At this year’s ARISE2Read Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, Seth Harkins of Alcy Ball Development Corporation shared a motivating keynote address. See transcript of his inspiring words below.

Thank you, Karen, and thank you volunteers for your service this year! Give yourselves a hand! From 2010 to 2016 I taught high school math here in Memphis, and I so appreciate the energy, the positivity, and the new life that each of you brings into schools across the county!

Also, as the program director at Alcy Ball Development Corporation, I’ve been able to tutor at Alcy Elementary for the last two years alongside an incredible group of volunteers. In my role at work, I get to see them at their home, apartment building, corner store, park, or barber shop. Sometimes I meet with their parents for credit counseling or homebuyer counseling. Sometimes I see their siblings at after school ministries. I want to encourage you by saying that you play an important role as a supportive layer over this child’s life that we are further layering on top of alongside many other ministries like us across all parts of the city. Thank you for that, know that we see the difference and we can’t thank you enough.

As we dig in together, I have a main idea and a few supporting points:

ARISE2Read contributes to the type of community we will enjoy in the Kingdom that is coming.

First we’ll see that we can prepare for that kingdom today. Second, that the kingdom is what we were created for all along. And Third, that as we prepare, we are playing a role in a bigger story.

1.   It is coming, let’s get ready.

What do we know about this kingdom? In Revelation 21:1-5, John writes,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

This Kingdom where there are no tears, and where all peoples are gathered together to God, and where all broken things are made new, it is coming! You know what types of people are going to be there? All of them. You know what kind of food we might eat, or what type of songs we might sing? You think they’ll all be from the southern Baptist tradition? Or the missionary Baptist tradition? Or even from an American tradition? No way. All tribes, tongues, and nations will be there, and it’s also true that they all have a role to play in preparing the way for the coming kingdom today. How do we prepare for this coming cultural celebration? We practice, like a sports team. We rehearse, like the cast of a great film. We memorize lines, we get to know the other members of the cast. When we see problems our city faces, and the problems these second graders will face as they grow older, we will be better equipped to serve them when we KNOW them, and when we KNOW each other! We learn how to better serve as a team for the benefit of others. So, remember the kingdom is coming, and serving together helps us prepare.

2.  Second, The Kingdom is the community God has built us for.

Here are a few passages about what God has created us to be.

Genesis 1:28
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 2:1-2
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.

Genesis 2:15
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

God gave man a JOB to subdue things, to have dominion over things. We subdue and have dominion over the earth when we take ingredients and make a great meal. We do this when we gather raw material from the earth and make an iPhone or a solar panel or a Tesla. In order to participate fully in this process of subduing and having dominion over the earth, kids need to know how to read. What are your kids doing when they sit down with you and a Fry Word List? WORKING. Like God did. Like Adam & Eve did in the garden. It’s part of what we were designed to do! You get to promote the enjoyment and dignity of work as you spend time with your students!

In my own work, this connects to three of the core principles of Christian Community Development that I try to follow in my work:

A. Listen to the Community   

Any time I am listening to the community, someone will mention what we should be doing for the kids in the community. You know what I tell them? Hey, there’s this great one on one reading program, you should come check it out.

B. Holistic Approach     

Thinking about a Holistic Approach, any time a healthcare professional complains that people can’t read their prescriptions, or won’t follow directions; anytime a landlord complains that tenants didn’t read their lease, or someone complains that they got taken advantage of by a furniture rental or title loan agreement…you know what I tell them? There’s this great reading program, you should come check it out… There are SO MANY issues that we can fight through grade level literacy!

C. Empowerment

Third is Empowerment. This is basically to say, when someone talks about the needs we have as a city, or as a school system, that THEY are the solution to the problem. Who do you know that’s down on Memphis, or your neighborhood, or that other neighborhood they won’t even drive through anymore but complain about? You know what you say? Hey, there’s this great one on one reading program, you should come check it out!!!! I need your help to turn our critics into our advocates. To turn “I wish somebody would…” into “look what those kids can read now?!?!”

I especially want to commend those of you volunteering with ARISE2Read in partnership with your workplace. Some of you choose to give up your lunchbreak, or time on the clock, or billable hours, some of you even get paid to go volunteer. Whatever the case, this is the obvious right choice. The relationships in which you’re investing will pay dividends not only for a child’s education and income, but on the quality of life for all in our city as children develop a higher earning potential and greater prospects across all sectors of their lives! Please keep serving and bring others along with you.  When we participate in the work that God created us for, we experience joy, health, and wholeness as we contribute to His restoring of all things.

Lastly, please remember that:

3.   You are part of a bigger story.

As I finish saying thank you to our volunteers this year, let’s reflect on the past for a moment. You know who else was a part of this story? Dr. MLK Jr., who glimpsed heaven while waiting at the airport after the march from Selma to Montgomery. Looking back to the civil rights movement of 50 years ago, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a key victory for Dr. King and other leaders. The march from Selma to Montgomery was a large part of that effort, in which over 25,000 people joined the march to Alabama’s capital. Here is one of Dr. King’s reflections from his book Where Do We Go From Here:

“After the march to Montgomery, there was a delay at the airport and several thousand demonstrators waited more than five hours, crowding together on the seats, the floors and the stairways of the terminal building. As I stood with them and saw white and [black], nuns and priests, ministers and rabbis, labor organizers, lawyers, doctors, housemaids and shopworkers brimming with vitality and enjoying a rare comradeship, I knew I was seeing a microcosm of the mankind of the future in this moment of luminous and genuine brotherhood.”

I have a friend who is fond of saying that the Education Gap between communities in America is the key social justice and civil rights issue of our generation. We are part of a bigger story of God’s redemption. If you haven’t yet thought of equal education as a civil rights issue, and if you haven’t yet thought of yourself, an ARISE2Read volunteer, as a civil rights worker, then please embrace those ideas. You are part of the bigger story of promoting economic opportunity for the next generation. Thank you for your service this year, and I’ll see you with whoever you bring with you in the fall.