By Rev. Herman Yoos, Bishop
According to a Kids Count survey, the state of South Carolina ranks 41st overall in a child’s chances of succeeding based on four key indicators: economics, education, health and family, and community. Last year we ranked 42nd so there is some slight progress even though more than a quarter of South Carolina’s children still live in poverty, about 289,000.
What difference if any can we make as Lutherans in the face of those statistics? We might be tempted to say nothing at all, but that is where Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed comes in. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which when planted grows to be the greatest of shrubs.” Matthew 13:31
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which when planted grows to be the greatest of shrubs.” Matthew 13:31
Several years ago, a mustard seed conversation happened at our 2014 Assembly between Bill Dukes and our Keynote Speaker, Dr. Rich Melheim. Upon hearing about Rich’s intentions of teaching children in poverty in countries like India, China and Ethiopia, Bill said, “Rich, you don’t have to go overseas to demonstrate your model of learning when we have areas like Allendale right here in South Carolina.” Some key meetings were held with school administrators and community leaders but nothing concrete was done.
Then this past May, there was another mustard seed phone conversation with Dr. Neal Shealy of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fairfax, Lexanne Graves, Rich Melheim, Bill Dukes and me. Through this conversation, God moved us into action. The decision was made to raise $10,000 for two weeks of a Summer Arts Camp in Allendale using the gifted young adults that Rich has trained in his model of drama, dance, music and the arts. Simpson United Methodist Church offered its building and with very short notice, over 45 children began a process of transformation that included learning to spell their names in sign language, making up stories about being brave and acting them out, singing and dancing to music with complicated motions. All of it was designed and based on brain research about how children in poverty learn best.
I wish you could have seen how much these children learned in such a short period. I can’t help but wonder how God might use this small mustard seed experience in ways that can be multiplied and replicated across the state, blessing the lives of children living in poverty and their families.
A second mustard seed conversation happened earlier this summer. I was visiting with a generous person who loves the Lutheran Church and children. I told her about how as a Synod, we were seeking to build our first Latino Church for Cristo Rey. She was touched to hear about how the children there have already raised $1,500 for a playground and how each Sunday between 20-25 come forward for a children’s message. When she offered to match every dollar we receive for this sanctuary, I was caught unprepared. So I said, “I was thinking perhaps you might give a gift of $50,000, do you want to say up to $50,000 for your match?” She smiled at me and said, “Bishop, why would you place a limit on my giving?”
After thanking her profusely for her generosity and upon driving back to the office, her question kept going through my mind. “Why do I place limits on what God wants to do?” “Why was I so unprepared for her generosity?” Why don’t I live each day with a greater awareness of God’s abundance overflowing into our lives? What would happen if I were more trusting and open to all that God wants to do in and through the South Carolina Synod in the future?
Eight years ago, the Lutheran Churches of Saxe Gotha shared in some significant mustard seed conversations about the need for starting a Latino mission church. In addition, they also raised and committed over $50,000 towards the formation of Cristo Rey, which now has expanded into once a month worshipping communities in Gaston and Pelion. Eight years ago, no one could have imagined the blessing and joy that God has multiplied in our midst through Cristo Rey, through Sagrada Familia that worships and shares a partnership with Gethsemane Lutheran Church, and through Nuestro Salvador that is an inter-cultural ministry in partnership with Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Greenville. Isn’t it amazing to see how God has multiplied this mustard seed of Latino witnesses to Jesus Christ in our Synod?
When you remember it was only 18 months ago that we passed a resolution encouraging all congregations to build partnerships with children and our community schools; when I learn from a survey that over 75% of our congregations are engaged and making a difference in the lives of children and public education; when I realize that the United Methodists, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics are also building similar partnerships with children and schools, then I give thanks to God for all the amazing mustard seeds of learning and growth that are happening in the lives of children across the state. And I believe that we can and will make a difference in years to come that will be reflected in future Kid Count statistics, and more importantly, in the lives of children and families. Thanks be to God!
Looking forward as we Grow God’s Mission Together. You may send donations to assist next year’s Summer Arts Camps or the Cristo Rey Building Project to the the synod office or online at http://scsynod.us/scsynodgiving.