And then it happened; a simple text message. “What you doin Thursday brotha?” This simple query represented a monumental turn in my foray into suburban American millennial post-Christianity-ness…and other sociological labels contradictory to any typically applied to me. Maybe I’m just as suburban and American as the next guy, but I digress. At this point I had interviewed about 25 individuals and managed at least one follow-up interview with just four of those unfortunate persons. I was still contemplating what a realistic new year’s resolution would be in regard to continuing this project when the phone beeped. For the first time an interviewee requested to meet with me rather than the other way around.
It's my turn to preach this Sunday. I don’t normally advertise but it also happens to be the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. Thus I bring it up as cause for my lengthy reflection upon the events of the past 365 days or so while reposing in my posh, executive suite. The past year seems in my estimation to have had more than its fair share of intriguing peculiarities. Some folks, including my own mother would likely attribute this to my own general peculiarity. I suppose that may be true, but I’m not sure it makes me any more intriguing than the average bear. Nonetheless, here's a short story about how God has orchestrated circumstances for his glory in the past year.
A year or so ago I had never heard of a Good News Club. But when my daughter started first grade at our neighborhood elementary school we found out that one lived there. We were only mildly curious mostly because of the teacher who spearheaded the effort. She is married to the head football coach whom I work with at a local high school. However, given our family’s weekly ministry routine our kids were already being shuttled to church multiple nights of the week and several hours on Sunday. Our daughter had not expressed an interest in staying after school and we were not chomping at the bit to enroll her in the club.
But that spring I found myself searching for means by which to rejuvenate our church’s approach to the community at large. Every day for fifteen years there has been a large elementary school staring at us from directly across the street. Several of our parishioners teach there. Yet other than those teachers and a handful of families in our congregation we had virtually no connection whatsoever with more than 50 staff people and over 600 students and their families at the school.
So we bought some cupcakes, took them across the street early one morning, and left them in the faculty lounge.
Suddenly, it was on! A congregation of about 400 people adopted a school of over 600 students in a fraction of the time that it took my wife and me to adopt two kids. Soon a backpack and school supply drive was in the works for the following August. The question remained though as to how to sustain this relationship throughout the year on something more substantial than cupcakes. That’s when the Good News Club at my daughter’s school came to mind.
I sent a text message to my head coach while he was out of town at a clinic. In my excitement I simply asked, “Can I have your wife’s number?” Realizing how oddly suspicious that might have appeared I quickly provided some context and received her digits after a few minutes. Several phone calls, emails, and some information gathering later we were ready to launch the inaugural Good News Club across the street. All we needed were some volunteers.
The initial skeleton crew consisted of myself, an enthusiastic snowbird whose company I desperately assured her I would be happy to have until January or whenever she headed south, a retired educator who was promptly waylaid by major surgery, the school librarian, and the music teacher. I figured at least I would not be required to sing. But then it became apparent that the club would be best suited to meet on Tuesdays after school. That conflicted with my class schedule. Suddenly even I was out of the picture and things were looking grim. Our senior pastor and one other individual bravely stepped forward and vowed to bail out the ship before it sunk in port. Meanwhile I strong-armed yet another former teacher and started working behind the scenes.
Ready or not, time came to dive in with the first official meeting of the Good News Club. I delivered snacks for 40 to the school office that morning, wished them well, and headed to class in Washington. I thought, “40! Now that would be quite an achievement if we managed to get 40 kids to show up.”
I returned to town that evening and learned that 40 had indeed shown up, as well as an additional 32. The next week there were over 90. The senior pastor was in well over his head! We began calling in favors. More teachers joined the fray, including those several who attend our church. Another senior here, a college student there, and before you know it there’s a team of about 15 people holding on to this dragon by the tail…and still pleading for help! Meanwhile another half dozen or so work to literally feed the dragon, coordinating club snacks each week.
This week nearly 120 children attended the Good News Club at our adopted elementary school across the street. My snowbird friend sends me an email list of kids’ prayer requests each week, some of which would break your heart. You might say we have raised our profile in the cafeteria and on the playground over there. More importantly you might realize we have, quite by surprise, raised the profile of the gospel of Jesus Christ over there. We estimate that of the students involved in the club, 40 or so have no church affiliation. Ah! There they are. That must be the 40 that I initially thought we would be fortunate to have show up at all!
To me the events surrounding the Good News Club are just one small reminder this Thanksgiving of the blessings God is capable of. When I consider that Jesus fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish it should really come as no surprise. This all started with a few dozen cupcakes.