In this week's episode, Dr. Dan Peterson is joined by Tracey Bravos, the Business Manager at ECS, to discuss how ECS serves through Memphis Athletic Ministries and other areas in the community.
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DP: Welcome to the ECS Equip podcast, a podcast for K-12 Christian educators and parents. We are essentially giving voice to all of the things happening on our campus, and thinking and teaching in light of a Christian worldview.
Today we are talking about service. This is a time of year where's a lot of opportunities to serve. I'm so excited about our guest today, Mrs. Tracey Bravos, who is our Business Office Manager. She has been working at ECS for several years, she's a graduate of ECS, and they've had children go through here. So, I just wanted to welcome you Tracey. Thanks for being here.
TB: Thanks, Dan. I appreciate it.
DP: I just want to start with Scripture. I want to read some words from 1 John 3 beginning in verse 16. It states, "By this we know that he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth." What an important reminder and guide for us as believers in Christ that God has done much for us in the person and work of Christ. Sending his son Jesus to die on the cross for us. This is a season of celebration of Christmas. I love that last part, it says let's not love just purely in word or talk but in deed and truth. And so there is actionable things that we can do in this world. And so it goes beyond social justice. Our service should be rooted in the Gospel, that God has done much for us and when we truly understand the Gospel, there's a sense in which it affects our head and it moves into our heart and it affects our hands. So, glad you're here Tracey.
TB: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
DP: We've got a really neat thing coming up next week, that we partner with a local ministry. Just talk a little about service and MAM and kind of the formation of that, the history there, and what we'll be doing.
TB: Sure. Back in 2011, Bryan Miller asked me to start an organized initiative where ECS facutly and staff could be part of a group where we look for opportunities to serve others. It not only would promote camaraderie among our own faculty and staff who work at different locations, but it would bring us all together and it would also give us an opportunity to serve others. So this was started back in 2011, and right before Christmas is when we really got it going. We were looking for an opportunity to work with a local organization to serve others. Memphis Athletic Ministries, the president at the time was James Armfield, who is a parent of ECS children, I think he's had about five graduate from ECS. So, I reached out to them and we actually adopted four families back in 2011. And our faculty and staff really stepped up. We adopted these four families that were handpicked by MAM because they were families that were very involved in allowing their children to participate in after school activities and in Bible studies. The purpose of Memphis Athletic Ministries, for those who are not familiar with them, is to help build Godly youth in under-resourced neighborhoods by teaching them to love God, love others, and love themselves. And their vision is to develop youth into spiritually-strong, productive adults positively impacting their families and neighborhoods. And what this really results in is after school activities for these children. They offer tutoring services and sports activities. So they handpicked some families that were very active and they wanted their kids to be a part of this and that were really working hard to grow their children in a Christian environment and to teach them the love of Christ. So, we adopted four families and took their wish list and stepped up to the plate and brought them truckloads, literally, of gifts for them to put under their Christmas tree. And we had a Bible study time with them, a fellowship time with them, and it was very sweet. And that's how it all started.
DP: What are some of the stories that stick out in your mind? I've really enjoyed watching your passion for this. You really do a good job of communicating and sharing with our team here about the opportunity to serve. Tell me why you're passionate about it and maybe some stories over the last several years that stick out in your mind.
TB: Well the first year is still the sweetest time. Most of these families are led by a single parent and one of the families was led by a mom. The top of her wish list was a security door for her home. She had been broken into literally two, three, four times in the months prior to Christmas. So, the White House actually adopted this family, and so one of the things we did was we raised enough money to go purchase a security door for her home. And our rep at MAM actually had a friend that was a volunteer fireman and he wanted to step up and go over there and install the door. So that was so neat. That mom was at the Christmas party, and we had already done all of this, and she was so appreciative and in tears. She had her thank you note already written. It was so sweet, it really was. But we were able to provide bicycles, clothing, school uniforms, a doll house, for these moms to put under their Christmas tree for their kids. And it was just so fun to be a part of that. And we were there to deliver it and be the hands and feet of Christ during that time.
DP: You never really know how needs intersect. There's a real sense in which a heart willing to serve meets a need. It's a divine appointment where there's a real sense in which we might meet them right where they're at. And I know you've probably experienced that in your years of doing this. Why should we serve others? As Christians, there's a real sense in which we are called to do this. And it doesn't just happen at Christmas. Although we're talking about it at this time of year, if that's all we're doing I think that it's an epic failure on our part to really understand God's call in our lives to serve the least of these. So why serve and why are you passionate about it?
TB: It boils down to trying to be obedient to what Christ has asked us to do. He says in Matthew, which is a great verse and a great reason to do this, that as often as we do this to the least of His brothers, we are doing it unto Him. It's like serving Him, physically serving Him, when we serve others. It's all over the Bible that whatever gifts we have been given we should use those as faithful stewards. If we love Christ, we want to be obedient to His Word. We all fail many times, but this is one way that we can try to be obedient and show the love of Christ. Especially at Christmas, I do think it's important to do it all year round, but there's a lot of pressure on these families at Christmas to give some gifts to their kids, and a lot of them just cannot do it. The one thing about working with MAM is that, after that year where we worked with those four families, it evolved into much more after that. They came to us the next year and said, "We want to open this up to a lot more families than just four MAM families." So they asked us if we would be part of their Christmas shop, and so the way it first started is ECS along with other organizations in the Memphis area donated toys, clothing, gifts, for them to come in and actually come shop at the Christmas shop. It reminds me of our lower school Christmas shops that we've had for many years where our kids go in and buy presents for mom and dad and sisters. That's what it reminded me of. So these families would come in, they would be hand chosen, there would be about twenty five or thirty families that would participate. They would have a Bible study with the families, they would each go home with a new Bible, they would come in and shop for their families. I know one year, Kim Arnwine is one of my reps. I have reps at all of my locations that are my E3 reps and Kim is my upper school rep. She was stopped in the parking lot after one of the Christmas shops by this mom that came up to her intentionally and gave her this big hug, had tears in her eyes, and said, "I just want you to know my kids would not have a Christmas with regard to presents and gifts if it weren't for ECS and y'all being here and helping to do this." And Kim was moved to tears. So that's why we do it every year. It's really special. And we at ECS have our volunteers go and we do the wrapping station. So we get to interact with the families after they've gone through the shop, wrap their presents, put their name tags on it, actually communicate and engage with them, help them take it to the cars. So it's just so much fun and they're so appreciative. It's not turned into where we help provide Target gift cards and they go to Target and purchase gifts that they really need. And you'd be shocked at the kind of gifts that they purchase. They're purchasing pillows, they're purchasing coats, gloves, sweaters, and things like that. Things that they really do need. And we set up shop in Target and actually wrap the presents for them. It's really a special time.
DP: I think that's important. It's need based. This is not something where they're getting the latest and greatest toy out.
TB: And these are families that are engaged in MAM and want their children to be a part of the weekly Bible study, they're there for the tutoring school. They're really wanting to root their children right and in the love of Christ.
DP: There's a story, when I was a young man working at Kanakuk camps, and I was doing my regular responsibilities. My responsibility that day was to sweep out this gymnasium where we had events at night. So everybody else was having FOB time, which is flat on back which is kind of nap time. And I was in there sweeping out the gym, and was like, "I wonder who is watching me sweep out this gym." And it was like a lightning bolt in my heart. If you're serving to get recognized, you're way off. You serve Me. I'll never forget it. It wasn't an audible voice, but I felt conviction in my heart that I was serving to get recognized, I wasn't truly serving God. I was serving for the delight of man. And my heart was not oriented in the right place. And from that point forward it's been a great barometer for me in measuring my heart, because I am a wayward, sinful man sometimes. And for us as an organization, we don't want to do this to get recognized, we want to do it to give glory to God and to bless others with need. One thing I love about MAM is they are engaged in this ministry that has a heart to be focused on the Gospel and focused on Christ. Because ultimately He is the one who can feed the beggar. We're all fed beggars. If you're in Christ, we're all in need of something much greater than ourselves. And that goes much beyond money or roof over our house. It's a soul need, it's a heart need. We are in need of Jesus because of the sin that separates us from God. That's the Gospel. Though ultimately we want to point to the Gospel in our service, but also as we serve we want to serve God and nobody else. I think that's so important as we think about it.
Well share a little bit about what's happening this week and talk a little about E3 as well. Unpack that a little bit.
TB: E3 is what we decided to name this initiative that promotes community service with our faculty and staff. The purpose is to assist our employees by offering opportunities and events for them to not only develop their intellect, their physical health, and their love for God, but also help others. So we will participate in the Run for St. Jude. That has evolved over the years. We used to do the Oak Hall run for St. Jude that's in May. We would have a 5K team that would show up and we would walk/run and raise money. Now we do that in September every year and it's actually at the St. Jude facility in Memphis and they have this one run every year all over the country. So we do that every year. We're involved with Life Choice and we do the baby bottles where we raise money for Life Choices. We just got through doing that. We also have participated in their 5K's in the past to help raise money that way. We've even had a beautification day in the past here at ECS where we all get together just to make our campus look better. And the funny thing is when you're in a multi-campus facility or institution like ECS, all the teachers don't know each other really well, they know of each other but they don't really know each other. Well we get to work side by side with an upper school teacher along with the first grade teacher with the business officer or our accounts payable clerk. We all get to work side by side where we don't always have that opportunity otherwise. So that's another thing about E3 is just to build that camaraderie where we get to know each other. We've had bowling nights where we get together and go bowling. And I've put those teams together so that people that don't really know each other get to bowl together. So it's really fun and people have developed deeper friendships with each other due to E3.
DP: I think there is a fellowship component to service when you're actually doing something together for God's glory and it's fun and enlightening. And also, you're doing something together for a purpose that benefiting someone else. And it's bigger than yourself. And I think that's important. I think ultimately our team here sincerely desire to serve God in our roles here. And that happens a lot, there's all of these different roles here day to day. And there's a sense that we're serving each other by serving God and serving students and families. But there's also a larger purpose that we want to get beyond just our walls and get out there in the Memphis community and love our city well, love our community well, and try to make a difference for God's glory.
Well thanks for joining me. I really appreciate you as a colleague. You're such a hard worker. Your passion and vision and your communication on getting things going has been superb. Looking forward to serving with you.
TB: I know. I can't wait to see you there next Tuesday night, I guess that's going to be tomorrow the 13th at the Target on Colonial. I think it's over in the Colonial area in East Memphis. That's where we're going to set up shop. We'll probably have thirty or thirty five employees there wrapping presents. We'll be crammed in a small area. But we will have fun loving on these families and sharing Christ.
DP: I'm worried my wrapped presents won't make the cut.
TB: Hey. We'll be watching and see how your bows are. Your bows and your corners. But we have so much fun. It is so fun to see these families go home with these wrapped presents to put under their tree. It brings joy to your heart.
DP: Well in closing, service is so important. It's part of how God has designed us to serve Him but also serve others. In a fallen world there's a real sense in where service pushes back the darkness and pushes the Gospel story into the brokenness of our world. Just keep serving. And keep on keeping on. Soli Deo Gloria.