Elmbrook Stories

Wild Ideas

Wouldn't it be great if people of faith became known more for what we are for than what we are against? In our toxic and divided world of conflicting philosophies, how are people to discern and embrace the Truth?
I had this wild idea! It was one that I could not shake! What if believers did something totally out of the box to simply show love and serve our community? No fanfares! No seeking credit! Just loving on people and, hopefully, they will eventually see what fuels our passion to serve. So I started to dream a big dream and it ruminated for eight years. I know, I'm slow! Then I retired from teaching. The first year out, I slept like Rip Van Winkle. I was that tired. But I couldn't shake my out-of-the-box dream.
So, my second year I partnered with my friend Deb Jacot to investigate non-profits in the Greater Milwaukee Area. I was pretty sure my own ignorance about the world of non-profits would show up and I'd realize that I wouldn't be able live the dream. Then I could put this nagging dream to bed and get on with retirement. Together Deb and I visited amazing non-profit outreaches radiating the love of Jesus in amazing ways. Do you know what I learned? I learned that nobody knew what they were doing when they started! Nobody! Everyone just did something good and God provided as they went. So I wasn't off the hook. And my dream kept following me.
In my third year of adventure, I decided to "stick my toe in the water" never imagining that the Red Sea would part dramatically. I decided it would be smart to start where I am, as a retired teacher. So I went to our district superintendent, a fellow believer, and talked about starting a tutoring center for kids whose parents live in this affluent area who are under-resourced and couldn't afford to hire a tutor. And, for example, what if a single mom had to work two jobs to survive, and there was no one at home to help her kids with their homework? Our superintendent sent me to one of our area principals who was frustrated trying to help kids like this in her school. She sought multiple grants but couldn't get them because of the relative affluence in our area. We clicked! At first we were strangers and then united our hearts to start Phase One of The Oasis Project. I named it that because I wanted it to be a loving place of refreshment for those who needed hope and a future.
Now, I had to find tutors. I started calling some of my retired teacher friends to come in and help these kids at their school during the day. Recruiting was like picking strawberries in June in Wisconsin! They all said yes! And some of my old cronies who were still working wanted in, so they came after a full day of work to help a child. Pretty soon, I had 10 regular tutors and 5 substitutes serving 27 children. In our first year, 68% of the kids were reading below grade level in September and by January, only 20% were reading below their grade level. Long story short, in our second year we were invited to two more schools. We now have 32 regular tutors and 10 substitutes serving 72 children in need. I have had requests from two more nearby school districts that I can't fill right now. Not only are the kids making great academic strides, but anecdotally there are countless stories of how valued and loved they feel. Even behavior has improved and kids can't wait to see their tutor, who is kind of like their grandma but knows how to teach them and make school easier. Some kids are seen skipping down the hall to their tutoring session! One kid gave her Oasis tutor a note saying, "What would we do without you?"
We are now incorporated as a non-profit group and have our paperwork in to Uncle Sam to gain 501c3 status which will help us raise funds to expand. We now have an amazing Board of Directors to guide us. You can see more about us at www.oasisprojectwi.org. We hope to expand our tutoring services, start a counseling center for families who are struggling, begin a fun and safe teen center so kids can enjoy a wholesome hangout, and create a resource center for under-resourced community members to build their resume, attend season-of-life seminars and more. Along the way, we are getting into the community and building love and trust. Good deeds are opening the doors for Good News. Just like Jesus, we're meeting people where they are! We are known in the secular community for being loving people! Fancy that! And churches and people who don't go to church are all working together for the common good.  
"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good
 to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." (Galatians 6:10)
I have no idea what I am doing! Seriously, I don't! All I do know is that God gave me a wild idea that I couldn't shake, so I listened. He speaks to us with promptings, you know. He has provided unbelievably talented people to help me in my ignorance. And even if we don't expand any further, doing only this much would be worth it! You see, we're not trying to build an organization; we're just trying to love people and see what God does! There's a difference!
What would it look like for you to love on people in your sphere of influence? Do it! Put your toe in the water! Maybe it's God talking to you! It doesn't mean you have to start a non-profit organization, but maybe you will! I didn't want to get to the end of my life and wonder how I would feel if I hadn't responded to God's prompting. And where is retirement in the Bible anyway? (Oops, that's a whole other article!)
Wishing you wild ideas for the love of Jesus! It just may help people discern the Truth in this crazy world of ours!