Can one person really make a difference? Can one person—you—be used by God to impact the world for Christ? Yes, you! Has God been tugging at your heart? What might He want to do in and through you?
I am only one. And not a very significant one at that. I grew up in Frayser, a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. My parents were Christians, devoted to the Lord, His church, and their family. I had an aunt and uncle who were career missionaries in Taiwan. Growing up, I heard about the progress of the Gospel around the world and dreamed of becoming a missionary myself one day.
As a female in the SBC, I had always thought my only option for ministry was missions. It wasn’t until I entered my sophomore year of college at Union University and met a former college football player who felt called to ministry that I considered the role of a pastor’s wife. To be honest, I felt disqualified from the role because I neither played the piano nor sang.
But as Steve and I prayed, we believed the Lord had brought us together to partner in life and ministry. After we married and moved to Fort Worth for Steve to attend seminary, I completed my Masters in Special Education at Texas Woman’s University.
During this time Steve was called to be the senior pastor of our first church. It was in my newfound role as a pastor’s wife that I developed a fear of speaking in front of adults. I attributed it to my elementary education degree and established boundaries that made me feel somewhat safe. But as you know, as a believer, the Lord will not allow you to erect barriers when He died to set you free.
When my husband was serving in our second church, I was privileged to get to know a very godly prayer warrior. Mrs. Elizabeth talked with God. But she was also one of those rare people to whom God spoke. The Lord prompted me to ask Mrs. Elizabeth to pray over me for freedom from fear. Through this meaningful time of prayer the Lord granted me the courage and faith to face and overcome my fear of speaking.
I have always been an avid reader. That, combined with my love for God’s Word, prepared me for the door of ministry God opened for me to teach and disciple women. When our children entered high school, particularly our girls, I also discipled them and their friends.
But as our last child left the nest, God called me to a new ministry—a ministry to which I felt He had been preparing me my entire life. He wed my two passions, missions and education, when He birthed ARISE2Read in my heart. God was calling me to recruit churches to adopt inner city schools and focus on literacy and the Gospel.
The past six years have been a delight and adventure that I could never have imagined. The statistics and realities related to the poverty in our inner cities are difficult to face. But face them we must! God created every individual, every “one” in His image, and each “one” is a person for whom Christ died.
Our motto at ARISE2Read is: Save a child. Save a family. Save a city, in Memphis and beyond. We are accomplishing this by focusing on second grade literacy as we recruit churches and businesses to adopt inner city schools and tutor their students so that they enter third grade reading on grade level. We use a simple sight word approach that anyone can do.
ARISE2Read has experienced tremendous success. At the end of the 2016–17 school year, the post-testing results at our pilot school revealed that 78 percent of the students who had been tutored were reading on grade level (compared to 30 percent system-wide). And the success goes beyond literacy. The relationships developed between the volunteers and their students cause students to blossom and to begin to believe that they can achieve and succeed. We encourage our volunteers to pray for their schools and their students, and to speak words of life over them. In addition, we partner with Child Evangelism Fellowship and encourage volunteers to start “Good News” clubs at their schools.
The mission of ARISE2Read is crucial because the average graduation rate in our fifty largest urban centers is 53 percent. Children in poverty are six times more likely to drop out of school and are on average three grade levels behind their more affluent peers by the fourth grade. Alarmingly, dropouts commit 75 percent of the crimes in the United States. But there is HOPE! Children in poverty who are reading proficiently by the end of third grade have an 89 percent graduation rate.
We are now partnering with Send Relief of our North American Mission Board. ARISE2Read is a ministry anyone can participate in. By volunteering only one hour a week, a tutor can alter the trajectory of two children’s lives. Not only that, this ministry will help your church develop relationships with community churches and families in the neighborhoods. And the ripple effect can impact families for generations. This past year, I befriended a single mom and had the joy to recently see her receive Jesus as Savior and be baptized in our church. Her oldest son prayed to receive Christ two weeks later.
What would happen if your church began to reach the inner city with literacy and the Gospel? What if each family would befriend just one inner city family and share Jesus with them? If each one of us would just reach one, our cities could be changed!
One person really can make a difference. God sees the one. God knows the one. God goes after the one. Will you?
Donna Gaines is an author, a frequent speaker at women’s events, and is the wife of Steve Gaines, SBC president and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee.