Last summer, volunteers from New Covenant United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, came together every other Wednesday evening at a recreation field near Jackson Middle School to grill hot dogs, play soccer and read with the local children.
Nathan Cates, the church’s director of student ministry for youth in grades five through 12, recalls one family who came regularly: a mother and her four daughters, including a toddler.
“The children loved reading with our students,” says Cates, “and they were always excited to see us roll up.”
The idea for the “Read Eat Play” summer ministry came last year when Kristi Rodriguez, a schoolteacher and a church youth leader, wanted to find a way to help Spanish-speaking students at her school spend more time reading during the summers, Cates says.
“Playing is also a big part of our culture,” he says. “It’s what we enjoy doing in student ministry.”
The church, which has about 700 attendees on Sundays, also plans many of its ministry events around food and hospitality. So they devised a plan to combine food, play and reading. To publicize the event, they passed out flyers written in both English and Spanish to parents around the neighborhood. Then, during the reading sessions, they grouped at least two student volunteers and an adult leader with a child to give each youngster individualized attention as they practiced reading from donated children’s books.
Cates says the event, which they plan to hold again this summer, taught important lessons about churches listening to those they serve.
“Hearing Kristi, a teacher, say, ‘This is what the students need,’ we said, ‘Let’s go and provide something they’re asking for instead of something we think they need,” Cates says.