As the tuition prices of major universities continue to spiral upward, the good news is that Baby U is still free. In fact, people are paid to attend, with such incentives as diapers, formula, clothes, books, and gift cards. I assure you, BU is a real place, unlike PU, which is not.
When our children were young, we told them that all we knew about parenting we’d learned from Parents University. If we did anything wrong as parents, it was obvious that Old PU was to blame. Occasionally, we let it slip that our grades at PU weren’t the best and perhaps one of us didn’t actually complete our course of study. Our kids now say they knew we were joking, but back in the day I think they might have bought into it.
Amusing stories from our past aside, Baby University is real. It is an outreach of Mosaic Ministries in south Toledo, Ohio, with the goal of educating new parents and parents-soon-to-be in life skills, child rearing strategies, nutrition, and other important topics and skills. Mosaic ministers with the very poor local residents, many of whom have never had or witnessed examples of good parenting.
Low income children enter school with many disadvantages. Studies show they are behind middle class students in learning development by sixty percent, a margin that is difficult, if not impossible, ever to overcome. Baby U tries to encourage parents to bridge that gap with such simple steps as reading to their children for as little as 15 minutes a day.
Baby University is the beginning of Mosaic’s “Transformation Pipeline” for kids and adults. Mosaic has begun a partnership with the Toledo Day Nursery, one of the nation’s oldest preschool entities (established in 1871). Soon there will be preschool classes on the Mosaic grounds. Another important ministry for kids is the Beauty Project that teaches pre-teen and young teen girls that they are more than their outward appearance. For others, the ministry also helps people obtain their GEDs, and this fall there will be a class on finances for adults.
But if all Mosiac did was provide educational opportunities, that wouldn’t be nearly enough for the director of the ministry, Pastor David Kaiser or for his wife, Kelly, who’s the director of Baby University. Their primary mission is to see a spiritual transformation of the community through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so worship and Bible study are vital ministries of Mosaic.
Pastor David asked, “Did you just come for Jesus?”.
“Yes,” she said with a smile.
The Tuesday night worship was conducted by folks from a nearby Methodist church. Sunday’s service was conducted by long time friends of the ministry. Though Mosaic is under the auspices of the Southern Baptist Church, many different denominations contribute to the ministry. The current building was purchased by Presbyterians. We talked with the pastor of a Lutheran church who had sent volunteers. The ministry has a broad base of community support.
On Tuesday nights, there is a Bible study following worship and the meal. Men and women meet for separate studies, and I (Dean) I went to the men’s study, where we talked about the importance of studying God’s Word. (Chris, the leader of the study said we need to “put our heads in God’s washing machine, the Bible”.)
Mindy was impressed with the transparency of the women in her study who mentioned God at work while asking for prayer in difficult situations. One woman said, “God is freaking awesome.”
Tuesday and Sunday aren’t the only times food is available; breakfast and dinner are served throughout the week at Mosaic (or at another church, Vision, down the street, which several people mentioned attending as well). Mindy and I were there for a few meals, occasionally serving and sometimes just eating. There were parents with kids as well as couples and single men and women. Friends greeted each other and joked together. I chatted with one man who told me about his work landscaping during the summer and fall. I asked what he does in the winter, and he said he would do snow removal once winter gets started. A friend of his came and sat with us. (I was impressed when the friends exchanged an examination of each other’s arms, apparently to check for track marks. For people struggling with addiction as for the rest of us, that kind of mutual accountability is important.)
There are certainly struggles unique to this kind of ministry, and I talked with Pastor David about some of these. David had had a career in business before he took over this ministry (then called Western Avenue Ministries) in 2007. Previously, Pastor Don Bethan and his wife, Betty, had ministered to their community through the Western Avenue Baptist Church. When David came in, it became an independent ministry.
“This ministry isn’t for everybody. For instance, there was a five year old student that was sent out for testing for ADD. The results came back that the kid had STDs instead. If that doesn’t really upset you, Christ probably hasn’t called you to this ministry. But if upsets you so much that you can’t come back to work the next day… This ministry probably isn’t for you either.”
I talked with a woman named Renita. She recognized David from attending a session of Baby University. I asked her what she had learned at Baby U. She said she learned it’s possible “to have a foundation for raising kids.” She said most people around her didn’t, but she wanted that for her kids.
I told Kelly about the conversation and she was glad to hear it. “Though I’d rather have heard she was reading to her children fifteen minutes a day.”
In this kind of work, it seems change comes slowly. But with God’s grace, it does come.
Service Length: 24 minutes
Sermon Length: 9 minutes
Visitor Treatment: no distinction between visitors and regulars; we were greeted by name because we were expected.
Our Rough Count: 53
Probable Ushers' Count: no ushers (and we didn't hear how many got groceries or dinner)
Musicians: acoustic guitar (man), vocals (2 women), percussion box (man)
Songs: "As the Deer Panteth for the Water"
"Bind us Together"
Miles to church: 327 miles
Miles from start: 35,761
Total 2016 Miles: 35,465
Church website: http://wamteam.org/
Service Length: 58 minutes
Sermon Length: 22 minutes
Visitor Treatment: This time, they let Dean talk.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: We had dinner with David and Kelly after church, then breakfast the next morning, with some email correspondence about this post.
Our Rough Count: 55, with as many as 30 waiting in the hall
Probable Ushers' Count: 92 people signed in (some were individuals, and some were couples or families)
Musicians: acoustic guitar (man)
Songs: "Your Grace Finds me"
"Here I am to Worship"
"How He Loves"
"Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone"
Miles to church: 5
Miles from Start: 36,034Total 2016 Miles: 35,738
Church website: http://babyutoledo.com/