize or to be evangelized.”  This book challenged me to consider how God is at work in the movement of people around the world, especially to the United States.

In the first half of the book, Castleberry lays out the decline of faith and moral values in the US and argues the decline has been held at bay and is reversing due to immigrants.  Unlike the US, Christianity is expanding rapidly around the world, especially in Africa, South America, and China.  Our missionary efforts in the past are bearing fruit. Those who have found Jesus around the world are looking at the US as a fertile mission field.  Christian immigrants are coming to the US, revitalizing existing congregations and planting new churches.  On the flipside, Castleberry argues that non-Christian immigrants (whose family and close friends are far away) feel a great need for a relationship that “leaves them [seeking] renewal or conversion.”  This is an opportunity for Christians to “good-news” those God has brought to our communities.

In the second half of the book, Castleberry addresses our legal and political system.  He sets out an evangelical case for comprehensive immigration reform that includes compromise from both political parties.  He urges the reader to seek “the Lamb’s Agenda” rather than the Elephant’s or the Donkey’s.  I found much to agree with in this book, but also much to challenge me.  I think readers from all parts of the political spectrum will agree.  Mostly, Castleberry made me think and inspired me with new ideas.

The Justice & Reconciliation Team invites you to read this book and join us for a lively discussion at our next Justice & Reconciliation Book club on Monday, 2/5, at 7pm in S-223.

Children Pray for Daily Bread

Hunger stalks many families on the Eastside – an alarming statement to be sure, but all too true. In Bellevue alone, more than 200 students are known to be homeless; these children have no pantry or refrigerator to open in search of a snack. In the Bellevue School District, over 4,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals served at school. For some, the breakfast and lunch they get at school will be the only food they eat all day. For these students and their families, having enough to eat is always in question. Their prayers “for daily bread” are quite literal.

The hunger pangs are there, hidden below the surface appearance of many low-income people for whom shelter, safety, and sufficient food can never be taken for granted. Parents struggle to sustain their families and provide the basic necessities of life, often working two or more minimum wage jobs, just to pay rent and keep the lights on. Weekends can be especially difficult because the children lack access to meals provided at school on Saturdays and Sundays.

Since 1998, Renewal Food Bank (RFB) has been filling the gap for many Eastside families. An independent, non-profit agency and a member of Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline hunger relief network, RFB serves 250 families every week. Over the years, RFB has provided food security for over 350,000 people.

With a very modest operating budget (less than $100,000 a year), RFB continues to serve 250 families each week, or 13,000 family visits annually. This is possible because of the generosity of community members and faith-based organizations donating food and household sundries consistently. It literally takes a community of caring volunteers, businesses, churches and service organizations to keep the food bank going. Every donation is welcomed and sincerely appreciated.

RFB Executive Director, Rich Bowen says, “Here at Renewal Food Bank, our desire is to strengthen our community by meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people in East King County. We partner with City of Bellevue and other local social services, businesses, schools, churches, and individuals who have the heart to feed the hungry in our community. We need your help!”

Here are some ways you can partner with Renewal Food Bank:

• Tell those in need about us and help them get the groceries they need!
• Volunteer at Renewal Food Bank — one time, bi-monthly, every week
• Support RFB at work through your company’s United Way campaign (once our IRS filing for 501(c)3 status is approved)
• Organize a neighborhood food drive — they can help you get started
• Set up a food donation bin at your school, church, or place of business
• Bring your family or child’s scout troop to Renewal Food Bank to volunteer
• Head up a food drive at your child’s school
• Bring weekly food collections from local business partners to the food bank
• Deliver food to housebound individuals
• Help pay the monthly bills with a monetary donation to Renewal Food Bank
Together we can build a strong community and care for the most vulnerable members of our Eastside community.

The Age-Old Christmas Stocking with a Brand-New Tradition

SHOP THE AGM at AGM.BELPRES.ORG from Thanksgiving to Dec 31.

I have always loved the decorations and gift-giving that comes with Christmas. As a small child, I loved going through my Christmas stocking first thing in the morning. When I became a parent, our children’s Christmas stockings were a highlight of our morning festivities. And then when I became a grandmother, I continued the tradition at my own home for my seven grandchildren – each with their own custom name-embroidered stocking.

But what goes inside those stockings now is different than what went in them when I was a child and young mother. What’s in there now?  A gift card from the BelPres Alternative Gift Market!

Around Thanksgiving, I provide the opportunity to each of my grandchildren to purchase a $50 gift from the catalog for someone in need. They each select their own, based on their preferences, and tell me what to buy. On Christmas morning, we take turns opening their stockings. When it is their turn, they each pull out the card and tell their cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and me what they purchased, and more importantly, why they selected it.

Sometimes it is a chicken or a goat to produce food or a living for a family in a foreign land. Other times it is a soccer ball so other kids can have a ball to play with (something they can’t imagine living without). Sometimes it is equipment for wells to get clean drinking water, and other times it has gone toward an education so girls in Africa can create better futures (this one from a grandson). The youngest, enamored with starting school a couple years ago, wanted to purchase school supplies and books for children who couldn’t afford their own. Another time it was a wheelchair to help another person get around more easily (perhaps from observing his own grandfather use one.)

I love that they can review the catalog with all the needs, that they make informed decisions based on their interests and opinions, and that they can share their reasons for their choice with the rest of the family. In the midst of the “getting,” we are reminded of the importance of “giving” too.

For me, the BelPres Alternative Gift Catalog is more than a donation during the holidays, and it is more than a personal contribution to the less fortunate. For me, it is one of my favorite ways to pass on a lesson of love to my grandchildren about Christian giving and sharing, along with the age-old Christmas stocking tradition.

 

SHOP THE ALTERNATIVE GIFT MARKET!  Open online Nov 21-Dec 31

agm.belpres.org

 

There but for grace . . .

Life is not always fair.  Many people bear more than their share of misfortune.  Life events such as the death of a loved one, loss of employment, divorce, abuse, addiction and physical or mental illness can result in loss of self-worth, depression and sometimes homelessness. Christmas can be a lonely time for those who are homeless, struggling with a self-destructive lifestyle or even transitioning to a stable living environment.

In the mid-1970s, two BelPres volunteers made Christmas just a little brighter at Seattle’s First Avenue Service Center for homeless men.  They shopped the sales, filled and wrapped 50 gift boxes with warm winter clothes and toiletries.  In the early 1980s, the need became greater than this generous and compassionate mother and daughter could provide alone.  BelPres’ Community Outreach Committee turned to the congregation and 200 boxes were packed for the Service Center. Seattle women’s shelters were added to the list of recipients and the project continued for twenty years.

In 2000, Seattle churches took over and BelPres focused on increasing needs of the homeless on the Eastside by preparing 50 gift boxes.   Chuck and Marie Olmstead have chaired this growing labor of love and generosity since 2001.  Last year, Karen Clark and Chuck Zuber began sharing the responsibility with them.

This year, the goal is to prepare 245 Christmas boxes:  180 boxes for men served by Congregations for the Homeless (CFH) in the Winter Shelter, the Rotating Shelter at churches – including BelPres and Transitional Housing for those approaching stability and independence; 25 boxes for Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST) – a residential program for women; 40 boxes for Homeless Youth (New Horizons) for males and females, ages 13-24.

Boxes and gift lists are available in the Lobby after all services on November 12, 19 and 26.  Filled and wrapped boxes should be returned to the church on December 3 or 10.

If you have questions or need more information, call:

Chuck or Marie Olmstead                 425-223-9373 (cell)       425-947-7917 (home)

Chuck Zuber or Karen Clark             425-765-4763 (cell)        425-823-9057 (home)

My Eyes Were Opened

I attended the “Frames & Filters Workshop” – an excellent presentation and time well spent!  In the past few months, I’ve also read several of the Justice resources we ordered for the BelPres Library, such as “Tears We Cannot Stop” by M. Dyson and “Between the World and Me” by T. Coates. Even though I spent many of my teenage years being a minority white among black American students and having some black friends, as well as my father participating in the Selma, Alabama march with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the late ‘60s, I only recently became more fully aware of the privileges my “whiteness” affords in our society, and also a deeper understanding of the realities faced by people of color.

This particularly became more personal as I reflected on a recent phone call from our “son”, George.  My husband and I “sponsored” George 20 years ago through an organization called Metro Ministries in Brooklyn, NY.  George was a darling little 6 year old black kid with a big smile who stole my heart when I saw his photo at a Children’s pastor conference.  George’s father, a drug dealer, was murdered when George was 2 and he grew up in the dangerous inner city of NY.  He says without Metro Ministries and the power of Jesus, he would either be in jail or dead.

George is now married with two children and lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is a man filled with the love of Jesus.    We usually call or text about once a month, but this time the call came on a weekday evening – a rather unusual time.  He told me he was returning home from work and was on the side of the highway with a flat tire. He was getting it fixed but his wife was worried and there was concern in his voice.  We talked for a few minutes, he said he was about ready to be on his way, and we said our goodbyes and I didn’t think much more about it.  Only later as I was reading Coates book, did this conversation with George come to mind.  My “eyes were opened”, so to speak.   It was what George DIDN’T say that I finally understood – that he was a black man, along the side of the road, and vulnerable to potential harassment by a passing motorist, or a policeman just because of his color.  It saddens my heart to know that George, and now his bi-racial son, and people of color face such concerns each and every day they step outside their homes.

I’m so grateful for the work of the Justice Team to bring the “Frames & Filters” workshop to BelPres, as well as keeping us informed of other opportunities in our community to increase our understanding of each other’s realities and how to live together the 3rd WAY – the JESUS WAY, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and looking for opportunities to bring justice and healing in our own walk in life.

May God richly bless and guide you and your team,

Kandis Losh

BelPres Libraries Ministry Coordinator

 

Replying to Seattle’s Displacing Economy

Inspired by the popular television show, Shark Tank, Urban Impact successfully held its 2nd Annual Sharks at the Beach Social Venture Pitch Competition in March. Urban Impact’s version of Shark Tank addresses poverty by promoting local business and supporting local entrepreneurs with coaching, as they present and work on their business plans.

This year’s winner, owner of Jacob Willard Home, an antique furniture store for over two years in the heart of Hillman City, Karl Hackett is launching a groundbreaking process of helping local small businesses remain sustainable and keep up with a neighborhood that continues to see change and development as a result of ongoing gentrification.

As a 20-something, Karl grew up during a time when it was still affordable for a young person to live alone and easily foster relationships with small business owners in the community.  As a homeowner in the Central District, he began to see the effects of gentrification in his community over the years.  He realized that the very thing that made a neighborhood “cool” to live in was being diluted by raised rents that pushed locals out, as new wealthy residents moved in.  As a business owner in the Hillman City neighborhood, he and others saw their leases increase by 50% over a short period of time.

Karl took a leap of faith and allowed God to use his passion for collecting chairs to become something much grander.  Impacted by the work of Urban Impact and Community Development Hub at Rainier Avenue Church, he has seen the impact of what an active church in the community looks like. He believes that Urban Impact shares his vision of breaking stereotypes and endless cycles that leave a community crushed. Karl would like to see more churches get involved in their communities and step outside the church walls to do outreach like he has seen with the Urban Impact Community Development Church Hubs.

In his business plan, Community First Development is the idea of promoting cooperative commercial ownership in the community that will allow small business owners to purchase their rental space. Karl’s team is hoping to partner with contractors to acquire buildings that are in need of updates so they can be purchased at an affordable rate, remodeled, and units can be sold in a coop structure that would be affordable for local businesses to buy and sell, essentially acting like an HOA (Home Owners Association) for a business with the idea to keep small locally run businesses at the heart of the community.

Although the hope was to launch this venture in a year, it will be a challenge due to the fast pace of the economy. However, he is confident that they will have the full support of the community to reach their starting goal soon, and will be launching a fundraising campaign to raise capital to acquire their first project. Stay tuned!

Why Young Life?  

It’s easy to be discouraged about teenagers by looking at the headlines. Depression and suicide rates are on the rise. Church attendance rates are dropping and too many teenagers enter college and abandon their faith.  It’s easy to be alarmed and wonder how the next generation is going to choose to follow Jesus.

Right here in Bellevue are 35 adults investing time and energy to introduce teenagers to Jesus and help them grow in faith.  Those 35 adults are Young Life (YL) leaders living out the Great Commission: going directly to middle and high school kids and “sharing not only the Gospel of God but (their) very lives as well.”  1 Thessalonians 2:8

Over the last 2 years, a YL leader Greg has been invested in the life of Russ, a high school sophomore.  They met at a Young Life summer camp where Russ attended with quite a few of his friends.  At camp, there’s always a lot of fun and adventure during the day and a message of Christ every night. And Russ was a challenge for Greg.  He wasn’t interested in hearing about Jesus and even made fun of the kids who were.  Russ’ attitude made it almost impossible for Greg to have real, authentic conversations with the others in the cabin because Russ mocked anyone for any ideas or thoughts they expressed.  Greg was discouraged and felt like a horrible leader.  Camp ended and Russ’ attitude hadn’t changed.  For Greg, it seemed like a wasted week.

But Greg stayed with it.  He continued a friendship with Russ.  He went to Russ’ basketball games, texted Russ to check-in and then, invited Russ to bible studies. Slowly, Greg started to earn Russ’ respect.  Russ didn’t attend many things Greg invited him to, but he saw Greg keep showing up in his life.  Without pushing or being annoying, Greg just stayed consistent.

This last summer, Russ went to Young Life camp again.  Greg was excited to have Russ back but was hesitant to have him in his cabin.  He didn’t want a repeat of two summers ago and he didn’t want the week ruined.

This time, Russ was a different person.  Because of the hard-earned friendship, when Greg talked, Russ listened.  When Greg asked questions, Russ responded.   When Greg asked Russ to be respectful of others, Russ was.  Before the week was over, Russ decided to follow Jesus.  Because of God’s grace and Greg’s consistent caring, it was a huge first step in a faith journey for a challenged teenager.

Young Life works when a leader shows up in the life of a teenager, sharing not only the gospel but their very lives as well.  Whether at Camp, a monthly Club gathering, a Campaigner group bible study, or a kids’ basketball game….Young Life leaders just keep showing up.

Thank you to all at BelPres who, by your support of our staff and our leaders, allow us to keep “showing up” in the lives of teenagers, bringing them the hope of Jesus Christ that can change lives forever.

We are grateful!

Scott Didrickson, Area Director

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Young Life leader in Bellevue, please email  bellevueyloffice@gmail.com.  To financially support Bellevue Young Life, please go to younglife.org

Who is Your Neighbor?

We organized neighborhood potlucks for years when our kids were younger and then every year afterward, we would say, “We need to do this again.” Somehow, 10 years slipped by.  Last year, we promised this would change.

In the dark, cold winter of 2016 walking door-to-door to 25 neighbors with an invitation for a potluck dinner, we were met with surprise and delight.  Several neighbors had lived in the neighborhood for years but had yet to meet others.  Others had intended to organize such a gathering but never got around to it.  And one young child greeted us at the door with joy and excitement to receive an invitation.

The neighborhood potluck was a smashing success.  22 households brought a great variety of food and drink.  As the evening progressed, conversations bubbled.  We became aware our neighborhood had become more international over the years.  It was a delight to see the comradery among neighbors and a surprise by how easy it was to bring everyone together.  All that was really required of us was extending the invitation.

As this summer neared its end, we again reached out to neighbors by hosting a Saturday evening barbeque. Again, our neighbors greeted us with joy and excitement.  We have seen these gatherings bring neighbors closer together, helping all to feel like they belong and are a community.  We intend to find more opportunities to gather as a supportive community and to help all feel welcomed.

Join the Justice & Reconciliation Team and BelPres folks to reach out to their neighbors for Welcoming Week Sep 15-24, a nationwide celebration of immigrants and refugees’s contributions, and community’s role in helping them feel at home.Host a potluck, barbecue, coffee or brunch in your neighborhood to build understanding and support between long time residents and newcomers to our land.

Keeping Children in School is the Right Thing

Everyday Counts

Julio, a bright eyed, energetic, six-year old first-grader in a Bellevue elementary school is chronically tardy and frequently absent from school. When the school’s attendance secretary called his home one morning, Julio answered the phone.  “She’s sleeping” said Julio when the secretary asked for Mom. “She worked all night cleaning at the hospital.” His mom does custodial work on the “graveyard” shift.

Studies show unequivocally that children who fall behind in learning in early grades are rarely able to catch up and experience academic success. Educators often say, “By third grade, you must learn to read and from then on, you must read to learn.” Julio, through no fault of his own, is losing ground every day he’s tardy or misses school altogether. He is just six years old.

Video games are the passion of Jesse (a middle-schooler).  He’s connected online with a group of middle school peers who compete head-to-head and, sometimes as groups, in combat-style games. Often, the competition heats up in the late evening and Jesse stays engaged into the wee hours of the morning.  Since his parents leave by 6:30 a.m. for work, they count on Jesse to get himself to school. Even when he attends, Jesse misses the first two or three periods of the school day.

Successful transitions from 5th to 6th grade and from 8th to 9th are critical to a student’s continued progress toward high school graduation.  Jesse got distracted by the video games as he began the first year of middle school.  Just when his parents work schedule required him to assume more personal responsibility for attending school, he slipped through the transition gap and cannot realize that his future is at stake.  A high school diploma is typically the minimum credential for long-term employment and life success. In Bellevue, the five-year high school graduation rate for the class of 2016 was 94.5%. This means that more than 80 students did not attain this crucial credential within five years of starting ninth grade. The students who did not complete high school are not randomly distributed throughout the population. They are mostly male (71%), often Black or Hispanic (31%), and likely face an additional challenge such as low family income (39%), limited English proficiency (20%), a special education need (32%), and/or being homeless (6%).

Community Support Required

Julio and Jesse represent a segment of the local student population in dire need of community support.  When students need an extra dose of structure or support to get attendance habits back on track, they connect with the Community Truancy Board (CTB) at the Bellevue School District. The CTB combines the power of the court, the resources of the school district, community members and the involvement of the family to respond effectively to a student’s truancy.  CTB engagement is often an effective way to: start the conversation with a family about student attendance, reestablish a connection between school staff and a student, and identify what changes need to occur to help the student get back on track.

 Volunteers Staff the CTB

The Board meets weekly and is staffed with community volunteers, district employees, and city staff.  Typically, a community volunteer serves just one day per month.  At the CTB meetings, conversations with students and their families surface many potential solutions to improve attendance.  CTB serves over 50 chronically absent students per year – meeting with most multiple times.

The CTB builds a culture of service among Board members so that, when children have an unmet need impacting their attendance, the community will find a way to address it. Board members have secured outside services for students and families through numerous organizations such as Jubilee REACH, Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA. The Kid REACH tutoring program at BelPres is also a factor in this culture of community support.

Community volunteers are trained before they hear cases at CTB. They learn skills of “mindful inquiry” and reflective listening.  Board members are non-judgmental, clear-spoken and interested in the safety and well-being of students and their families. They attend hearings on a regular basis, read background material on the cases, ask open-ended questions of students, parents/guardians and participate in creating recommendations for a plan to help students achieve regular school attendance.

 Student and Parent Testimonies

While the work of the CTB is a strategy for meeting the requirements of Washington State law mandating school attendance, the great benefits are those realized by the students who follow the Board’s recommendations and attend school. In the close of the past school year, the mother of a former chronically truant student expressed her gratitude to the CTB: “You helped very much in terms of motivation and support. Without you, we wouldn’t have known what to do… At the truancy board meetings, I learned the meaning of community:  it means our family and everyone coming together to help each other out. I am very grateful because, without them, my daughter would not have made a turn around and been recognized for it. She still has a ways to go but she graduated high school and is now taking classes at Bellevue College.”

The daughter rediscovered her potential and found the CTB to be a supportive community presence that held her accountable.  She said, “The Truancy Board was helpful because they kept me accountable to the plan. It was good to come to the meetings every month. Their encouragement helped me learn from my mistakes and I didn’t give up.”  Many students and families need the surrounding community to help them meet the challenges of daily life.  Children who experience academic success and graduate from high school with a post-secondary plan are better equipped for adult life, responsible citizenship and making a contribution to our community.

BelPres Involvement 

Multiple members of BelPres have served on the Community Truancy Board and attest to its value and results. In the words of Dave Cole, “The experience of being a part of the Truancy Board has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life.  Witnessing a vulnerable, young, male student – so deeply troubled from previous sexual abuse – successfully bond with a teacher who showed him unconditional love was truly amazing. Over time, the boy’s life was transformed.  I heard that teacher say, with tears rolling down her cheeks, ‘I love that child.’  The work of the CTB is remarkable.”

Approaching the new school year, the CTB has vacancies to be filled. Please contact Community Outreach Director, Tom Brewer for further information about serving on the CTB.