This week, we feature a blog by Ruth Wong, the Program Director of the Boston Education Collaborative at Emmanuel Gospel Center. The Boston Education Collaborative (BEC) works with churches and Christian leaders to empower Boston’s next generation to succeed in school and in life. The BEC is also a featured ministry in UniteBoston’s upcoming Love Boston concert. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Ruth shares stories about how God has been at work through church-school partnerships in nurturing new collaborations between churches and city institutions.
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our world and threw all the countries and their systems into chaos, a sense of awe and the fear of the Lord grew in me. God humbled mankind and put us in our place, reminding us of how limited and powerless we really are. In essence, I believe God called us to attention. There has been much suffering, loss, and death as a result of this pandemic. It has been a sobering season to say the least. Yet, many Christians would also attest that we have seen God work in amazing ways that demonstrate His greater purposes in allowing this crisis to happen. Through the Boston Education Collaborative (BEC) at Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC), I have witnessed God bring His body together across racial, ethnic, and geographical lines in new ways that I could not have imagined or foreseen.
The mission of the BEC is to help churches support urban students (and their families) so they can thrive and reach their fullest God-given potential. Traditionally, many urban churches had already been involved in supporting schools or running their own programs to meet the physical, social, emotional, and academic needs of students. Since 2011, the BEC has helped to mobilize and support new church-school partnerships primarily with the Boston Public Schools (BPS) but has also worked beyond Boston. Churches have partnered with schools to provide supplies for classrooms, appreciate school staff, support the needs of families, and tutor/mentor students. God has divinely orchestrated so many connections and new partnerships that I am no longer surprised. Yet each time they happen, I continue to marvel at how His ways are infinitely higher than my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). I am humbled by God’s favor upon the BEC in allowing us to build trust and so many relationships with local leaders in the area.
In early April, a series of personal connections led to an unexpected new ministry role for the BEC. I got connected to a director at the Salvation Army who was involved in statewide efforts to provide emergency and disaster relief. That introduction led to the BEC getting involved in helping to mobilize churches to meet diaper and other needs in Chelsea which was hit hard by the pandemic. Concurrently, I found out about various needs, including diapers, amongst the Spanish-speaking BPS families. This led me to pull in other EGC colleagues to meet with Agencia ALPHA, the social service agency of Congregación León de Judá, to explore ways to partner. ALPHA connected me with Pastor Johana Perez from Harvest Ministries of New England in Weymouth. One thing led to another, and soon, Pastor Johana and I found ourselves as partners in diaper ministry (aka diaper queens) for the Greater Boston region.
What began as an effort to help Chelsea with diaper needs became a diaper and baby products ministry that has helped over 600 families that are connected to at least 18 churches and nine organizations in Boston and beyond. BPS families were able to benefit from these resources as well as many families that were being reached by local churches, most of them in the COPAHNI (the Fellowship of Hispanic Pastors of New England) and ALPHA networks. The families live in Boston, Chelsea, Lynn, Lowell, Waltham, New Bedford, Fall River, Brockton, Cranston (RI), and even on Martha’s Vineyard. We were tasked by the Massachusetts Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) to manage a large donation of diapers from Baby2Baby, a charity organization. In addition, many individuals and several churches generously supported the ministry with financial and diaper donations, totaling close to $10,000.
Through BPS, the BEC was also introduced to two parent coordinators who had brought to BPS’ attention the many needs of the families that they were connected to. It turned out that these two moms were active members and leaders in their churches. At the time, Iglesia Biblica Faro de Luz in East Boston and New Ministry Church in Roxbury were not connected with ALPHA or COPAHNI. Through the BEC, those two churches were able to get connected to the resources of these two networks. Harvest Ministries, ALPHA, and COPAHNI had been coordinating an amazing operation to deliver food bags and fresh produce to families every weekend from April through early August. Out of the 1000+ families that had received food at least once, 160+ of them were connected to these two churches. The churches also referred families to apply for the cash assistance program that ALPHA was running to help families most impacted by the pandemic. In addition, the BEC connected another 64 BPS families to receive food deliveries.
It was amazing to see all the different churches who collaborated together for these efforts. While Harvest Ministries alone had 30 drivers to help distribute food to churches and hundreds of families, drivers from ALPHA and six other urban and suburban churches also pitched in to deliver to many homes. Besides the diapers that went to families connected to more than 10 Latino churches, there were diapers that went to families connected to several other churches representing different denominations and ethnicities.
This is just one story from the pandemic period. I know of other beautiful examples of churches partnering together for the first time and building relationships that will extend beyond this COVID-19 season. Furthermore, there were many other churches and leaders that collaborated with or supported the BEC during this time on other projects. The number of churches, organizations, and individuals who partnered in all the various projects is astounding. (I wish there was room to name them all here.) God’s fingerprints were all over the web of relationships, the timing of conversations that happened, and the catalytic events that led one thing to another. “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” (Psalms 40:5)
During UniteBoston’s webinar on how churches are missionally responding to COVID-19, Rev. David Wright, Executive Director of the Black Ministerial Alliance & Assistant to the Pastor at Peoples Baptist Church said something that really resonated with me: “I see Christians trying to get ‘through this’ so we can go back to our understanding of ‘normal.’ But God is intentionally leading us to a different place of doing and being the Church. We do ministry in our congregations, but how do we incarnationally engage the world for the kingdom of God? How do we see ourselves within an ecosystem of other churches so we can really be salt and light to the world? I see the body of Christ coming together in phenomenal ways; I’m just hoping that it continues and isn’t just an episodic thing because we had this crisis.” To this, I say, “Amen! Yes, Lord! May Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Currently, the BEC is busy working on initiatives to support BPS and other school districts in the upcoming school year, including mobilizing churches to assist teachers during Zoom classes, providing cloth masks for BPS students, sharing space with afterschool programs, hosting learning pods, and supporting parents/guardians in navigating the online platforms. Please join in on what God is doing through and in the churches as we seek to be His salt and light in our communities! To learn more about these initiatives, go to www.churchschoolpartners.org and contact me at rwong[at]egc.org.