My family and I participated in the Brookside Road Tour in September 2017. I had known about the Brookside initiative since its inception, and I was also familiar with Oaks Academy and Heart Change – a few of the ministries in the Brookside area. This tour was not really going to provide any new information for me— or so I thought.
I grew up in a middle class, suburban neighborhood of a large city, and I’ve volunteered multiple times to help in inner city missions. I grew up with loving, Christian parents who have guided me throughout my life; my husband grew up in a similar home. Our family has attended College Park for 20 years, and we have learned so much about the Lord, His Word, and how to live the Christian life through God’s use of our excellent teachers and pastors.
Given that background, I was aware of the plight of those less fortunate than myself—lower income, less-than-ideal housing, less food or fewer “extras”, etc. However, I thought that the less fortunate just needed to get a job and work their way up the ladder to improve their lives. I myself didn’t complete college. I got a job with the skills that I had and worked my way up. If I could do that, anyone can!
Yet, the tour taught me that I hadn’t truly grasped the term “generational poverty.” It wasn’t until Pastor Dale Shaw spoke about a Brookside family, that I began to understand. The family has five living generations– the oldest generation, a great-grandmother, is only in her 50s. Pastor Dale explained how minimal education and a lack of skills make it difficult for someone in poverty to get a job and to work their way out of poverty. I did not know that those who choose to attend Mother’s University and Heart Change are there because they are broken— not just poor, but broken. They need real, tangible, life-changing help.
As the tour went on, I learned even more about how College Park is helping change the Brookside community. The men working at Purposeful Design are not just building furniture. They are building a way of life, and more importantly, they are changing hearts for Jesus and embracing their roles as husbands and fathers. Heart Change Ministry is doing similar work with Brookside women, teaching them skills and growing them in the knowledge of the Lord through Bible studies and counseling.
But it was Mother’s University that truly revealed the grip of generational poverty. On the whiteboard in one of the classrooms, there were bullet points for the moms about how to care for their children. One, written for mothers of infants, mentioned that the moms should spend time each day quietly holding their child, talking to their child, telling them how they loved them, and doing things to make their child laugh. The women are taught that in doing so, their child will feel loved.
That broke my heart! I had no idea that mothers needed instruction to do this. I believed that deep down all mothers are nurturers, so holding and loving their child was a natural thing to do. Yet, Dale said most of these women did not have a nurturing childhood. So, they do not know to do this. Their mothers never told them they loved them, never just held them and looked into their eyes, never made them laugh. It was all I could do to keep myself together.
You see, in my “get up and get it done” personality, I lacked compassion. I did not realize that generational poverty makes these things nearly impossible to do. College Park and the other Brookside initiatives are helping break that bondage. They are truly loving on those in the neighborhood by offering skills, education, and most importantly, the message of Jesus.
What started as a tour reviewing what I already knew about the Brookside neighborhood, ended with a humble heart. I pray that God will continue to use what I learned to change my heart into one of compassion for those who are less fortunate than me.