Jack Lamar Story

Spoiler alert: Reading Circle is awesome.

When I first began volunteering two hours of my week to teach refugee students English literacy skills, I was excited about the opportunity to make a positive impact in the kid’s lives. I was going to be the superhero mentor who would see his student climb the literacy ladder every week and go home with a sense of accomplishment knowing that, at least for those two hours, I was making a difference.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of that is good and has happened through my time in Reading Circle. God has designed us to find fulfillment in serving his image-bearers. However, Reading Circle has been so much more than that for me and my student, Pujan.

Crazy little Pujan is an 8 year old firecrackin’ image-bearer from Bhutan. He lives in Vickery Meadow with his parents, sister, and many members of his extended family. His energy is constantly overflowing in the form of dance moves, poop jokes, and funny faces. When Pujan is outside, he is perfecting his Fortnite dancing and when he’s inside he is…well… playing Fortnite. He is definitely one of the crazier Tuesday night students, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. One of my many Tuesday night joys is seeing the way Pujan is growing in maturity (slowly and steadily) and curiosity towards Christianity and the life of Jesus. With Pujan every week is a challenge, but every week is a joy.

God has used Reading Circle to challenge me in various aspects of life. Since beginning to follow Jesus as a sophomore at Iowa State (go ‘Clones), I have always claimed to have strong faith in the Lord’s power and to love all people. Both of these claims have been directly confronted through my friendship with Pujan, his family, and others like them.

Do I really have faith in God’s power? – The refugee community in Vickery Meadow is thick with spiritual darkness and oppression. Without clinging to God’s promise to one day make all things new and everything sad come untrue, it is easy to fall into a spirit of despair. My heart aches as I witness my dear friends worship gods made with human hands and teach their children to do the same. I feel powerless as I try to communicate the gospel of Jesus to Pujan’s parents who are mute, deaf, and illiterate. Seeing these things almost every day has directly challenged my idea of belief. Do I really believe that Jesus has the power to heal people today, or were those just fun Bible stories? Do I really believe that the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is alive and at work in me? Frankly, do I really believe the Bible? These questions are uncomfortable, especially for those of us in traditionally reformed theological circles. The reality is that God still has the power to save the lost and heal the sick. He has given me and other mentors the boldness to step into the discomfort of praying for healing over Pujan’s parents and truly believe that he will open their ears and loosen their tongues, just like in Mark 7:32-37, for the glory of His name.

Do I really love all people? – Jesus commands his followers to love their neighbors. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he shatters the idea that true sacrificial love is reserved for those like us (“next-door neighbors”). As recipients of undeserved love from a perfect God, we are called to go across the street (and the world) extending love to the poor and humble as well as the rich and proud. Our Father in Heaven makes no distinction on who to love and he makes it very clear what that love looks like: sacrifice. For me, truly loving my refugee neighbors, including Pujan’s family, has required sacrifice in many areas of life. The most challenging, however, has been sacrificing my fear. For my whole life, when the topic of “refugees” came up, it would trigger a specific fear. The narrative around this group of people was (and still is) that they were invading our country to kill us, especially Christians. Those news headlines quickly turned these people into statistics to be used as political pawns. This fear was instilled in me, a Bible-believing Christian, until I began to actually meet these people. Growing in gospel-motivated love requires proximity to those God commands us to love. God has taught me that I cannot truly love those who I am afraid of. Loving all people for sake of His glory is the call of the Christian life and it will require sacrificing comfort, convenience, and sometimes even safety.

Reading Circle is challenging. If you’re interested in joining us, get ready for God to chisel away at your rough edges. You will make an amazing eternal impact in your student’s life. You will feel a God-given sense of fulfillment as your serve the people He loves. But He will reveal things to you that you never wanted to see. The story of the Christian life is a story of death producing life. Come live in that story with us at Reading Circle.

Moral of the story: Reading Circle is awesome.

Alysa Marx