Close Encounters Across Cultures

What would happen if you just stayed with a group of kids no matter what?
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It's a Monday night in late October, and Halloween festivities across the college town of Madison, Wisconsin, are overflowing with partying young people. There is a dance at the high school - not to mention the Green Bay Packers on Monday night football.

Yet, instead of taking in any of those activities, dozens of high-school students and their adult tutors have congregated in the basement of Christ Presbyterian Church for their weekly study session, to be followed by a home-cooked meal.

Buttering bread for grilled-cheese sandwiches, Doug Madsen, a former tutor, says he signed up for kitchen duty because he couldn't stomach a second helping of high-school algebra.

In another section of the basement, Paul Nelson sits at a folding table, assisting 15-year-old Ger with his chemistry homework, while sipping a Coke. Nelson began three years ago as Ger's tutor and two years ago also took over as his "mentor" under another Christ Presbyterian program, an effort supported by Young Life. A state-government policy analyst with two children of his own, Nelson enjoys attending Asian festivals with Ger's family.

"Sometimes we get bored," Ger says, looking up from a textbook about atomic particles and tossing his long hair back off his forehead. "Then we just hang out together."

PROJECT OPPORTUNITY

The warm relationship between Nelson and Ger is just one of dozens that have been created in the last five years by the long reach of ministry at Christ Presbyterian, not far from the University of Wisconsin campus and the state capitol on Madison's east side.

In 1989, Christ Presbyterian created Project Opportunity, a program in which the church made long-term commitments to 16 sixth-grade students at a local public school. The Madison Community ...

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