Transforming Schools and Communities Through Love
Ginnan says it doesn’t matter what size a church is, Love a School, a New York initiative that bridges off Our Schools Matter from National Youth Ministries (NYM) begins with focused, ongoing prayer for a neighborhood school.
“As pastors lead their church to pray for the school, a school-focused team can be built within the ministry as God supplies the team,” Ginnan says. “From there, the start of the relationship is inspired with a simple question posed to the school district leadership: How can we serve?”
Once the question is aired, then the focus is shifted to following through on the relationship and looking for ways for the church to partner with the school.
“Then you see what happens as God leads pastors and churches in their relationship with their neighbor, the local school,” Ginnan says.
“We’re not concerned with what a local initiative is called,” explains Kent Hulbert, who leads Youth Alive nationally as an appointed missionary with AG U.S. Missions, “it’s about the mission — anything a church does to reach out and touch a school and the lives of students, we want to support that.”
Though Love a School is a whole church effort, it can help forge a pathway for students to become active missionaries in their environment, and better enable them to live out 1 Peter 2:12, where even the pagans recognize believers’ “good deeds” and glorify God on account of them.
Ginnan explains that when students see the example of love the church community has toward the school community, it becomes a positive platform for students to live missional lives in their school. “That’s where the church becomes true advocates for students reaching students,” he says.
Part of Ginnan’s ministry is helping churches gain traction with local schools. He cites one outreach pastor, J. J. Hefley of in Binghamton, New York, who started loving their church’s local school with simple gestures of love and kindness — bringing in baked goods for teachers, buying coffee for the staff, giving away coffee gift cards, and other small acts of thoughtfulness and love.
“Through this contact, he came to know the needs of the school,” Ginnan says. “He was given permission to sponsor a Seven Project — a Youth Alive® customizable school assembly resource.”
The version of the Seven Project Hefley sponsored focused on bullying. According to a video featuring the presentation and school officials, it was a great success. That night, Hefley followed up with a community outreach, with several students accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Ginnan says that now these new Christians are on task, using Youth Alive materials such as God So Loved…, a student’s guide to sharing Jesus at school, to help them connect and love kids who are being bullied as well as reach other classmates with the gospel. But as Ginnan observes, it’s been successful because the students know their church has their backs — receiving ongoing mentoring so that they can mentor others.
Hefley and his church are currently exploring other classroom-based ways to support the school effort, such as offered by Youth Alive’s partner, Ambassadors of Compassion, which build resiliency in at-risk students in partnership with the school.
“What I love about Love a School and Our Schools Matter,” Ginnan says, “is that beyond service projects, it’s about a meaningful relationship in the community being cultivated and sustained.”
Hulbert is impressed by Ginnan. As one of the newer full-time Youth Alive missionaries, he’s just beginning, but has already made a big impression. “John has grabbed the vision of what it means to be a Youth Alive missionary and is running with it,” Hulbert says. “He’s helping equip the local church, he’s creating an energy where churches are connecting to local schools and even crossing over denominational lines — that’s what gets exciting!”
Another successful effort is taking place through and Pastor Chad Rieselman in North Tonawanda, New York. It all began with Rieselman reaching out to the school to see how the church could help some of the families on the free and reduced lunch list with groceries.
Other churches joined in the following year, and the program was dubbed “Box of Hope” geared toward helping families in need. This past year, the middle school joined the effort. People registered for the Box of Hope groceries through the help of the middle school, but now the scope and opportunities were greatly expanded.
Instead of the churches collecting or purchasing goods on their own, a supply receptacle labeled ‘Box of Hope’ was placed in every classroom for students to fill. The school then sent invitations out for families to register to receive the boxes.
“The churches together divvied up the list of names and led the effort to go and make home deliveries of every box to every registered family and any others along the way,” Ginnan says. “The teachers’ union donated $25 grocery cards for perishable items for each box. In total, $22,000 worth of fully donated groceries and gifts were delivered to 174 households.”
Through one church’s offer to love a school, transformation is occurring. Community churches are working together, a school and the local churches have built a relationship of trust and support, and people in the community are welcoming church members into their homes, where relationships are built, additional needs discovered, and prayers are frequently offered and accepted.
“Building the greater Kingdom and what God wants to do in a community is John’s focus,” Hulbert states. “And that focus is starting to affect New York in a strong way.”
“Love is not a strategy,” Ginnan says, “but it is transformational. And what better place to focus our love than where 98 percent of the people in a community are somehow connected — the local school.”
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