During the annual meeting of Texas Baptists, representatives from Literacy ConneXus provided churches with 50 ways to bless their communities through literacy ministries.
Literacy ConneXus is Christian ministry designed to help churches help people with literacy needs. Beginning in 2004, with an initial focus on advocacy and adult literacy, the organization has expanded to work in ESL training, childhood literacy programs, and a Books for the Border and Beyond program, which provides bookshelves and books for families in poverty.
Lester Meriweather, executive director of Literacy ConneXus, Pam Moore, editor and media coordinator and Caroline Bell, early literacy specialist, led the workshop. The three guided the group through a discussion of the various ways in which churches can involve themselves in literacy ministries within their communities, within their schools, and within their local, state and national government through advocacy.
According to Pam Moore, who spoke about the ways churches can impact their communities, for every 300 families in poverty, there is one book. This impacts the life of the child significantly, because among these families, children entering school have only been read to an average of 100 hours over the course of their life, compared children in middle class families who have upwards of 1,000 hours spent in books. Therefore, children entering school usually are one to two years behind their peers in other socio-economic classes.
One means to combat this statistic is the Books for the Border and Beyond program Literacy ConneXus has developed. As Moore explained, "This is our favorite way to level the playing field for children who are in poverty. What we want to do is put books into these homes and give parents the opportunity to read to their kids and have that interaction and really change the course of their lives."
Through the Books for the Border and Beyond program, churches are able to build simple bookshelves for families in poverty and also provide them with books to help build a beginning library.
Reflecting on the campaign slogans of former president Herbert Hoover, Lester Meriweather suggested, "Instead of a chicken in every pot or a car in every garage, it should be a library in every home. That's what Texas needs, a library in every home."
To prove how simple and easy it is to participate in the program, the panel provided a sample bookshelf for the attendees to build, and many in the audience came up to hammer a nail or turn a screw and transform random pieces of wood to a welcoming home for future books.
Although Books for the Border and Beyond is one of the most recognizable programs provided by Literacy ConneXus, the panel suggested many other ways churches could help the cause of literacy. Caroline Bell, who served for 25 years as a kindergarten teacher, discussed ideas such as sponsoring classes or schools, providing books and libraries for schools, hosting book and back-to-school fairs for the community and honoring and celebrating the work of local teachers.
Finding the right fit often comes through asking the right questions of the leadership at the schools. "Instead of coming in and saying this is what we want to do," Bell explained, "just come in and ask, 'How can we help?'" Through meeting the practical and specific needs of the schools, churches can find not only means of blessings, but also future opportunities to share the gospel.
Toward the end of the presentation, Bobby Broyles, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ballinger, spoke on behalf of Pastors for Texas Children, a non-profit organization, which advocates for public education and encourages churches to become involved in their local neighborhood schools. Broyles explained the various aspects of the organizations work and shared how churches can also become involved as advocates not only on the local level, but also on the state and national level in ensuring free, high-quality public education that benefits everyone.
Throughout the workshop, participants and panel members shared ideas and established new avenues of networking in order to combat illiteracy, bless their communities and practically demonstrate the love of Christ to the world.
Blake Killingsworth serves as Vice President for Communications at Dallas Baptist University.