March 2012

Living Libraries 2012

We are off to a great start in the Living Library program.  After three years of opening community libraries and struggling to make them work, we have a new strategy, and I am very excited to share this with our supporters.  In our community libraries, the people in the neighborhoods were very supportive and encouraging toward our goal of seeing the library succeed.  However, we learned that getting members of the community to volunteer their time free of charge was next to impossible.  After seeing several open and close, we chose to invest all of our man-power into the Porvenir location.  I believe that the children that attended those Saturday library events appreciated every moment they spent there.  But at the end of last year, we received a final word from the Miraflores mayor asking us to leave the building because he wanted to use it for other purposes.  I was really bummed over this situation.  How could a mayor not see the benefit of this community library.  But politics are politics, and they definitely played into that situation.  I was very sad for the children we served, but we had no choice.  And looking back, I think it was God's hand closing that door and pushing us toward another opening.

So we have a new plan.  And I am so excited to share this with you.  First, I need to fill you in on Naranjal.  We have a long-standing relationship with the people of Naranjal.  We decided to open our final community library there.  I worked during the summer months with the children at that location.  It was a very short time, during a very wet rainy season.  Only 4-6 kids came to the events, but I pray that over time that program will grow more and more.

Now for the brand new part!  We are collaborating with three different public schools this first year to try a new method in promoting reading comprehension in the lives of these students.  We are targeting just the third grade classes.  I know from my experience as a teacher and my time here, that the key to making this a success is equipping the teachers.  We had such a problem with finding a volunteer base in those community settings.  Why not go to the places where people are passionate about the kids and already trying to teach them?  So that is exactly what we have done.  The staff at these schools are thrilled to have the extra help and staff development opportunity.  Here is how it is all going down:

  1. Alfredo and I met with the staff at all three of the locations.  They have listened to the plan, know what is expected from them, and have signed a formal agreement stating that they are on board.
  2. Alfredo and I made a visit to the classes the last Monday in March in order to have the kids evaluated at the beginning of the program.  I am hoping that this assessment coupled with an end-of-the-year assessment will show positive results.
  3. I am planning the first meeting for the teachers where I will begin to share my knowledge on the subject of reading comprehension strategies.  It is my hope that we will meet once a month to discuss how it goes in the classes.  I am excited to build these relationships with the teachers involved.
  4. I will make visits to the classes once a month to do an example lesson using the different strategies.  We will also provide the classes with a start-up school library (if you have donated books in the past, they will either be found in Naranjal or these schools.  And don't hesitate to send more!)
  5. Our plan is to incentivize the students that perform well in the program half way through the year and then end of the year.

A couple of stories I would like to share with you that happened this past Monday:

I walked into the all-boys school class, and a little boy shouted, "Profesora!" (which means "teacher" in Spanish).  It was a little boy, Joel, that came to our library location in Porvenir.  I also ran into one of our girls in the all-girls school.  It is such a blessing, and affirmation from God, that we will still be serving the same children that could have come to that community library location.

In one of my assessments with a third-grade boy, I could tell he was one of the sharper ones.  His reading fluency was excellent, he answered every reading comprehension question with ease.  I got to a question, "What is your favorite book?"  He told me that he didn't have one, shrugging his shoulders.  I asked, "But do you like to read?"  He looked up at me, "Yes.  But I don't have any books to read.  That is why I can't tell you my favorite."

That, supporters, is a huge reason you are making a difference here.  It is my hope that we can make an improvement in reading comprehension, but something simpler than that is to make it easier for these children to have free access to books.  It is my prayer that they will discover a world of knowledge through this program and the stories that they will have access to read.

What Is My Purpose?

How would you answer this question if a seeker asked you?  This month, I was blown away by a conversation I had with my neighbor.  We have studied through the ministry of Jesus, and we have had some really good conversations.  We talk about life, what God was doing in sending Jesus, Jesus' message, and how that message affects the world today.  We share a lot in common.  We are both teachers.

I started our "English class" by asking Nadia why she hasn't started back to work.  She taught 4th grade in a private Catholic school last year, and it was my understanding that she was still teaching there.  Apparently, her contract ended and instead of renewing, she decided she wanted to work in the public setting where the pay is higher.  Since the school year has already started, Nadia was hoping for a maternity leave to open or some other emergency opening.  Nothing has come up so she is exploring other jobs.  She has worked as a secretary before and she had finished one part of an interview for a secretary's position.  I asked her if she liked that kind of work.  She shared that she loves to manage and she loves the interaction she has with different people as a secretary.  I thought this was all interesting, and I told her that I hoped she found a job soon.

She looked very intently at me, and asked, "Megan, I have something I have been thinking about for awhile, and I want to ask you what you think.  I want to know what God's purpose is for my life.  I want to do whatever it is, but I need him to tell me.  How can I figure this out?"  I was not expecting this, but God has been weaving a beautiful friendship between Nadia and me--it is a friendship of genuine trust and respect.  If I said anything eloquently after this question it was an act of the Holy Spirit.  We just recently studied the passage in 1 Peter in house church about "being prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have."  This was my opportunity.

I explained to Nadia that God has one purpose and plan, and we have to ask ourselves how we fit into that purpose and plan.  I used to quote the verse in Jeremiah 39 that is so popular "for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…"  I always took that so personally.  And while I believe that our Father is a personal God, he is not talking to individuals in that passage.  He is talking to his people, Israel.  God's purpose was going to happen through a people that he chose.  He continues to fulfill that purpose through his "people" today, the Church.  So when we define "my purpose" we have to take a serious look at the story of God and how we fit into that story.  I decided to share my own personal story that some of you may not know.

I decided that I would serve God as a missionary in the public school system of the United States.  Well, you see how that worked out.  I met a guy in college that I happened to fall in love with.  He had this dream to go to Latin America and be a missionary.  As we fell in love, decided to marry, and formed a dream together, I decided that I would just have to forfeit some of "my dreams" for the sake of a partnership in the gospel.  I would still be serving God by ministering to children (probably in the church and as a stay-at-home-mom), it would just look different than what I had thought.  Maybe my masters in curriculum and instruction was for nothing, but I thought it was the right choice at the time.

Well, four years later after being in the field, look at where God has led me.  I am working in the public school system of Arequipa.  Influencing the lives of children for good and loving and supporting them is my passion.  I never would have known that this would happen here, but I think that God blesses us with passions and he desires for us to use them for the sake of his kingdom.

I asked Nadia, "Are you more passionate about secretary work or working with children?"  Children are her passion.  I explained that that may not be what will happen right now, but as long as she is living for God and trying to glorify him with her actions, she is fulfilling his purpose.

All of a sudden something clicked in my head.  I had been in a meeting earlier in the week with Alfredo and the staff from Put Them First (to discuss their library we helped start) and they mentioned wanting to hire a librarian full-time.  They had recently raised funds from the states and had the budget to hire a Peruvian for one year.  I hesitantly shared this with Nadia not knowing if she would have any interest in working so far out of the city.  It ended up she was very interested.

We continued to converse on the topic and I chose (I think the Holy Spirit was just telling me to go for it) to be very frank with her.  "Nadia, many might say that it is coincidence that we are here right now.  I don't think it is coincidence.  I moved in this home.  You wanted English lessons and came to me.  You are seeking out God's will, and you decided to talk to me, a missionary, about it.  We both teach and enjoy discussing it.  I work with a library program and know of a job.  You need a job and love working with kids."  I told her that I didn't know why God had put us together in this way.  Maybe the whole reason is for her to have a job.  Maybe God wants her to find Jesus and faith through our study.  I don't know, but I don't believe it is coincidence.  God has a plan.  He has a purpose.  All I can do is try to live for him and glorify him with my actions.  I told her that I pray for her every day.  We left that meeting closer than ever.  We will see what the future holds.

As far as this week being the future, it looks like she is getting the job.  Can you believe it?  Nadia will be one of the four teachers I work with for the pilot of our school library program.  It doesn't get much cooler than that.  Man, we serve an awesome God.

Part 6: Spiritual Gifts

I am increasingly convinced that I don’t understand spiritual gifts.  I think that the way in which they are stifled in many church structures is detrimental to the wellbeing of the whole body--the “common good” (1 Cor 12:7).  We tend to focus all our mutual edification expectations on a few  “ministers” and on the abstract notion of fellowship--just being together.  Then there is also a tendency to let personality and proclivity, in a variety of ways, to overpower the underlying reality of the Spirit’s work.  And lying like a patina over the whole discussion is the doubt about emotionalism and, no less, the rationalist’s ironically overly emotional reaction to emotionalism.  But while I can lay out these issues, I’m unsure just how to approach the situation.  For, in addition to my lack of clarity, there is a tension in our kingdom-sowing situation that has gifts at its heart.