Friday, September 14, 2012

3 More New Things At Zion

Piggy Backing on last week's post, here are three additional things I think you'll be excited to know about:

1.)  A Movement to Work Together as Churches for the Sake of the Kingdom
In July, thanks to our reputation in the community as a church that is doing something incredibly positive, I was invited to share our testimony at the United Way Urban Core initiative (see my blog from Saturday, June 2, 2012).  

Now let me tell you what happened next.   Borrowing liberally from my friend, Pastor Al Perez’s comments:  As a follow up to that meeting, last month 16 pastors and Christian ministry leaders from diverse backgrounds and denominations met at Zion and had an open dialogue on how the church in Des Moines should move forward. This meeting was to bring together the best diverse group possible so that we could pinpoint our identity, our objectives, and how often it should meet. Needless to say, it was awesome!  The bonding and relationships that were fostered left many of us excited and very confident of how we should move ahead.  We learned about some history in Des Moines that allowed us to understand why we have the division we have in our city.  Soon, there will be opportunities opening up to hear from many different churches and ministries about what we will do together and how we can support mission and ministry together in our city.  This was the meeting that we wanted to have from the beginning but had no definitive direction or purpose for meeting. I am thrilled at what the Lord is doing with Pastors and Christian leaders. Please be praying also that the evil one will not thwart our plans.

Our third meeting was just a couple weeks ago and we met together with members of the former Black Ministers Alliance, now the Pastors/Ministers Alliance and other Black pastors.  There was a lot of truth telling and reconciliation began to break out.  I think we’re all conscious of the fact that before we can do ministry together as His One Church in the city of Des Moines, all of our pastors and churches need to publicly confess our sins and repent in a very public way together for a not so glorious past.    

I am personally excited and optimistic that with the leadership of Pastor Perez and others we will see a new attitude amongst the churches of Des Moines.  The name of this new group is the Transformation Group. 

2.)  Working with Johnston and Des Moines Schools to Create a Neighborhood Education Plan
When we began getting involved in our neighborhood intentionally about two years ago with the battle cry, Jesus Says, “Go!”, we created a list of 25 possible projects to work on that would immediately impact our community in a positive way.  One of those was “Create a neighborhood education strategy.”  That sounds very impressive and it was one of those items that people had a hard time wrapping their minds around.  Why would a church seek to create an education strategy for the local school?  For the simple reason that we have so many immigrants in our local schools that the ability of those schools to provide English Language Learner (ELL) services is over taxed.  We haven’t enough money as a church to pay for more ELL teachers, but we thought we could seek to find ways to move some of the new students to other school districts.  It’s a long shot, to be sure, but we’ve met all the major players we need to make it happen and so far no one has said no.  Our current plan involves enrolling at least 10 ELL students in the preschool at Zion, called WEE.  Since Zion is in a unique position, being in the city of Des Moines but actually in the Johnston School District, we thought that if Johnston would agree to take those 10 kids after preschool at Zion into Kindergarten at Johnston, that would be a victory.  The big challenge is for the Des Moines schools to let go of those ELL students and the federal money tied to them.  So I ask for your prayers.  If it’s successful on a small scale, perhaps it could serve as a pilot program involving more suburban districts and perhaps even as a model for other districts.  We believe the most important thing is the education of the children rather than the money.  Please pray that everyone might have that same goal.  

3.)  Refugee Roundtable
Being a follower of Jesus is more than sharing the Gospel and welcoming people into the new community which is the church.  It’s also about helping them to meet their physical needs.  

At Zion, we subscribe to the philosophy that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.  At least in the long term.  We believe that we need to honor the dignity of every family by helping them provide for themselves.  Many of our new immigrant families need jobs.   So we convened the first meeting of what, for now, we’re calling the Refugee Roundtable.  It is an idea we had two years ago and we’ve been joined in bringing it into reality by Nick Wuertz at Lutheran Services of Iowa who chairs the meetings.  

People new to this country need a lot of things but the most important thing they need is a job (a way to fish).  The idea is simple: let’s get those who serve refugees like the settlement agencies and those who support the new arrivals, including churches, together with employers and representatives of the immigrant community. 

The first meeting was a great success.  We’re now working on our second meeting which will take place at Zion before the month is over.  I’m looking for great things to come from these meetings.  Employers in Iowa are looking to hire, the new immigrants represent a large labor force looking for work, if we can find out how to teach the necessary skills to fill the jobs and figure out how to bridge the gaps, like transportation or translation, we’ll be able to work together to provide for the welfare of many, many families.  

I’m so optimistic about this Round Table.  I’m amazed at the quality of the people who are giving their professional lives to serve others.  I’m confident that God will use this group for His glory and for the benefit of all.  

Thanks for reading.  God continues to amaze and impress.  God bless you. PJ

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