I ran across this article in October when I was catching up on some e-journals from 9 Marks. Justin and I were on our anniversary trip in our cabin (where we got some great time to sit in peace and quiet to read!!!) and I kept saying, "That is so incredible! What a practical ministry to the community!" I hadn't started this blog yet, so it got pushed to the back of my mind until it got reposted a few days ago on a favorite website of mine, The Gospel Coalition.
The rundown is that in 2004 a church felt convicted that they "were not displaying the generosity of the gospel to [their] community". They wanted to make a tangible difference so people would ask what compelled them to love so freely. This conviction lead to an opportunity to help an elementary school in their community that was probably going to be shut down in 2 years at the rate it was going. It was the worst performing school in county.
"Over the next several years we led several innovative projects for that school. Many of our people started tutoring children. Small groups adopted classrooms and teachers, housed refugees, and met physical needs of families in the school. One soon-to-be-married couple in our church asked that any gifts for their marriage be redirected to a family in the school whose house had been destroyed in a fire.
As that first year ended, the principal asked if we would pray for her kids during the end-of-year exams because the school would be evaluated chiefly by their scores. We gladly obliged.
By the fourth year of our involvement, the school had the highest percentage of kids pass their end-of-year exams of any school in the county. And the principal officially credited the church's efforts with helping to improve the school's academic performance.  At a subsequent teacher's banquet, one of the teachers said, 'I have always known you Christians believed you should love your neighbor, but I've never known what it looked like until now.' "
What's amazing about this story is that it doesn't just stop there. Improved lives and test scores are great things, but the opportunity that followed was even more amazing than anyone at the church expected: an open invitation to share the Gospel with the entire city. The pastor recalls:
"In front of our entire city government, I explained that our church's generosity was a response to the radical generosity of Christ toward us. Christ had done for us what we could not do for ourselves, so how could we not extend that to those in need? When I finished, the school board, mayor, and city council gave a standing ovation.
...The work of the local church is to proclaim the gospel and makes disciples. But the effective witness of Christians must contain both word and deed. Without word, there is no gospel. Without deed, we fail to confirm our testimony with our lives. As Francis Schaeffer famously said, the love on display in and through the church is Christ's 'final apologetic' to a skeptical world."I was drawn to this story because it reaffirms what I feel about getting involved in the community as a part of a philosophy of education. Teaching the next generation to serve unconditionally is a dying art these days. What a great testimony of this church to get everyone involved in a school that needed help. They didn't just throw money at the situation and hope things would get better. They got to know people and CARED about them on a very personal level because Christ did it for them first. I would wager that a lot of these people who did this didn't even have kids in that school or even lived in that area. These Christians have radically transformed the educational experience of both parents and children in their city. This article is a good reminder of our role in our own communities.