I was able to talk with Jeff Bisgrove, Director of Arizona Neighborhood Transformation – the organization behind the Guadalupe Learning Lab. Situated in a community where 25% of the residents live in poverty and graduation rates lag far behind those of Phoenix and Arizona,the center is a partnership with the community for transformation.
Jeff shared how God brought him from being an atheist to beginning a ministry, the exciting role Guadalupe Learning Lab is playing in the community, and what the Matthew 25 Initiative partnership means to him.
When I asked Jeff why he does this ministry, he gave me the simple answer first: God. Jeff grew up in a non-religious home and then pursued education and a career in science and engineering. He spent most of his life as an atheist. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s as Jeff and his wife began their family, they considered attending church to help navigate raising children. Within a year, Jeff found Christ. He heard the call of Christ and took it seriously; go out into the community and do something. For nine years, he volunteered in Guadalupe. Then, after the best review in his professional career, he heard God say, “Come work for me.” He stepped out of industry, and into community transformation. But it didn’t happen that quickly.
At that time, the ministry in Guadalupe was focused on relief – taking the kids for activities, reading to them, feeding them, but not investing in their day-to-day wellbeing. The general idea was, “These are great kids. We’ve got to help get them out of Guadalupe.”
This is where Transformation training came in; it was a shift in thinking, and a shift in ministry. The question was no longer, “What can we do for you?” but “What do you want to do for yourself?” And the answer was clear. When less than 50% of students graduate high school, and less than 5% go on to attend college, the parents wanted their children to stay in school and graduate. And Guadalupe Learning Lab was created. Director Marina Gonzales, a resident of Guadalupe, leads the center, coordinating volunteers from the community, to help children succeed in school. All the children who have stayed with the center have reached graduation.
The after-school program has grown and is working on job development so students no only succeed in school, but are equipped to gain jobs as well.
I asked Jeff what being a part of the Matthew 25 Initiative meant to him. Of course, there’s the financial piece of a matching grant, helping with operations, allowing stipends to be offered to students to work throughout the lab.
But more than that, the Matthew 25 Initiative is a community. In Jeff’s own words:
“The most important blessing I find in the Matthew 25 initiative is that it is helping us build the right Jesus centered DNA for ACNA. ACNA is new. It is growing out of many different pieces and congregations around North American. As we grow and take shape, we have an opportunity to build ourselves into a group that truly shines Jesus into all the corners of North America. Having all the congregations of ACNA embrace, support and multiple the works of the Matthew 25 effort will help us build into our ACNA DNA the stuff of Jesus – his heart for walking with and supporting the lost and the least in north America. It will remind us not to retreat into the holy safety of our church buildings but rather to be released into our communities to be Jesus to our neighbors. To quote another very good part of Matthew (4:19) – what Jesus said to his first to two disciples is just as true for us today –
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (NIV)
How can you get involved?
Pray for the learning lab. Pray for continued wisdom and solutions to helping children prepare for non-minimum wage jobs. Pray for Marina and the volunteers as they work with children and parents. Pray that the love of Jesus shines brightly through this ministry and transforms this community.
The work is supported by the generosity of God’s people. Go here to give.