KidREACH Connections

Meet Miabella, Fifolu, Margaret, and Beth!

Fifolu and Beth are tutors who make a profound difference in the lives of their students. Neither has an educational background, but both have a heart for children and find tutoring to be very rewarding.

Summers are particularly hard for students who struggle academically. As early as Grade 1, summer learning loss can be recognized. By the end of grade 6; students who have experienced summer learning loss over the years, are an average of two years behind their peers.

This is especially true for the children of parents whose first language is other than English. Learning a new language (ELL) impacts more than a person’s language skills and vocabulary – if they can’t read the directions, how can they succeed in math?  Fifolu and Beth help level the playing field for Miabella and Margaret.

Thanks to Fifolu, Miabella, a delightful second grader is catching up. Children often come to BelPres KidREACH feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, but by the time they are in High School, many students qualify for Advanced Placement courses. Giving hope to Miabella inspires her whole family. Her mother just completed her High School Diploma and is now in college taking bookkeeping courses. Miabella’s sister is also a KidREACH alumnus. She is currently a successful college graduate, working as a bookkeeper.

Fifolu is not only a tutor; she is a role model. She takes her own grades seriously and has helped inspire Miabella to love learning, especially reading. Miabella also feels loved and supported. She looks forward to tutoring each week and works hard.

Margaret and Beth have also built a secure connection this year. Margaret, also a second grader, is a delight. Her parents say tutoring is the highlight of her week. She loves Beth and can hardly wait to see her.

Both families are immigrants, and neither family could afford to pay for a tutor. They speak highly of this ministry’s effectiveness. This is true for all the families we minister to by KidREACH. Most families at BelPres KidREACH are immigrants from countries such as Rwanda, Congo, Guatemala, Mexico, Ukraine, and more. They enroll their children in the KidREACH Summer Tutoring because they know it helps level the playing field. It is also a powerful way of bringing about social justice and racial reconciliation.

Make a profound difference in the life of a child – be a Summer Tutor.

Interested in being a Summer Tutor? Teaching background is not necessary; all you need is a heart for children and a desire to give a child hope for a better life. Curriculum and support are provided. Summer Tutoring is for 4 weeks on Thursdays from 6pm-8pm. The dates are July 18, July 25, August 1 and August 8. Get additional information, contact: belpresserve@belpres.org

Thank You

It has been one year since I started working at BelPres. It was exciting to go back to work after a 14-year hiatus to raise kids. However, I was afraid I would be a failure and not be up to the task since this is my home church. And I was also worried that I would find the guts of the church to be messy and not be as pretty as what I see on Sunday mornings.

Like any other workplace, there is a mix of personalities and working styles. I was happy to find people with incredible talents and genuine hearts to serve our God and community at BelPres. Our Prayer+Care team visit and pray for our congregants in hospitals when their family cannot come. Our Belong+Grow team helps families build community through mealpacking and eating burgers. Our Worship team sings heartwarming songs to fill our souls with hope and peace through the tragedies of this year. Our Facilities team provides jobs for new immigrants and homeless to get them on their feet. Our pastors share stories of our congregants that inspire all of us to love others because we were loved first.  Each department and person doing their part to make BelPres a church community.

And then there is Mission+Serve department, which has become my home this past year. I’m biased, but I feel like Mission+Serve is the heart of BelPres; serving, teaching, sharing, and growing our BelPres family. We provide food to hungry neighbors; we donate diapers for babies, we send people to help after the devastating hurricanes in Texas, we give much-needed supplies and gifts through AGM. We offer tutoring services for kids needing extra help through KidREACH; we come together to let go of racial prejudices and become compassion neighbors, we bring presents for homeless and children with a parent in prison, and so much more.

And “we” is not exclusive of the staff at the Mission+Serve. “We” is not “we” without our dedicated volunteers who support, lead, pray and give of their time, money and gifts. So much of the work in Mission+Serve is done by our tireless volunteers.  I learned that there are many programs that serve our community that were founded right here at BelPres because our volunteers saw a need that needed to be met.

I am learning from all of you what it means to serve with all your heart.  So thank you for serving along with us in Mission+Serve. Thank you for being God’s hands and feet.  Thank you for giving to God and His children.  May God’s blessings overflow in you in 2018 so that you may share your blessing with others!

Happy New Year!

KidREACH: When Small Things Make a Big Difference

KIDReach tutor and student

Editor’s Note: The new director for KidREACH, Lisa Harold, shares her passion for education and the amazing work of volunteer tutors to students with significant educational needs. 

Small things can make a big difference, especially when it comes to education.

I was a corporate trainer for a call center. At the end of one training, a newly hired employee came to me and angrily told me he did not have time for homework. He said he was a single parent with two young children at home.

I was sympathetic and let him know that I understood that being a single parent is hard and has a lot of challenges. Then I asked if his children had homework. He looked suspicious as he cautiously said yes. Then I gave a small bit of encouragement that would ultimately make a big difference for generations:kidreach

I said, “Perhaps you could gather around the table after school and do your homework together. It would be a way of being a role model and showing your children that learning is a lifelong process. That learning doesn’t stop once you are out of school.”

And so it began. The family gathered around the table and did their homework. Once his new hire training ended, he modeled the notion that learning was a lifelong process by getting his GED. Then he received training to be a culinary chef.

Years later I was at 13 Coins, where he was a chef, and he came out to see me. He told me his oldest was graduating with a B average and going to college. He said his youngest was also getting B’s. I told him that was wonderful.

He proudly said, “You don’t understand. My son is the first person in my entire extended family that has ever so much as graduated from high school. And he’s getting B’s and going to college.”

Empowering people through education is the greatest opportunity to free people from the cycle of poverty that I am aware of. It’s why I’m humbled and honored to be the new KidREACH Director.

KidREACH provides free tutoring to children who not only struggle academically, but also often are dealing with the obstacles associated with poverty. However we do more than provide tutoring. We are present with the children and their families and show them the love of Jesus through our words and actions.

It’s not unusual for a student to feel overwhelmed and unmotivated when they begin with KidREACH. But they quickly realize they are loved and supported. Children become motivated to learn when they feel cared about. It makes a big difference.

Volunteer tutors develop deep, caring relationships with the students they work with. Most tutors do not have a teaching background. They take time out of their busy days week after week. Many start with a student when they are in kindergarten and stay with them for years.

Tutors delight in the “aha!” moments that take place when their students finally grasp concepts.  They have a passion for this ministry and wish they had more time with each child.  They wish there were more tutors because the need is so great.tutor compressed

Small things make a big difference. KidREACH tutors do millions of small things, week after week, year after year. It makes a big difference.

If you would like to learn more about this tutoring ministry or would like to be involved, please contact: belpres.org/getconnected

 

 

A Missionary’s Perspective: Family, Dating, and Courtship in Cambodia

Cambodian young adults

The following is a post written by long-term Cambodian missionary, Brian Maher. Read as he gently reminds us that family is a gift, and a family founded on love is a building block for a healthy society.

One evening while I was going to pick up my daughter from the University of Economics and Finance, I glanced at my watch and saw there was still a bit of time before she got out. So to kill time, I went to a nearby barber shop to have my hair shampooed. In the shop, there was a man in his mid-sixties getting his hair dyed, “Do you have a family?” he asked the female stylist. In Khmer culture sometimes people ask staff about their husbands or wives. “Family,” she said, “Yes, I used to have a family, but I divorced my husband.” The conversation went on and on, and I found out that young lady was twenty-four years old. I knew that this young lady had built her family on the foundation of arranged marriages.

Arranged marriages are still popular in the Khmer culture, especially in the provinces or in the countryside. However, in the city, most people are exposed to western cultural values and customs through globalization via various forms of media, so it seems that the younger generation prefers the practice of choosing their own partner for marriage.

Family is the cell of the society. If the cells have some problems, the whole society will also suffer. Before we talk about the happiness in a family, we should trace the Khmer word ‘family’ to the root word which means, “Father and Mother, I Love You.” Before starting a family, one has to decide to get married first. Before marriage one has to choose a partner. Before choosing a partner, one has to be in some kind of community. What criterion does one use in choosing someone to be their lifelong partner?  Based on what? Love, lust, social status (Hindu cast system), or economics? If we have wrong expectations or criteria, we will never be able to build a good and happy family at all. But rather, I tell you that love is a very important component for building a solid family unit.

During the civil war, which lasted from 1967-1975, Cambodia went through so many challenges and frustrations. The present society is the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge era. During this era, Cambodian couples were forced to get married in a common thatch cafeteria. They got married because of fear, not because of love. Most of the parents of young adults in today’s present society have gone through forced marriages.

“If I lived separately from my mother-in-law, I would not have divorced him at all,” the stylist continued. She let out a long sigh of despair before she continued to share her personal story. It is unusual to hear a young female stylist share her personal story to a customer in her shop like that. She must have really needed to share her grief with someone.

In Khmer culture, the groom has to come live at the bride’s house, and he has to put down a dowry for the bride’s parents. It implies that the groom must buy a wife. But in the Bible, God brought Eve to Adam as a gift. Adam did not pay anything, and his wife was a free gift from God.

The best gift that each parent can give to their children when they get married is independence from the cultural obligations of children to the parents. The best gift to them would be not interfering too much in their personal family business. Older Khmer people still want to live in an extended family situation, not so much in a nuclear family. When a son or daughter gets married, their priority is to their own family – parents have no business interfering in their decisions and choices. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24)  The husband has to cut any links of unhealthy parental influences from both sets of parents and give full attention to the needs and health of the newlywed couple.

As you know, the family is the cell of the society. In Khmer Rouge time, they tried to destroy the family component. I remembered a saying from Confucius.

 

If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.

If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.

If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.

If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

— Confucius

 

After Creation, God built the human race through a family. What is a family?  Family started with Adam and Eve. God brought Eve to Adam. That means Adam did not hunt down or choose a wife. He received a wife as a gift from God. But in the Khmer culture, the phrase ‘take a wife’ or ‘look for a wife’ can determine what happens in the future for the couple. Adam did not look for a wife. God knew he lived alone, and it was not easy, so He gave him a woman as his wife. If Adam looked for a wife on his own according to some faulty criteria, and she did not work out the way he liked, he might toss her out and look for another one. Believe it or not, in Khmer culture, because the man has to pay for his wife, he has the right to throw her away if she does not perform or do the job he paid for. A man will look for another one at a price he can afford.  When one buys a phone they like, it isn’t long before a better model comes out, and they toss the old one away and buy a new one. But a wife is not like buying a useful item – a wife is someone you are given as a gift.

In what ways have you placed a criteria on your family? How can you see the ways in which God placed your family in your life as a gift?

As you continue this week, please pray for the missionaries in Cambodia and the strengthening and healing needed within Cambodian families.

What I Did for Summer Vacation–Dissertation Work!

Over the past three years, I have been part of an eleven-person global cohort from Kenya, Nigeria, Greece, India, France, Korea, China, and the US. Together we are discovering how to further the Kingdom of God around the world through our individual research projects. We meet annually at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA, and are always amazed at what we learn from each other.

This summer I am faced with the daunting task of writing the rough draft of my doctoral dissertation on the results of my research project. After discussing it with Missions Pastor, Rich Leatherberry, and with the support of my amazing Missions+Serve Team, I scheduled an unpaid leave for July 5th– Aug 21st to focus on accomplishing this huge task. Halfway through this leave, I thought it would be a good time to share with everyone my research project.

My research project is the result of my long-term interest and work in walking alongside young Latinas in urban poverty contexts. These Latinas acquire significant strengths in survival and leadership skills; they have powerful hopes and dreams for a better life for themselves and their children. However, many have suffered abuse and abandonment and are on the margins in life experience and behavior. These wounds rob them of the ability to envision themselves as uniquely created by God, and as women of value with gifts and leadership skills that are essential for their personal lives, their communities, the church, and the greater missio Dei. Through many years of working in medical education and ministry with Latinas in urban poverty, I came to see Christian mentoring as a powerful tool in the work of bringing healing and restoration to Latinas struggling to find their way in a majority culture.

In my study, I address how urban poverty has marred Latinas’ identity, their understanding of being created in the image of God, and their value within the Kingdom of God. The study also looks at Christian women who desire to walk alongside Latinas in urban poverty through mentoring relationships. I found that mentors discover their own stories of marred identity and develop in their understanding of being created in the image of God and their own role.

What is “marred identity”? Jayakumar Christian, PhD, is the National Director and CEO of World Vision India. In God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power and the Kingdom of God, Christian writes, “Poverty mars the identity of the poor and hurts the soul of all” (Christian 1999, 139). Marred identity is not simply defined by, or the result of low income, lack of access to resources or inability to succeed in mainstream society. Rather it is a pervasive and all-inclusive robbing of the poor’s identity as created by God, in God’s image, with “intrinsic dignity and worth, a worth which belongs to all human beings” (Christian 1999, 67). Marring of the poor’s identity sets the groundwork for further exploitation through objectifying the poor and legitimizing using the poor to serve the structures of the powerful.

In my research, I have witnessed the formidable influence urban poverty holds in numerous aspects of Latinas’ lives and the results of such influence. Many of the Latinas I worked with did not believe that they were capable of breaking out of the cycle of poverty in which they lived. This belief impacted their present and their future; rather than act with a vision of the future, their decisions were frequently made with the immediacy of the present in mind.

Additionally, fundamental issues of shame and lack of self-confidence, brokenness of families, and broken systems of support appeared to overlay every aspect of their lives. Many Latinas experienced deep-seated prejudice and judgment of their ethnicity and poverty status. They also struggled to navigate generational differences and expectations of their “home” culture with the majority culture in which they now lived. All this interwove to create a profound sense of hopelessness in being able to recover from a marred identity and to break out of the cycle of urban poverty.

What became evident in this research was the importance of listening to Latinas’ stories of their experiences. Sharing with Christian mentors brought dignity to Latinas along with an understanding that, at the heart, marred identity is a spiritual issue. Christian mentoring became the avenue for Latinas to discover their inherent value as created in the image of God. Recovering from a marred identity enabled them to envision a good future for themselves and their children. This vision then led Latinas to begin breaking free from the constraints of urban poverty as they made daily positive choices with the future in mind.

Latinas in urban poverty and their Christian mentors are integral to God’s mission and to furthering the Kingdom of God. As well, the church benefits and grows when it reaches out to those in urban poverty by intentionally learning about their experiences and where God is at work in urban poverty contexts. I am so grateful for all the encouragement I have received from the BelPres staff and congregation to pursue this important work! I am excited to share with you how the stories of Latinas and of Christian mentors interweave to bring healing and restoration, furthering God’s Kingdom on earth.