What Urban Missionaries Do

Here we were neck deep in Christmas, working every day from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. from Saturday, December 7 to Monday, December 23. With volunteers working tirelessly to fill bags, hopefully matching that special gift with that special child. Then, a request comes to help. Not just your ordinary, “Can you help me with the rent this month, or can you help me with heat this month.”  No, it was can you help five Karenni high school students earn a monthly stipend!

Our friend, Mr. Steve Devincent, had come up with an incentive plan to fund a program to motivate these students by giving them a stipend of $30.00 per week for three hours service work or training in English or computers as long as they maintained a B average or better. My first reaction was, “Heck No! We don’t have time for this. Everyone is already working at their maximum effort – how can we take this project on?” As I started to think about it, however,  I thought maybe we could squeeze it in using a shoehorn.

I decided that if the students’ schedule was flexible enough we could use them at the LittleStore or Saint Oscar Romero food pantry at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. “Hmmm,” I thought, “This may work out.”

I responded to Steve and told him about my ideas for managing this program, how and when the students receive their stipends, and the B average requirement.  He agreed and we decided to have an introductory meeting with all the students, Kathy, Steve, and myself. 

At the introductory meeting, we introduced the students to what we do at Urban Missionaries and how we thought we could be of some help to them, if they wanted to avail themselves of it. We found out that they were Myanmar by culture and Thailanders by birth. Their first ten years of life on God’s good earth was spent in a relocation camp awaiting relocation to another country that would accept them. Their schooling was totally unlike our schooling and they all had to learn English once they got to the United States. They are painfully shy to the point where we need to address very explicit questions to them to find out any information. A tough jump to make for anyone.

We then laid out the ground rules for how they would get paid, what their work schedule would be, and how we would get them to Saint Oscar food pantry. We also spent some time trying to figure out what kind and how much computer training they would receive. We found out they knew very little about computers, but they showed interest in learning more. We decided that we would spend one hour a week on computer and eEnglish issues.

We are now a couple of weeks into the program and as expected we have hit a few bumps on the road, but everyone pulls together and we work our way out of the situation. The students are getting comfortable interacting with the clients at the food pantry. They have taught us that they are fast learners and very hard workers. So please keep the program, The Student Incentive Program, in your prayers and if you are so moved as to make a donation, please make a note designation to The Student Incentive Program.