The Kingdom of God is like 22,405 books

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Church plant book drive targets inner city children

By Paul Bartel

The gospel is preached daily in a million ways. God transforms lives and systems and structures and institutions constantly. “Kingdom work” can take on a myriad of forms. One way our community, Watershed, has decided to participate in kingdom work is by serving places largely neglected by our Kansas City community. The Kansas City public schools, we felt, were a good place to start.

A lack of books at home is one reality inner city children encounter. Studies have shown that many children living in poverty have zero books of their own at home. A quick count reveals that our youngest son, Salem, has over 100 board books. That’s not even counting the hundreds of others we have for the older boys.

Having no access to books at home can lead to all kinds of brokenness in the life of a young child. Statistically, illiteracy is inextricably linked to crime, welfare and unemployment. Realizing this, we determined that the simple act of placing a book into the hands of a student could begin that child’s journey towards literacy. Talk about God’s kingdom of love and peace breaking into a city in a tangible way!

We began in 2010 with a book drive for Hartman Elementary and collected around 800 books, enough for each student to take one home and for teachers to better supply their classrooms.

So in 2011, I decided—likely in a moment of insanity—that we should set a goal of gathering 10,000 books. I must admit I was skeptical, but I figured collecting a few thousand would be a wild success.

Then something happened.

Quickly the community got involved, allowing us to leave drop boxes in libraries, schools and businesses. Other Mennonite Brethren churches (Zoar MB in Inman, Kan.; Parkview MB in Hillsboro, Kan.; Fairview (Okla.) MB, to name a few) joined the effort. And many in our Watershed community went door-to-door collecting books.

During December and January, we found ourselves quite overwhelmed as we looked across the chapel where Watershed gathers and saw a sea of books in need of sorting, bundling and delivering.

The “something” that happened had to be the Holy Spirit. God’s kingdom vision is much greater than our own.

When the book drive ended, we had collected 22,405 books, over twice our goal and a nearly 3,000 percent increase from the previous year’s effort. We were able to personally deliver one book to every elementary student in the entire Kansas City school district. Thousands more went to schools and teachers and other organizations Watershed supports.

When God uses Christians and non-Christians, churches and businesses to accomplish his work, it is a beautiful sight, an overwhelming experience.

When Jesus came to earth, he inaugurated a new kingdom that will ultimately renew all things. God’s kingdom, once here in fullness, will be one without pain or suffering, poverty or unemployment, addiction or disease, sin or evil, guilt or shame or even illiteracy.

The simple act of handing a student a book—a student who may be holding the first book she’s ever owned—is another step in God’s kingdom being made manifest on earth. Until it’s here in full, it is my prayer and hope that our little Watershed community will continue to take baby steps toward making God’s kingdom known in our world.

Paul Bartel is a church planter in Kansas City, Mo., leading the Watershed congregation, a community of people who have covenanted together to live on mission in the Brookside and Waldo neighborhoods.

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