Hope was the first word spoken. Members of the 1K Churches team at Napa Valley Lutheran Church (Napa, California) had been asked to use one word to express what they were feeling now — four years since they first began with the Bible study. It was also two years since they invested $5,000 in a local printing business owned by a recent immigrant from Mexico. The repayment was still in process.

The first word was hope. The other words that popped up were grace, curiosity, potential and fascination. The conversation around that table was not so much about the money as it was about the relationship. We explored what we could do to support this business owner in our town, how we could mitigate the power differential, and how we could engage this family in meaningful ways with the congregation.

It was our newest member, Roberta, who offered that first word of hope.  We learned much more when we asked Roberta what gave her hope, what drew her to join this 1K Churches team, and why this relationship with our neighbor meant so much to her.

1K Churches as an occasion for hope. “If done properly”, Roberta said, “this program gives hope to people coming to this country who face more obstacles than they should have to handle on their own. It gives them reason to hope that they can make a go of it in their new home.” Roberta understands that doing business in a country or culture to which you are new is difficult and can be overwhelming. She hopes that, “through the 1K program newcomers to the community may feel a welcoming presence and experience help in achieving the life which had been their hope when they decided to come to this country.” With the harmful rhetoric and divisiveness regarding immigration as of late, it is important to find ways to build relationships and hope in our communities. Through 1K Churches, we seek to inspire hope within ourselves and within our community.

1K Churches as the right opportunity to get involved. Like a lot of people, Roberta got involved with 1K Churches because a friend on the team knew her well enough to make the connection and invite her. Her friend knew Roberta’s love of the Spanish language, her appreciation of Latin American culture, and her experience of lending a hand to immigrants in the past. As a retired elementary school teacher, Roberta worked part-time at the local library offering a story hour in Spanish for preschoolers and their parents. One day, one of the mothers asked her if she had time to talk to her husband, who was waiting out in the car. He had been there many times with questions about how to use the library and find information he needed, but no one until now could help him in Spanish. Of course, she had time. “When I left work that day,” Roberta said, “my feet weren’t touching the ground. I could help someone.” Now, at this time in her life, 1K Churches presented itself as the right opportunity to help.

Grace abounds. Grace was one of those words the team lifted up to describe their 1K Churches experience. Grace continues to unfold as the team meets quarterly after church, now beginning their fifth year of focus on 1K Churches. Two members of the group stay in regular contact with the business owner. This month they are inviting the owner’s family to come to the church’s ice cream social, and they’re making a special effort to be sure that there will be members present who are fluent in Spanish.

Plans are underway to start a new Bible study group at Napa Valley Lutheran Church in early 2019. The pastors, who will be retiring in early 2020, want to be sure that 1K Churches does not get lost in the transition. 1K Churches has been a slow, quiet, faithful effort of a relatively small group at NVLC, but it is full of great hope, abundant grace, intriguing curiosity and unlimited potential. Just ask those who have been working on it there these last four years.

– Phyllis Anderson is a member of Napa Valley Lutheran Church as well as the 1K Churches team. She is also the Criterion staff member who writes the monthly 1K Churches Newsletter.  

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