Tutoring Program Takes Root in St. Paul's Fertile Soil

By Roger and Kay Rehbein

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Johnson Parkway in St. Paul, Minnesota was already involved in outreach ministries to their neighbors. They had a monthly food shelf called The Helping Place and a clothing giveaway at their National Night Out celebration. In addition, they had the traditional community Easter egg hunt in the spring and Vacation Bible School in the summer (to which the neighborhood kids were invited). Then, one of the members heard a speech by Sanya Parson from Rebecca’s Garden of Hope, a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS that helps congregations set up tutoring and mentoring programs. 

The rest is history. This member asked others from Our Saviour’s to come with her to hear Sanya speak in May of 2014 at Bethel Lutheran Church. The amazing thing is that each person from Our Saviour’s who heard Sanya talk about tutoring and mentoring at-risk children from the neighborhood had two strong reactions: “This is very important work” and “We need to do this at our church.” Each person felt a very strong call from God.

Since then the adventure has been scary and amazing at the same time. Tutoring and Growing Time or T.A.G. Time, as the program was named, began with 1 student and 13 volunteers in mid-October 2014. It remained at those numbers for several weeks. It was tempting to wonder if this was really part of God’s plan. But gradually, the program grew as God continued to bring students and families to the church on Tuesday evenings. After the community pastor promoted T.A.G. Time at the annual Easter egg hunt, the enrollment doubled. The first year ended with 11 students and 15 volunteers!!! God is amazing!

It’s amazing that a tutoring program can be used by God to bless things the church is already doing, and programs like this can bless kids in the tutoring program by exposing them to God’s Word and His love. Families in the community hear about T.A.G. Time when they visit the food shelf; attend National Night Out; join the Easter egg hunt or come to Vacation Bible School.  Plus, students invite their friends. It’s this more personal type of invitation that God has used to bring additional students to T.A.G. Time.

In the same way, T.A.G. Time families hear about opportunities at church when they come for homework help on Tuesday nights. Last summer, T.A.G. Time students attended Vacation Bible School, came to National Night Out, and did a joint service project with the youth from Our Saviour’s at Feed My Starving Children. This fall, several T.A.G. Time students came to a lock-in at church for middle school age youth, and several families came to Our Saviour’s annual community Thanksgiving dinner. Two families even enrolled their children in Our Saviour’s Sunday School!!

God continues to inspire and move the hearts of people at Our Saviour’s. Last fall, the music director felt led to start a music class called Children’s Music Time for children on Wednesday evenings before the adult choir rehearses. That program has several T.A.G. Time families involved. Then, one of the congregation members said he would plan a children’s Christmas Service. Imagine everyone’s delight when last December Our Saviour’s had a children’s Christmas service with 18 participants. It was the first of this type of service at Our Saviour’s in at least 10 years! Isn’t God amazing?!

In the time since May 2014 when the seed for this tutoring and mentoring program was planted in the hearts and minds of the T.A.G. Time team, there have been some moments of uncertainty when the team had to step out in faith. But mostly it has been a true adventure to watch how God has provided resources, volunteers to help, and students to learn. T.A.G. Time is halfway through its second year. There are now 19 volunteers and 15 to 18 students in T.A.G. Time. Now nearby Bethlehem Lutheran has started tutoring also. It will be fun to see what God has planned for the future and how He will use these ministries to impact these young lives and the lives of their families. To God be the Glory!!

Rebecca’s Garden of Hope will be leading a regional conference for churches who want more information about how to start a tutoring/mentoring program in their neighborhoods AND for those already doing so. The conference will be held Friday, September 23 and Saturday, September 24 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, 674 Johnson Parkway, St. Paul MN 55106.

For more information, contact info@rebeccasgardenofhope.org.