Archived Voice Articles

The Webers learn to think big

By Kris (Cnossen, ’97) Nichols

For twenty years now, Stan and Alice Weber have been living in Nashville, Tennessee, a city that people are calling not only “Music City U.S.A.,” but also the “Athens of the South.” Their family has lived and worked in places that most people would call “diverse,” but if you were to ask Stan about culture shock, he’d laugh.

“Dordt was my biggest culture shock,” he says.

Stan grew up in North Dakota. He was a relatively new Christian when he first stepped on to Dordt’s campus, and when someone asked him if he was “C.R.” he didn’t quite know how to respond.

“Transferring in is a hard thing,” Weber points out. “Relationships are already formed before you get there when you’re a transfer student.”

Regardless, once he got acclimated to the new place and the new people in Northwest Iowa, he became very aware that God was at work in his life, preparing him for something bigger than he could imagine at the time. Now almost thirty years later, he is at the helm of Salama Urban Ministries in Nashville, a non-profit organization that provides students with a supplementary education program with a liberal arts emphasis from a Christian perspective.

Ask Stan about God’s grace, and he’ll tell you, “Anything can be done. We think too small, but leaving ourselves open to God-sized opportunities allows God to step in and create God-sized results.”

The Webers had a feeling that God was preparing them for something back in the beginning of 1980. Stan had been working at Hope Haven in Rock Valley, and it was there that he had become involved with some of the most important spiritual mentors in his life. He remembers two pivotal moments. The first was when he was sitting in a church pew watching a S.W.I.M (Summer Workshop in Ministries) video about Cary, Mississippi. That inspired him to get involved with summer volunteer work as a VBS coordinator in Cary for two weeks in the summer. The second was when the leaders of a group called Justice For All, based in Rock Valley, met with him and asked if he would be willing to join a ministry that they were funding in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Stan was engaged to Alice (Veluw, ’80) at the time, and she too had a heart for missions. She had grown up on her father’s dairy farm in southern Alberta, Canada, the daughter of Dutch immigrants.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” says Alice. “I’ve always had a strong thirst for learning.” Alice, like Stan, believed that God had a bigger plan for what he wanted them to do. When she looks back, she acknowledges how inspired she was by her father. “My father was a man of compassion. He was the one who was always caring for the neighbors, accepting and not judging.”

Stan and Alice married and moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the summer of 1980 to become the Associate Director and Education Director of We Care Community Services. We Care provided after-school and community programs.

“We call this our ‘finishing school’ for southern culture,” Stan says.

After five years in Vicksburg, Stan and Alice once again felt God telling them that their season there was coming to a close. Alice and some girlfriends took a trip to Nashville, and she found herself truly enjoying the city. Not long afterward, an opportunity arose there. Christ Presbyterian Church, the congregation that the Webers have been part of for twenty years, was partnering with Belmont Church, the congregation that launched the likes of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, to create a new ministry. In the fall of 1985, the Webers began their work with Salama Urban Ministries.

Up until the spring of 2007, Salama (Swahili for “peace”) was what Stan calls a typical urban ministry. It provided Bible clubs and summer programs with the goal of producing “value-guided leaders.” Located in a transitional part of the city neighboring high-end Music Row and Vanderbilt University, Salama has touched the minds and hearts of many students, serving an almost one hundred percent African American population of kids from different areas and socioeconomic backgrounds.

For years Salama has been encouraging kids from low-income families to pursue educational excellence, attend college, and become compassionate leaders in their communities. One of the program’s “graduates,” Harold Shannon, is now the president of the board of directors. After leaving Salama, attending college, and becoming very successful in his field, Shannon has returned to the ministry to do what he can to help continue the legacy of learning and leadership.

The work has always been ambitious.

“I’m an entrepreneur by spirit,” says Stan. “I like to invite other people into the kingdom party, so to speak. I love mobilizing members of the church, leveraging people’s assets to make a difference in the city.” Alice has worked with him, developing programs from the ground up, as well as helping volunteers and others involved with the ministry navigate the sometimes-huge cultural leap required by such an endeavor.

This past spring, Salama began a new chapter with what they are calling the Salama Institute. The newly-restructured program is available for students grades Pre-K through 12 after school and all day throughout the summer. It focuses on academics, leadership, and arts, filling in gaps left by the public school system along with additional training in technology, visual, and performing arts. In July, the summer program culminated with an outdoor production of West Side Story under a gigantic tent, complete with a live orchestra, a beautiful set, and 40 actors. It’s something that’s never been done quite this way before, and over 1500 people attended the event.

Everyone in the $1.3 million program is on at least a ninety percent scholarship. One-third of that comes from Christ Presbyterian, and the rest is raised through relationships with people in the church, corporations, and foundations.

“I meet some of the most generous people imaginable,” says Stan. “I’m constantly seeing God at work because I’ve learned to leave God-sized opportunities for God to step in. Sometimes we think too small, but with God, anything can be done.”

In the midst of Salama’s growth and change, Alice has found herself yielding to God’s call for her to make a change as well. After working beside Stan at Salama for all these years, she has taken a position teaching 4th grade English Language Learners in the Nashville Public School system.

“Her ministry hasn’t changed,” says Stan, “but her geography has.”

Alice is finding new energy and inspiration in her new position. “Nashville is very welcoming to diverse people groups,” she says. As a result she has had opportunity to work with students from the city’s large Hispanic, Somalian, Kurdish, and Asian communities. She is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Education, and her heart and motivation remain the same as they’ve always been.

The Webers believe they’ve been called to “360 degrees of leadership,” a natural process that happens when people link arms together, creating relationships where sometimes they are the mentor and other times they are mentored. Ultimately, the Weber family believes that God is more real in the picture of diversity: that we are called to lives of integrity and excellence as we bear the image of Christ and treasure the preciousness of others. It is through these “forever eyes” that the Webers—and their four children—see and serve their community.

This coming spring, Dordt College will be organizing an alumni trip to Nashville (see ad on page 13). It will be a time of refreshment and immersion in God’s grace where participants will have a chance to experience the vision of Salama and the work that Stan and Alice Weber do.