Backpacks and Intentional Prayer Forge Relationship Between Church and Local Elementary School
Backpacks filled with food have opened the door for one church to pray on behalf of local elementary school staff and students.When members of New Life AG in Hurst, Texas, delivered 15 backpacks of weekend food supplies to a neighboring elementary school early in 2023, they had no idea they were launching a multi-faceted ministry.
Today, the suburban Fort Worth church’s Backpack Buddies program has grown to supplying 25 backpacks each week, along with such aid as 25 backpacks filled with school supplies last August, dozens of Christmas toys in December, and regular prayer for students and their families.
Since a number of teachers use the church’s parking lot during the week, New Life has tried to forge closer ties with faculty members. In addition to sponsoring a “Teacher Appreciation” gathering, members recently delivered 200 Kleenex boxes to alleviate mid-school-year shortages. They called it “We Tissue a Merry Christmas.”
“I feel like it’s opening lots of doors,” says Mariana V. Royer, 54, a New Life member and Community Relations Liaison for the Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) Independent School District. “I’m always excited about connecting with our schools. I’m Hispanic and struggled to read growing up because English was a second language for me. Anything we can do to be the hands and feet of Jesus for the kids means a lot to me.”
On the eternal side, New Life’s congregation intercedes for all teachers and staff members each month, along with any student or family needs that Pastor David W. Barnett, 58, learns about when delivering backpacks.
The pastor says this happened “organically” when a resource program manager told him last spring about the mother of a backpack recipient battling a serious illness. Members prayed for the woman and encouraged her during a particularly bad time; her condition has improved.
“That opened the door for us,” says Barnett, in his first senior pastorate after years of itinerant evangelism and various staff positions in the Assemblies of God. “Every time we go to the school we ask, ‘What can we do for you? What do you need?’
“We have a Sunday night prayer service where we hand out prayer cards with specific needs. Once a month we pass out cards and each one has the name of a teacher or staff member. Everyone in attendance prays for the person on their card by name.”
The backpack-and-prayer ministry is an outgrowth of a long-standing relationship between New Life’s former pastor and the school. While the pandemic put things on hold, after the situation eased up, Barnett says the church sought ways to reinvigorate the outreach. That led to a school-supply drive in August of 2022.
After New Life decided to make backpack food distribution an ongoing project, it incorporated preparation into its Wednesday night program. Volunteers not only fill packs with nutritious food, they pray over each one.
The congregation carries out this work despite averaging just 85 people at Sunday services. It is a multicultural church, with adherents from Anglo, Hispanic, African, and other backgrounds. That is an asset in serving the nation’s most ethnically diverse school district.
“It’s fascinating and I give a lot of the credit to the pastor who preceded us (and his wife, Julie) to help the church look more like the community it’s in,” Barnett says.
“I think one of the reasons is this is our season. I just finished my doctorate in values-driven leadership; my dissertation was on inter-generational development of virtues, values, and wisdom. My seniors are directly engaged with our kids and our kids are engaged with them. It’s all about raising up the next generation of leaders for the church.”
Royer says New Life is one of a number of Mid-Cities area churches that support schools in the HEB District, where nearly 61% of students are economically disadvantaged.
“There are a lot of children who need food on the weekends,” Royer says. “We are fortunate to share our parking lot with the school. I feel the best school for a church to minister to is one close by. It makes it easier to minister on a consistent basis.”
However, for those contemplating such an initiative, the pastor cautions that it is not an evangelism program, but a compassion ministry aimed at widows and orphans.
“If a church is going to do it, they need to make sure they’re doing it for the right reason,” Barnett says. “Meeting a bona fide need goes a long way toward building good will. These administrators hear and see all kinds of people. They can smell a manipulative situation from a mile away. Be authentic in focusing on the need.”