Written by Scott Whitman
Co-Founder WOVEN (With One Voice Energizing Neighborhoods)
For professor Joanne Kersten, music is more than an art or vocation, it’s an instrument of hope.
Joanne is a co-founder of WOVEN (With One Voice Energizing Neighborhoods), a program she launched in 2002 with fellow North Central University professor, Larry Bach, in response to the desperate need they saw in the neighborhoods surrounding their downtown Minneapolis campus.
They saw children living under the heavy burden of poverty, abuse and neglect – children who could see no future for themselves, other than what drugs or gangs might offer.
But in the midst of the abuse and poverty, Joanne also saw potential. She asked, “What if we can help these children see something more in themselves?”
WOVEN matches college music students with neighborhood kids in a unique mentoring partnership. The children commit to meeting the attendance and conduct standards of the program, and in turn receive free weekly music lessons and one-on-one mentoring from a college student. These partnerships, which often extend for many semesters, have created a safe-haven for more than 100 neighborhood children since the program began, transforming the lives of many along the way.
Joanne says the process of learning music theory, and the practical discipline of preparing for musical performance, lays a foundation for greater literacy, personal responsibility, confidence and self-worth.
For many of the children, participating in WOVEN gave them a different view of what was possible.
“The program helps them know they can be something else. It becomes a form of drug prevention, or pregnancy prevention. They begin to want something more for themselves,” said Joanne.
“The children – and even their parents or guardians – are surrounded with positive ideas, positive people, and cannot help but be inspired by these talented and energetic college students,” said Joanne.
The benefits go both ways. The NCU students, immersing themselves in the lives of their young charges, learn what it means to serve with humility.
“Our college students come here from their own towns and schools where they were stars. They get thrown into the competitive college environment and often struggle to find their footing,” said Joanne, “By serving as teachers in WOVEN, these students begin to see themselves as contributors with something to offer. It gives them perspective, and a vision for their own future,” said Joanne.
But ultimately for Joanne, and everyone involved in WOVEN, it’s really about hope – finding it, and giving it.
“We all need the same thing, whether privileged or poor,” says Joanne. “Children can live through some pretty dark stuff. God’s made us pretty resilient. But to really grow, children need light.”
Joanne urges us to invest ourselves in shining that light: “Do whatever you can, no matter how simple, to bring people light and hope. Do it for the children.”
“Tell Your Story”
Guest post by Anna Cisewski
A lot can change in 25 years. For Joel Hanson, worship pastor at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, MN, this has never been truer. He is a much different man than the kid he was with a talent for music and a need for fame a quarter of a century ago.
In 2004, Joel became the worship leader at Open Door, but he didn’t quite feel like he fit. To him, his job was to “sing in front of a large group of people and be good at it.” But he discovered that being a worship leader went far beyond the stage and the microphone. He needed to be a pastor, a shepherd.
After three years working at Open Door, Joel’s life seemed to be unraveling. After a series of poor and hurtful choices, the church leaders sat down with him and gave him the option to resign. He left.
But the next day, something happened that surprised him and in the years to come became more significant: the lead pastor, Dave Johnson, called him to ask how he was doing. Suddenly Joel realized that what he had expected of the church simply wasn’t true. He wasn’t ostracized or rejected because he had failed. Dave told Joel that he just couldn’t imagine “not being around the fire of life” without him. So instead of abandoning Joel to the humiliation of being released from a church, he was pulled back in.
And then they hired him back. Instead of creating a safe distance, the church asked him to serve with them again. And throughout all of that, they redeemed Joel’s perception of what the church really is.
Now, almost ten years after the second time he was hired as worship pastor at Church of the Open Door, he fulfills his job very differently. Now, he views himself as a shepherd; a leader with the opportunity to partner with other people and equip them to use the profound impact that they have within the church and take it out to their communities.
Joel serves because to him, it’s not about the performance or the fame that he had when he was younger. It’s about the fact that there is a beautiful story in the hope he shares every day.
“I’d rather be known for being a normal human than have to continually prove that I’m someone else. Because God works in the ordinary and that’s the story I just can’t get away from anymore. It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, it’s always true. And to me, that’s the most beautiful part about the Good News, is that is happens everywhere.”
Twenty-five years ago, Joel thought he had to hide behind himself and his music. But now, he doesn’t carry that burden, he feels like a free man. Even in a church, where so many seem to feel the need to put on a clean face and a clean shirt to be accepted, the real and messy parts of life are what matter to Joel.
“What if we just showed up as we are, because that’s the only thing we actually can be and that’s the only place where good can actually happen.”
Have you been exhausting yourself by trying to hide? Take a note from Joel Hanson, tell your real story. You might be surprised by how healing and freeing it can be.
“Tell Your Story”