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I love to tell the storySharing the good news of
Easter in the public schools
By Mitali Perkins
I always get nervous before the holidays. With Christmas or Easter on the
way, it's time to venture into one of the most unreached mission fields in the
worldmy own kids' public school. Along with many other Christian parents across
the nation, I exercise my rights and negotiate a classroom visit. Collecting
books, songs and props, I prepare to talk about why and how our family
celebrates Jesus' birth, death and resurrection.
I'm certainly no polished speaker or entertainer. Besides, we live in a
Massachusetts school district that's famous for politically correct agendas.
Few of the students, administrators or teachers in the public schools know much
about the New Testament. It's no wonder I get nervous.
I walk a fine line because I don't want to proselytize. "This is what
we believe," I repeat. At the same
time, I do want my listeners to grasp the message. Staying in balance takes
creativity and prayer.
Last year, for example, I brought in a small wooden box. Asking the kids to
identify a few symbols that represent certain holiday, I told them that eggs
and bunnies didn't really have much to do with what our family believes about
"I have four better symbols inside this box," I said. Opening the box, I
took out a porcelain baby Jesus from our nativity scene.
"That's the one you brought in at Christmas!" one kid shouted.
"You're right," I answered. "At Easter, we celebrate what happened to that
Jewish baby when He grew up."
I told them about His love for the poor, His healing and His teaching. Next,
I pulled out a thorn and described the beating and the taunting He endured. A
piece of wood came out next, allowing me to explain His death on a cross.
Because more than half the class was Jewish, I mentioned Passover to illuminate
Jesus' sacrifice. And finally, I pulled out a stone and described Mary's
experience at the empty tomb.
Despite my pre-classroom bout of nerves, I left thrilled and thankful. As
usual, my children's Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and secular classmates sat
spellbound, listening eagerly to the "old, old story." In the days and weeks
after my visit, my sons faithfully did the hard work on following up, answering
questions and telling a few more stories from the Bible.
This past Christmas the principal showed up in the middle of my talk. During
our last encounter, she'd refused my request to publicize a prayer meeting for
parents in the school newsletter. I guessed she was probably there to make sure
I wasn't crossing any lines. As I read African-American poet Langston Hughes'
celebration of the nativity, I could see the emotion on her face. The school
had just finished a weeklong focus on Hughes' poetry, but hadn't featured this
beautiful, Christ-centered song of worship in their curriculum. Thanks to
Langston Hughes' faithfulness, I was able to share God's gift of love in Jesus
with a class of 20 unchurched students, two teachers and a principal.
Won't you join me this Christmas and Easter in walking boldly into our
classrooms, constitutional rights in hand? Tell our nation's public school
children the story of love that we celebrate in our families. So many of them
will never hear it unless we do.
Mitali Perkins is a writer living in
In coming weeks, local schools will be in full swing teaching about a world
of evolution, relative truth and safe sex. Where will you be? Do you look at
your local public school as dangerous and unreachable or as a field of young
souls straining for the light of the gospel?
Nothing grows on a battlefield. This may seem like an obvious statement. It
may even seem irrelevant when talking about education, because for years the
struggle for the minds and hearts of students has been carried out in the
legislative and legal systems. And while its still important to voice our
opinions and write our representatives about school prayer, on mission
Christians also should work to change the schools from the inside out by making
them a harvest fieldor a garden. Were not fighting a battle; were planting a
garden, says Eric Buehrer, president of Gateways to Better Education, an
organization that helps teachers, parents and students bring a Christian
influence to their public schools.
How can we change the minds of educators and students if we dont work to
change hearts? Think of some teacher or principal who is influencing your
child. Maybe youve noticed a teenager in your neighborhood teetering on the
decision between atheism and Christ, promiscuity or purity, the absolute truth
of the Bible or peer pressure from his classmates. If you have a garden in your
area that needs tending but arent quite sure how to get beyond the weeds and
thorns, perhaps its time you got to the root of the problem.
Obstacles to overcome
Restricting school prayer, teaching evolution and banning under God from
morning recitations are all symptoms of a bleak spiritual condition that many
parents say has been creeping into public education. It stems from a disregard
for the biblical principles prevalent in schools half a century ago. By 1963
morning prayer and scripture reading had been legislated out of the classroom.
In the last decade or so, talk of Christmas changed to the winter holidays and
Easter was limited more and more to eggs and bunnies. Two years ago, a father
in California challenged the words under God in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance,
a pledge his daughter recited every morning in school. These attempts to reach
objectivity on religion in the classroom have become antagonism directed toward
Christians. Some educators are willing to talk about every belief except the
one in which America and its education system are rooted: Christianity.
The challenge for on mission Christians is to help teachers,
students and parents learn the liberty they have regarding freedom of speech
and freedom of religion. The need is great to penetrate the culture in this
way. Often even Christian teachers will back away from speaking of a Christian
heritage, although the curriculum may warrant it. For example, a lesson on
American culture could naturally include the statistics that an estimated 39
percent of Americans claim to be born-again Christians, and 44 percent say they
attend church regularly, according to a recent Barna poll. But many educators
shy away from teaching such facts, because they fear offending a person or
group who is not included in this data.
So, what does this mean for on mission Christians eager to change
the education system for Christ? While one strategy is to work among the policy
makers through lobbying and other political activity, the Great Commission
calls us to make disciples of educators, administrators and students.
Opportunities to share your faithParents can become involved by volunteering for programs such
as Teach One to Lead One (see sidebar), leading Christian groups on campus,
facilitating a Bible study or introducing students and parents to the FiSH!
strategy (see Resources).
Its also important for parents to educate their children and the educators who
teach them on the legal right American students have to pray, share their faith
and speak freely about their beliefs.
Foster a sense of partnership between you and the teacher. While you want
your child to be nourished in his or her education, being salt and light to the
teacher may influence other children for years to come. There are no laws
against sharing Christ with a teacher, but make sure your attitude matches your
belief in its measure of grace and patience.
While educators have more restrictions when it comes to
proclaiming Christ, they can still provide an atmosphere of respect for
religions, they can sponsor Christian groups on campus, and they can teach
about Christianity just as they teach of other religions. If teachers are
instructing on American culture, they will have to talk about its Christian
roots, says Eric Buehrer. Our American history is inseparable from our
Christian heritage and this needs to be reflected in the classrooms.
While teachers cant exactly have altar calls or discussions on the Roman
Road (some have abused their position and tried), showing up at morning prayer
groups or after-school Bible studies can demonstrate support to the student
missionaries who are in the lunch lines and locker rooms mixed among the
Because students dont hold positions of authority in public
schools, they have the freedom to pray publicly, share their faith and
participate in discussions where their faith is challenged. Peer-to-peer
sharing is allowed, which is why invocations are permitted at graduation
ceremonies if the idea comes from the students. Encourage your children to
become involved with campus ministries as well as off-campus Bible studies and
to get active in discussing their faith when the opportunity arises in class
North American Mission Board resources: The Campus
Missionary student handbook and coachs handbook helps equip and
mobilize students to be on mission on their school campuses.
FiSH! is a four-week strategy for building teams of
students who learn simple ways to share their faith wherever they are. Download
FiSH! resources free at www.catchthis.net. Prayer Journey is a
prayer strategy to get parents and other adults involved in praying for campus
missionaries and their schools. Visit www.studentz.com/prayer and learn more about how you can
get involved September 16 to pray for local schools and school campuses across
Get Teach One to Lead One in your community and get
involved. Visit www.teachonetoleadone.org or call Celebrate Life International at
For more ideas on reaching educators and students in the local public
schools or to order Pledge of Allegiance posters and Holiday Restoration Cards,
visit Gateways to Better Education at www.gtbe.org or call 800-929-1163.
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission.
Teach one to lead one
Night has settled on the Atlanta suburbs, but one window is still glowing.
Inside a county building local teens gather around pizza and soda. Tonight they
laugh and enjoy themselves, but their paths here were, at times, unfortunate.
They ran into trouble: DUI, theft, gun possession or shoplifting. On this
occasion, theyre here because they want to be. Theyve requested time off from
work, arriving by taxis or arranged rides with friends or parents. This is the
Juvenile Court semester reunion for the students of Teach One to Lead
One (T1L1), a program of Celebrate Life International, a Christian
organization based in Acworth, Georgia, and founded by speaker Lori Salierno, a
member of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia.
At Church on the Street in Atlanta, Chris Roden, a facilitator
for Teach One to Lead One, helps his students practice the virtue of service as
they help renovate a homeless shelter.
PHOTOS BY stanley leary
The programs curriculum, designed for a secular setting but based on
biblical principles, teaches virtues like honesty, integrity, loyalty and
self-control and brings youth to the reality of a higher power. Who is that
higher power? students might ask. To that natural question, volunteers and
facilitators may respond with their answer about the God of the Bible.
My desire is to share the gospel, says Sara Smith, a former Southern Baptist
youth worker and T1L1s facilitator in Madera County, California, an area where
drug and gang cultures span generations. Recently she was even approached by
students who wanted to start a Bible study, and several of those students have
T1L1 is currently operating in schools in southern California and in areas
around Atlanta. It is a great opportunity for Southern Baptist churches to get
involved in changing the schools in their communities for Christ. Working as a
volunteer builds trust with these students, which often turns into friendship.
Now there is not only better behavior and more respect at schools, but in
Madera, California, lifetime gang members are removing their tattoos, leaving
gangs and, in some instances, committing their lives to Christ. In Atlanta,
Georgia, teens in high schools, teens on probation and even teens behind bars
are coming to accept the absolute truth of Holy Scripture.
One parent told me that her daughter, who usually doesnt stop what shes
doing to talk to anyone, will drop whatever shes doing to talk when I call,
says Chris. Sure, violence, drugs and premarital sex are decreasing among these
students, but these are just the indicators of a deeper changea change of
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