My pastor husband and I now live and minister in my hometown, Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is known for many things: Elvis Presley, barbecue, the blues, the Mississippi River, dogwoods and azaleas, and for being the home of FedEx. Unfortunately, we are also known as a city with one of the highest violent crime rates, high teen pregnancy rates, high unemployment, inner-city poverty, and a struggling school system that recently consolidated city and county schools.
Our church began quarterly “mission trips” into the city in 2007. We call these service days “Bellevue Loves Memphis,” based on Jeremiah 29:7—“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”
These service days have provided opportunities for our church to “be Jesus” as we have:
- Repaired inner-city school football fields and teacher lounges
- Done landscaping and general cleanup around the schools
- Picked up trash
- Painted and repaired inner-city churches
- Installed ramps for the handicapped
- Repaired widows’ homes.
- Purchased a mobile dental clinic
After serving in our city for a couple of years, I became burdened for the children. I started tutoring with my niece and a few of her friends one afternoon a week. Sometimes the most effective ministry opportunities aren’t accomplished from a stage.
As we are faithful with the seemingly “small” acts of compassion we are laying the groundwork for God to move in great ways.
As a former educator, I know the importance of children having early success in elementary school. In her book Educating All God’s Children, Nicole Baker Fulgham said, “On average, students in low-income communities are three grade levels behind their peers in affluent communities by the time they are in fourth grade.” She goes on to say, “The educational achievement gap arguably represents the United States’ most blatant and chilling example of neglect.”
As I was praying about how to better reach the large numbers of our children in the city, the Lord seemed to shake me with these words: “This is your city. These are your children. What are you doing about it?”
From that time two-and-a-half years ago, the Lord has opened doors and laid the groundwork for a ministry that is making a difference in our city (At our pilot elementary school, every second grader was tutored and there was a 115% increase in students reading on grade level). We aim to unite the Body of Christ across denominational and racial lines to “be the Body.”
God has given us a focal scripture—Psalm 78:6–7:
That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.
Thus, ARISE Memphis was born. (ARISE – A Renewal In Student Education and Evangelism. See www.arisememphis.org.)
We are focusing most of our efforts on second grade. We want tutors/coaches spending at least one hour each week with these students. The goal is to have them reading on grade level by third grade. We are partnering with the district and utilizing “Team Read,” a very effective and easy to use sight word method.
The adopter schools will be partnering with a local church (community church) and assisting them to meet the needs of their neighborhood families. We are partnering with multiple ministries within our city. We serve to meet needs and share the gospel. It will be of no benefit if we create a successful school district and cleaner neighborhoods from which these families die apart from Christ and enter a Christless eternity. Our mandate from Christ is to “make disciples”
Once we began following the lead of the Holy Spirit with ARISE Memphis, God brought people alongside us to help us get organized, create a website, visit potential adopter churches, and recruit volunteers to tutor.
God supernaturally put me in meetings to talk to our governor’s wife, Crissy Haslam, who has a desire to reach the children of our state, and Nicole Baker Fulgham, author of Educating All God’s Children, who desires to do on a national scale what we are seeking to do in Memphis.
The previous seven years of concentrated prayer and service for our city is reaping a great harvest. There is still much to do, but God is moving so quickly that we are just trying to keep up! As we walk with Him, He is showing us the way, providing our needs, and granting us rest as we depend upon Him.
As those in ministry, we are on the front lines. Are your prayers impacting your city, country, and the world? Remember, dear friend, prayer is not preparation for the battle; prayer is the battle! Pray and Obey.
How about you? What is God doing through you as a direct result of your prayers?
Donna is the wife of Dr. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. She is a graduate of Union University and Texas Woman’s University. She is the mother of four and grandmother of seven, a devoted student of God’s Word, and former educator. In addition to ministry in the inner city, Donna teaches Bible studies through women’s ministry, disciples in her home and leads women’s conferences through international missions. She is the author of two books and the general editor of a Daily Women’s Devotional.
Published March 2, 2015