During April and May, Immanuel sent down a team to More Greater Things (MGT) in St. Louis on three separate occasions. What is More Greater Things? What does this program hope to accomplish? These are just a few questions which have come up as Immanuel has embarked on this service opportunity. I want to take some take to answer some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about More Greater Things (MGTs).
What is MGT?
MGT is the afterschool ministry of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Louis. Bethlehem Lutheran Church, that sounds familiar?
Their pastor, Rev. John Schmidtke, preached at Immanuel in the fall. Pastor Schmidtke has been the pastor at Bethlehem for many years. During his ministry, Bethlehem has grown by aggressively reaching out to the community. They are now served by several staff.
When and Where does MGT meet?
MGT is everyday afterschool during the school year (not during Summer). MGT current operates three sites in north St. Louis City and County.
Where did Immanuel volunteers serve?
Our teams from Immanuel served at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church and School in St. Louis. There is still a congregation which meets at St. Matthew’s. However, the school has closed. MGT uses the school building and facilities which are in need of constant maintenance.
What happens at MGT?
Kids arrive around 4:30. Kids range in age from Kindergarten to high school. They are either picked up by bus or walk from the sounding neighborhoods. They play in a gym for about an hour, they receive dinner, and volunteers teach a lesson from the Bible.
Who leads MGT?
Pastors Schmidtke and Bethlehem’s associate pastor, Pastor Bolling, play a role. However, on a typical day at MGT, several part time staff including a few students at Concordia Seminary lead the kids.
Why is MGT necessary?
In the words of one Bethlehem staff person, “each hour that kids are at MGT is an hour they are not being recruited into a gang, not trying drugs, or not getting pregnant.” The home life of most of these kids is unlike anything we are familiar with. None are raised by their two biological parents. Few are raised by a single parent. Many are “co-parented” by several relatives or neighbors. This instability makes it harder for schools and social services to keep track of kids. This instability makes it more likely like kids will fall into dangerous situations and habits.
What are the lives of the kids like?
Tough. The kids have less access to things we take for granted like fresh produce or air conditioning. Many if not a majority of the kids have had family members killed in gang and drug related violence. For all their lack of physical goods, there is a real grief present as well.
What is the faith of the kids like?
The average kid who attends MGT is very interested in Christianity! Remember, no one is forcing these kids to attend a Sunday school type lesson. Rather, they come on their own to a place where they know they will hear about Jesus. That says a lot. Furthermore, many ask profound questions. A few students who attend MGT attend Lutheran schools like Grace Chapel and River Roads as well. These students show a deep knowledge of the Bible and faith. All of the students appreciate guidance in their lives.
Addressing the elephant in the room, what about the racial tensions in our county?
MGT has been going on before the killing of George Floyd last summer and will continue after the current wave of unrest subsides. I do think the events of last summer, and in our context Ferguson several years ago, encouraged alot of white folks to interact with and learn more about the lives of African Americans.
How should Christians respond to these events?
Christians should understand these events from a Christian perspective without resorting to political talking points. The Christian perspective will neither be apathetic to plight of the less fortunate, but neither will it be violent or revolutionary. It also must be said that the Christian perspective isn’t “woke” in that it doesn’t put white people down just to put white people down. Rather as Christians first and foremost, we have a responsibility show the spiritual mercy we have received from God in visible ways to other people. Service isn’t the Gospel, but it is a result of the Gospel happening to us. We are Saved to Serve as someone once said.
How will I as a white person be received going into a place where all the kids are black?
This is a common question. In can be uncomfortable being a white volunteer showing up to help black kids. Before Immanuel’s first trip to MGT, a staff person at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (who was not white) told me, “honestly, the kids don’t care as long as you love on them. Black and white, those are adult problems to the kids.”
What else should I know about this?
The same staff person also shared this insight: Many black kids grow up without having a single positive relationship with a white person. It’s no wonder then that many are distrustful of the predominately white police force. MGT intentionally exposes black and white to each other to build trust. Hopefully, African American kids will come away with a positive impression of white people. This change would go along away in making policing better and safer both for officers and those in the community. On the flip side, volunteers can learn a lot from the kids. Once you have a relationship with a kid and hear their story, a lot of stereotypes and biases fade away.
So, is this all about race?
No! Perhaps the biggest take away from Immanuel’s trips to MGT is that the kids from those neighborhoods, and indeed many of the people in the places, have the same God we have. Many are active Christians who want the same things we want. Our faith is huge uniter. We are Christians first before anything else, and being Christian means buying into God’s vision of people from every nation before his thrown. It is hard to ignore the race element given everything going on in our country. However, this is first and foremost a chance to serve those in need, and hopefully make the world a little more like how God would want it.
How will Immanuel be involved in the future?
I, Vicar Kurt, will be going back to the seminary for one more year of study on August 2nd. The new vicar, Vicar Matt, will hopefully continue to lead groups down in the Fall. We are working on finding a lay point person as well.
How does this support what Immanuel is already doing?
Immanuel excels at providing kids with a Christ-centered and quality education. Immanuel is also increasingly involved and visible in the community through a variety of ministry groups. Our partnership with MGT builds on both strengths.
How can I get involved?
Feel free to contact me at 425.420.6826. or at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to have your help! There is a need for people of a variety of gifts. For example, during the Spring, one gentleman helped repair the school building. Other who are teachers specialized in teaching the lessons. Younger men who went down played basketball with the kids. Truly, each part of the body of Christ was using their gifts to serve.
I hope this answers any questions you had about our new partnership with MGT. Feel free to reach out with any more questions or comments. Blessings on your Summer.