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!

Becoming Aware of Being Unaware

Brent Christie is the founder and former executive director of Jubilee REACH.

Race – a “hot button” issue and perhaps the most explosive issue in our society. Conversations about race and racism can be very uncomfortable, socially awkward, even a bit dangerous, as latent emotions, perceptions, and pain become unmasked.

I thought I was ready, even eager, to engage in the racial conversation when I was invited by friends and partners within the Bellevue School District to participate in a five-day conference on race: “Courageous Conversations.” That’s five days among 900 racially diverse “strangers” from school districts throughout the country.

The first prerequisite for participation in the conference was that I “stay engaged.” No matter how personal or perilous the dialogue on race, every participant was to stay engaged and committed to the conversation. The second related and requisite tenet was to “expect and experience discomfort.” I was about to discover (when unpacking my own and others’ perspectives and experiences about race) things were going to get uncomfortable. It didn’t take long.

In response to 26 statements of what I consider normal, everyday life and social experiences, each of us was asked to privately score “our truths” based upon our race or color. After totaling our scores, we silently lined up around the room, highest scores to lowest. Without a sound, 250 diversely mixed people became ranked according to their racial “truth experience score.” White males formed the front of the line and then clustered with white females. From there, the line extended from lighter to darker shades of brown to black at the very end of the line. The quiet was palpable; the visual, profound. Then our facilitator asked who had college degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.’s by a show of hands. Ultimately, more hands remained raised at the end of the line.

Discomfort – The conference called Courageous Conversations just got real. Voices began to speak. Voices of color spoke most: first from observations, then from inner thoughts and feelings, then from profound personal stories of real life experiences. Polite turned to painful. As the conversation became more personal, penetrating and risky, the more silent I and my white colleagues became. Retreating to my “white male comfort club” was no longer a choice. My gut was churning.

Face to face in public for the next few days, I was facilitated through a deeper dialogue. In smaller groups, we unpacked. Through a persistent process of awkward (often gut-wrenching) dialogue, I recognized how truly unconscious I was of my privilege. Being oblivious to my state of entitlement and white privilege, I can actually irritate another person.

I absorbed stories from black and brown people, professionals with Ph.D.’s, being pulled over by police being told, “you people take advantage of our rights…” I empathized with a highly educated black mother defending her children when a white school teacher insisted her 8-year-old son “didn’t belong” and demanded he be placed in special education classes. When that well-educated black mother became upset and persistent, she was dismissed as “irrational and angry,” asked to calm down or be removed from the school.

Using only eye contact, we were directed to select a person of a different race to engage in a direct one-on-one conversation. Earlier, I had observed a black woman speaking in our general session. I was drawn to her pleasant, thoughtful manner. Fortunately, we made eye contact at the same time and our gesture to one another sealed our mutual selection of each other to engage in a courageous conversation. I learned Bernadette was a Ph.D. and school board trustee for one of the largest school districts in the country. Learning I was from Seattle, Bernadette explained how she loved Nordstrom. Then she shared her truth, “When I shop at Nordstrom, I always dress well. I have learned that when I dress casually, I’m looked at differently and I don’t receive the same service or attention.”

Bernadette said that she would be leaving the conference early to tend to a civil unrest issue (a video that had gone viral) in her district. The video was of her! She had challenged the stance of her white male superintendent on a racial matter at her school board meeting. As she left the meeting, the superintendent arranged for the police to forcibly arrest her as she departed the building. I watched the YouTube video in disbelief.  Now knowing Bernadette, I was angry.

The third tenet of Courageous Conversations required I “speak my truth,” not passing off my own thoughts or assumptions as “some people.” I must own my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions without fear of offending, appearing angry or sounding ignorant.

The fourth and final tenet was to “expect and accept a lack of closure.” Conversations about race usually provide no resolution but can perpetuate a process of learning, understanding, even appreciation and perhaps empathy.

Intense – that is one way of describing “my truth” of five days of Courageous Conversation in New Orleans. I certainly became aware of how unaware I was. Unaware and unconscious of the liberties, privileges, even entitlements being a white male affords me in our society. Douglas Fitch, a Methodist pastor wrote, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” I realize that many of my beliefs on race are based on misconceptions because I have never experienced being a person of color in school, living in a white culture, entering the workforce or pursuing a career,

For racial conditions to change, I also realized it is not my role to play “savior” or be the “big white fix.” Rather I must change – I must be the change. I must be culturally competent and conscious, and deconstruct the barriers and biases that assume there is something wrong with people based on their racial or ethnic makeup. I must be the change I want to see, stay engaged, experience discomfort, speak my truth, and expect and accept this is not going to be easy. I must get comfortable with discomfort.

And to Bernadette, on the chance that you may ever read this, I want to say “thanks.” “Thank you for speaking your truth to me, for connecting your eyes with mine, allowing me to hear your truth and see your heart as a mother, a courageous leader, and a friend during an intense week of personal discovery.”



June 28-29 at Odle Middle School: Beyond Diversity is a powerful, personal transforming 2-day seminar designed to help leaders, educators, students, parents, administrators and community participants understand the impact of race on students learning and investigate the role that racism plays in institutionalizing academic achievement disparities.
Get more information or register online at

A Decade of Jubilee

“If you would look at all the activities and missions that our people, individually and collectively, have been involved in, you would find very few places in the community or the world that have not been touched.” The Ripple Effect, Bellevue Presbyterian

Caring for others, locally and globally, is one of Bellevue Presbyterian’s distinguishing characteristics. In August, the Bellevue Reporter featured an article about Jubilee REACH and the annual service day. This year marks 11 years since Bellevue Presbyterian members Jan and Gary King developed their vision for Jubilee, as well as the 10-year anniversary of the annual service day. (more…)

Behind the Scenes with Andy Taber

Let me introduce you to our behind the scenes volunteer for the month. In a nutshell, he’s a true candidate for “The Apprentice.” He has the street smarts and the education. His specialty? A hammer. “My dad taught me how to use a hammer, and then I went to college to understand the business side of the hammer.” Our church and community have been fortunate to be the recipients of Andy Taber’s talent. (more…)

The Secret Service of Rev. Norm O’Banyon

I can tell you now that I may run out of space while telling you all you need to know about Rev. Norm O’Banyon, this month’s Secret Servant.  But a quote from his wife, Kathy, sums him up pretty well, “He’s the most wonderful man in the world!” Now that’s a supportive spouse! They seem hand in glove and Norm makes it clear that they are a team in everything. (more…)

BelPres Missions Week in Pictures

By Mary McCracken, Director of Community Outreach

Our Mission’s team has been busy the past two weeks! Below are pictures from just a few of our events.

Israel – Palestine Group

The Israel-Palestine group hosted a very exciting event called Hope for the Holy Land. Sponsored by World Vision and hosted by BelPres and Overlake Christian Church, we welcome a panel of people to discuss the most pressing issues in achieving peace in this region of the world.

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Fireside Knitters

The Fireside Knitters continue to work on a variety of projects for men, women and children experiencing homelessness. These beautiful women of all ages meet the first and third Thursday of the month in the Welcome room from 9 – noon.

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High School and the Middle at Mary’s Place

This past Saturday we loaded up the BelPres vans with BelPres FLM and Missions staff, parents, youth, kitchen supplies and PIES!!! We journeyed to Mary’s Place in downtown Seattle to worship with women and children experiencing homelessness. Afterwards, we were privileged to join volunteers from two other churches to serve a hot and delicious Thanksgiving meal, including pies. A great time was had by all! Did we say PIES?!?!?

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Jubilee REACH Festival of Trees

A stellar event kicking off the holiday season in Bellevue. Jubilee REACH staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to create a beautiful celebration of all that the Lord is doing through them to care for young people in Bellevue. The Bellevue community generously gave over $845,000.00!!!
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