Lufkin Laity Leading by Example
When laity lead by example, amazing things can happen. This busy mom and physical therapist in Lufkin saw a mission field just out of the church window.
“When I had small kids, a full time job, and a busy life, I vividly remember feeling God tapping me on the shoulder saying to me…your church sits across the street from the largest middle school in Texas…reach out to that school, go in there and mentor kids,” recalls Elisa Harris, a member of First UMC Lufkin in East Texas. “I had a series of excuses at the time, however, I sensed God tapping me again while I was taking a Disciple Bible Study class a few years ago.
As we discussed radical hospitality, I realized that we were doing absolutely nothing for the disadvantaged children just feet from our door. My discontent grew as I noticed these kids still hanging outside for hours after school, waiting to be picked up.”
Ready to act as Christmas break approached, Elisa thought she could at least leave the principal a message. “Nope!" she says, "God had the call put straight through to her. I told her that I attended the church across the street and felt that God was steering me to make contact with her to see if we could possibly help her in any way.”
The conversation that followed was divinely engineered. Adds Elisa, “After a long quiet pause, she told me she had just prayed to God for help, having just learned one of her families was about to have their power shut off. She was amazed at the timing, and so was I, because she had also been worrying about the challenge of helping provide Christmas gifts for 45 kids on her campus who would otherwise have nothing.”
TURN: Teaching, Understanding, Reaching Neighbors
First UMC donated money to help cover the immediate crisis, and a unique partnership later named TURN was born —Teaching, Understanding, Reaching Neighbors. Explains Elisa, “While our mission is to be a neighbor to this campus and to these kids, we are praying that these kids will turn from negative habits, turn into great leaders and citizens, turn to Christ.”
In the early phase, Elisa worked with Bible Study cohort Gary Gores to facilitate weekly meetings to identify needs and priorities such as 1) helping to supply food to the kids for the weekend, 2) greeting the kids every day at the beginning of school, and 3) mentoring in the classrooms. Since then Lufkin members have sponsored uniform and school supply drives, collected Box Tops for the campus, donated money for field trips, and supplied spirit shirts for kids who cannot afford them.
Next, with the full support of First UMC Lufkin, the TURN group met with the principal and processed her list of needs, deciding that the first place to start was with food. Reports Elisa:
· TURN initiated food donations and started the backpack buddy system with food for over a dozen students to take to their families. In each backpack are notes of love and encouragement.
· TURN provided money for scholarships for a fine arts field trip to Houston to ride the bus, have dinner out, and see the musical, Wicked.
· TURN volunteers are on the steps 4 days a week greeting and wishing all the kids a great day, and often work with assigned teachers in providing extra one-on-one time with at-risk students preparing for TAKS testing.
· TURN partnered this summer with the district to have a feeding site for free student lunches to continue.
“We have expanded from the initial focus of the TURN program and now our evangelism committee is active in partnering with local charities and growing the outreach for back-to-school fairs. At first it was awkward and quiet when we greeted the school busses, but now these kids expect to hug and high five our volunteers, and we’ve seen the staff at the middle school excited to see that there are others outside of their campus who are committed to their students.”
Although Elisa hesitated for two years, she has been one of many to reap the rewards of obedience as a lay leader. “What I learned is that the Holy Spirit is a powerful force! God made a way for me to fit this into a busy schedule because He did not need me to do ALL of it. He needed me to be an organizer, to ask questions, and to get the ball rolling but I know that God is the only reason that it all came together. He kept me energized and cleared my path, so that I could get the work done.”
Now Gary Gores and Jeff and Louise Amidon have taken the helm and have TURN rolling forward for another year. Adds Elisa, “This is the type of activity that truly creates a vital congregation: I have seen a lot of bonding and growth in people within our church through this opportunity.”