Interview: Great Commission in a Small Town

Today we’re interviewing a mom from rural Illinois who is implementing the Heroic Life Discipleship curriculum through an after-school Bible Club with a small team of believers.

Aubrey: Tell us about your ministry.

K.D.: We live in a small rural community of 250 people where everyone knows everyone. There are two unattended gas stations, one diner, and two churches. About six months ago, after living here eighteen years, Jesus opened our eyes to see the dozens of unchurched children in our community. Most of them come from low-income, broken families; some have a parent in prison; others live with grandparents. Last summer, we approached a local church about letting us use their annex, and when school began, we started a weekly after-school Bible Club, telling Bible stories and talking about them, using the Heroic Life Discipleship curriculum as a resource. We interact with a mixture of churched and unchurched kids grades K-10.

Aubrey: How did the Bible Club get started?

K.D.: Our family was involved with piloting the Heroic Life Discipleship curriculum before its publication, testing content with a group of homeschool students, and later raising up some of the older students to be leaders in a separate, after-school outreach. However, this group only met once a month in a community about fifteen miles from our home. With the beginning of the 2016 school year, our vision was to combine evangelism and discipleship (like Jesus did); to provide a regular opportunity for church kids to talk about the Bible alongside unchurched kids and build relationships with them; to create space for the Holy Spirit to speak to and through students, so that even teachers could discover new treasures in God’s Word. The Lord gave us this verse as we began: “…I will save you so that you may become a blessing. Do not fear; let your hands be strong” (Zechariah 8:13). Our prayer was, Jesus, you are the light of the world; let your light bring life to this dark and discouraged community.

Aubrey: I love how your vision is so simple yet has the potential to make a powerful impact in the hearts of the children and the teachers as well. What does a typical Bible Club afternoon look like for you?

K.D.: Bible Club begins with twenty minutes of outdoor kickball in pretty much any weather, followed by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water. These kids have been in school all day and have a twenty minute bus ride home … we want to give them space to get some wiggles out! We have a time of worship through music and then ask the children what they remember from the previous week’s Bible story. Four leaders rotate as storytellers; after the storyteller has told the new Bible story and led an interactive review of its details, we break into small groups and discuss the story by asking inductive-style questions.

Discussion is always interesting—we learn from the kids! At some point during small group, we have the children draw pictures of their impressions of the story, giving them a chance to process through art, and then everyone listens to ten minutes of a Mighty Men story about missionary heroes. Sometimes we have a special guest come and present an Intercession lesson about another country and what it’s like to be church people in that country. We end by reviewing the Bible story, asking questions, and praying.

Aubrey: I like how you feel free to utilize the Heroic Life Discipleship curriculum in a way that best fits your needs. One thing we wanted to do was design the curriculum in such a way that allowed leaders to be flexible as they implement it. It works well in a variety of ministry contexts, and the content can be broken into parts if you don’t have time to teach a whole lesson in one setting. How do you and your team prepare for the lessons?

K.D.: Three of the four team members are related and usually have some time together to learn and discuss the story during the week before Bible Club. Otherwise, story preparation is done individually, using the Heroic Life Discipleship curriculum’s Bible Story Guide (our favorite tool from the Leader Guide!). One of our team members will sometimes sit down with her grandson and go over the story to prepare for the lesson time; another talks about the story with the children she nannies. We’re hoping to begin a monthly team gathering where we learn a story together and have interactive discussion as a team. Before the children arrive each week, we also spend time together as a team in praise, prayer, confession, and intercession.

Aubrey: I like how your lesson preparation is taking place through a lot of dialogue with children and other teammates. That seems like a unique and effective way to build unity in the team as well as grow deeper in the Word. Are you involved with the children in other ways besides Bible Club?

K.D.: A few weeks after we began Bible Club, God showed us that we needed to take time to invest in these kids outside of Bible Club, and we began a weekly Street Hockey team for our little community. A local pastor helps officiate the game at an outdoor basketball court in our town. It’s the perfect location, and the kids love it! We get together for hockey each week after school for one and a half hours and provide gloves, hats, snacks, and hugs. This has been a great way to get to know the kids and build relationships with them. At Christmas, we spent an afternoon baking and decorating cookies with several kids and sent home plates of cookies for them to give away to their neighbors. We’re praying about implementing other ideas as well, like a monthly Saturday family movie night at a local church.

Aubrey: Those are great ideas. I really like the fact that interacting with the kids outside of “lesson time” has been such a priority for your team. I think investing in their everyday lives shows a genuine care that children recognize. What are some highlights from time you’ve spent with the kids?

K.D.: Oh, we have fallen in love with these kids! God has given us His heart for them, and He has provided a way to reach out to them. This last week one of the moms dropped off her two boys and said, “Thank you so much for doing this; this Bible Club has been so good for my son! He looks forward to coming each week, and he has changed so much in the last few months since this has started. Six months ago we were going to have him tested for autism, and now he’s a different kid. Don’t stop doing this … we haven’t had anything like this here. Even when I was a kid there was nothing like this here.” This conversation with the mother was timely; a couple days earlier, God had reminded me (in my discouragement), “Don’t grow weary with My work; at just the right time, there will be a harvest.”

Aubrey: Have you experienced any fruit?

K.D.: Most of these kids have never heard these stories before; it’s exciting to tell God’s stories to people who have no idea what’s coming next! One week, after hearing the story of Jesus forcing demons to leave a young boy, there was a pause, and one of the boys said, “Wow!” As we plant God’s stories in their hearts, we know that the Holy Spirit can and will speak through the stories, even when we’re not around. The boy who was going to be tested for autism has been asking questions about what it means to be a Christian; last week he was willing to talk to Jesus in front of the other children during prayer and afterward told me that he wanted to have his own church someday! Another girl, after seeing the Gospel presented using a white glove and a black glove to represent righteousness and sin, prayed, “Please don’t let my heart be black like that glove.”

Aubrey: That has to be so encouraging and rewarding to hear. What are things you’ve learned through leading Bible Club?

K.D.: You don’t have to travel far to be a missionary. Listen well. Listen to the story, listen to the Holy Spirit, listen to the children. Nik Ripken, missions veteran of 25 years, was right when he wrote,

So many people … desperately needed more than the help that we were prepared to give. What they wanted even more, however, was for someone, anyone, even a stranger who was still trying to learn their language, to sit for a while, or just stand with them, and let them share their stories. I perhaps should have known this, but I was amazed to see the power of human presence. In my pride, I thought that I knew exactly what these people needed, but I never would have thought to put ‘conversation’ or ‘human connection’ on my list. Once again, I was profoundly humbled.

We once heard someone say, “If you feed them, they will come.” We decided we will feed them as many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as they want, as long as we can have conversations about Jesus!

Aubrey: Thanks again for sharing. It’s so refreshing to hear about the work Jesus is doing through you and your team. We’re certainly praying for you and the kids in your Bible Club and are looking forward to even greater things God will be doing in the lives of these children.

Aubrey De Vries grew up in the Midwest where she learned to tell stories, teach music, and host tea parties. She served with Operation Christmas Child for seven years, working as a recruiter and trainer of volunteer teams. She is a graduate of Ellerslie Discipleship Training, as well as an Assistant Instructor with Simply the Story, a ministry providing tools to experience Scripture through story and discussion. Aubrey currently tutors dyslexic students and serves as the Director of Communications for Heroic Life Discipleship.

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