A Moment for Mission
“Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.” —Hebrews 4:16, CEB
The need to minister to children did not stop when COVID-19 closed church doors last year. Freedom Schools, a ministry partner of the West Ohio Annual Conference and a program of the Children’s Defense Fund, is a case in point. The six-week summer literacy and cultural enrichment program encourages children in learning.
In Toledo, Clara Petty works with the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center. Rather than canceling Freedom Schools in 2020, she and her team decided to move forward. They adjusted the program to half-day weekly sessions over five weeks. Breaks and exercise time were built into the schedule, resulting in personal engagement between students and instructors.
With donations from local churches like Monroe Street United Methodist and the Maumee Watershed District, packages of books, activities and cereal were provided to support the program. “If the children were with us physically,” Petty said, “they would eat, so we included cereal and a snack for each day.” Each week, parents picked up the packages for the students to use for the week’s program.
Every weekday at 8:30 a.m., students logged on to their Zoom virtual platform.
One parent shared that her son disliked reading before attending Freedom School. “Now all he is asking for are books,” she said.
Today we celebrate Children’s Sabbath. The observance of the Children’s Defense Fund unites places of worship and all faiths across the U.S. in a common commitment to improving children’s lives and working toward justice.
Loving God, as we celebrate Children’s Sabbath, we rejoice and give thanks for opportunities to share your mercy and grace with people of all ages. In your name, we pray. Amen.
From Discipleship Ministries: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost — God of the cosmos and God of every heartbeat: Your work touches every corner of creation; yet, when times are hard, we wonder if you’ve deserted us, and we become tight-fisted and fearful that sharing with others will leave us empty handed. As we bring these gifts to your altar, give us the eyes to see and the hearts to know that you never desert us and never send us away in need. In the name of your Son who came to remind us of your closeness and to give his life so that ours might be eternal. Amen. (Job 23:1-9, 16-17)
Reading is always an important part of Freedom Schools. In the summer of 2020, West Ohio’s virtual Freedom School invited parents to be guest readers, often surprising their children. “Some showed pride when seeing their mother or father reading in their group,” said Clara Petty of the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center.
Not limited to local volunteers, the virtual experience made it possible to have readers outside of Ohio. One guest reader caught the attention of her Facebook friend who happened to be an author of a book on the reading list. Zetta Elliot, author of Dragons in the Bag, saw her Facebook friend participating in Freedom Schools in an online video. That led Elliot to donate 27 of her books to the school.
On the annual Children’s Sabbath, United Methodists join with people of many faiths to support the Children’s Defense Fund. Freedom Schools is just one CDF program empowering children to excel and believe in their ability to make a difference.
Adapted from “Virtual Freedom School Proves Popular,” Amy Graham, West Ohio Annual Conference. Used by permission.