Faithful Mission: Educate a Child, Transform the World
A bimonthly online column by Linda Valentine
As Christians, we are called to step into the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, and education is the primary way.
“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela famously said. “Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they will face. So it’s very important to give children education and explain that they should play a role for their country.”
And as heirs of John Calvin, we honor and uphold our tradition’s strong commitment to education by empowering all of God’s children at every age and stage of their education and development.
Now—in a timely and critical acknowledgment of the power of early intervention to help break the cycles of poverty—the Presbyterian Mission Agency, with the unanimous affirmation of the 221st General Assembly (2014), has launched Educate a Child, Transform the World.
The new initiative—which Frank Dimmock of Presbyterian World Mission calls a “gateway out” for people trapped in poverty—calls on Presbyterians to provide quality education to 1 million children in the United States and around the world in the next four years as a means to alleviate poverty, especially for women and children.
First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis, Maryland—because of its unique history and location—understands well not only the power of early intervention to transform lives but also the stark reality of poverty.
Founded in 1846 in a historic section of Annapolis, the church has a long history of commitment to public schools. “In fact,” says Bill Hathaway, the church’s pastor, “back . . . when public schools were for men only, the first public school for girls in Annapolis was held in the basement of our sanctuary.”
Twelve years ago, a retiring teacher made a small gift to the church as she was leaving Annapolis. “Do something to help children in the community,” she said. Her gift became the starting point for a conversation about what the church could do to address the startling high dropout rate among Hispanic and African American students.
“We were very much aware of the whole cycle that if a child is behind in reading in second or third grade, the chances of them catching up and graduating high school are much reduced,” Bill says. “So we realized that where we could have an impact on the high school graduation rate was to work with the reading skills of second graders.”
The church soon connected with a program called STAIR (Start The Adventure In Reading)—founded by a consortium of Presbyterian churches in New Orleans—and eventually formed an Annapolis chapter, which just incorporated as a 501(c)(3).
The volunteer-run chapter, now in its 10th year at the church, provides one-on-one tutoring two hours a week to public-school second graders reading below grade level. What began with one site linked to one school has grown into six sites connected with six schools.
“Our congregation understands this program as our response to urban poverty and to the historic racial divisions in Annapolis,” Bill says. “Many people don’t know this, but Annapolis, which is perceived as wealthy, has one of the highest percentages of citizens in public housing of any city in the country.”
Bill says that the program is successful because its three-way partnership—with a national organization, the local community centers, and each of the grade schools—gives its depth and strength. “This is grassroots, on-the-ground, volunteer stuff, which is significant as congregations think about what they can do,” he says. “We don’t have any trouble raising funds. People love to give money to help kids read.”
J. Herbert Nelson of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness spoke at General Assembly last June about the need for quality public education in the United States, calling it “shameful” that only 18 percent of schools are expected to meet the basic reading standards of No Child Left Behind this year.
“Too often the dividing line of education runs through the intersections of poverty and race,” Nelson said.
In Bill Hathaway’s mind, Educate a Child, Transform the World is the right initiative at the right time. “It’s a perfect match with one of the strengths of being Presbyterian—namely, our historic commitment to education in general and public education specifically,” Bill says. “Where we can make an impact, I think it’s a perfect match.”
Joining because of the Multicultural conversation.
James and New Covenant are most definitely about ushering in the reign of God. May their tribe increase!
When I was serving churches, before I retired, we often used the Belhar Confession as part of our worship service on Sunday. Members of the church often requested it.