Written by Andrea Simnick Xu / Edited by Gretchen Schmidt

Character Counts at Glen Ellyn Bible Church as they host the third annual Step By Step program this summer.  Sixty-five Burmese refugee children learn the importance of being people of character within their community.

For the past three years Glen Ellyn Bible Church has partnered with the Burmese community and World Relief DuPage to assist Burmese students in taking steps to adjust to life in America.  The program provides a meaningful, enjoyable, and loving environment while addressing academic, spiritual, and social needs.

The team of volunteers rotates the kids through vocabulary and writing lessons, snack time, and playtime involving jump rope, soccer, and knitting.  All of the activities are centered on a character trait of the week.  Throughout the mornings, relationships are built and kids’ confidence is grown.

“Its fun to see that this is home, and they are thriving here,” says Resource Coordinator, Lynn Kubat.  This is a place where bridges are built as the program reaches across the different ethnicities within the Burmese people group.

“The kids who have been coming back [each year] are respectful and grateful and they know we are here to help them and walk alongside them,” says Curriculum Coordinator, Sue Macaluso.  

The original vision of the program was to provide literacy development, but it has evolved to include much more.  Development Coordinator, Cindy Hendriksen says, “The morning ends and we feel the children are being loved. It’s not about getting through the material.”

Attendance has grown from forty-five students the first year, to fifty-five the second, and now sixty-five children benefit from the program.  This is the first year, however, that scriptural reading is part of the curriculum.  Macaluso says, “It’s just awesome to open the word of God with them.  That’s been the highlight of the year.”

The passages the kids read – and act out in skits – highlight honorable attributes of Biblical characters like Noah, the Good Samaritan, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

All the kids take home a New Testament at the end of the program.  “I just feel God is at work in this program and in these kids. We are definitely in the business of planting seeds,” reflects Macaluso.  

Volunteers representing six churches run the program; half of them are teachers by profession.  One volunteer got involved after assisting a Burmese child at school. “I just wanted to help out and serve and get to know the Burmese community more,” she says. “Because I worked with him, I wanted to get to know his friends and siblings.”

New volunteers with minimal cross cultural experience coordinated the knitting activities. Hendriksen says, “These ladies were concerned about communication, but that went very well. In fact, the volunteers quickly connected with the girls, will continue to pray for them and are looking forward to helping with next year’s program.”

Inspired by Step By Step, other churches in the community have observed the program desiring to model after it. “We hope to have a four-year curriculum that we can rotate through and pass on to other churches interested in doing the same thing,” says Macaluso. An essential part of the program’s effectiveness is the collaboration of Burmese community leaders. “They were instrumental in steering us toward a format that would especially draw in and engage the teenaged boys,” comments Hendriksen.

World Relief seeks to empower local churches to serve the most vulnerable. Though Step By Step formed from a mutual desire to increase support for the Burmese community, Glen Ellyn Bible Church provides complete oversight of this valuable program. Their ability to take World Relief’s model of empowerment and combine it with a heart for their vulnerable neighbors has had a far-reaching impact.