I remember saying the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 each morning when I was in elementary school. That was years ago, before God was removed from the classroom of our public schools. I’ve often wondered where we would be today if that had never happened, if God were still in our classrooms and children heard the Word each morning, even if only a little of it.
One morning I had an opportunity to discuss God over a cup of coffee and a muffin. Not with my usual companions, men and women my age, but with a number of students from Norcross High School. I arrived early at the popular breakfast spot to chat with Lee Jones, Director of the Norcross Christian Learning Center.
The Norcross Christian Learning Center provides an off-campus, Christian-based elective class to Norcross High School. The class is taken for credit and is based on the concept of Released Time education, which permits students to be released from campus for approved instruction. The courses offered are “Comparative Religions” in the fall and “The Life and Teachings of Jesus” in the spring. The classes provide students with a safe and engaging environment to explore the claims of Christ and the Christian worldview. The program began at Norcross High School in 2004, and depending on student demand, offers a class as many as three times a day.
Lee, who holds a seminary degree, had only recently arrived to metro Atlanta when he heard about the newly formed Norcross Christian Learning Center. Searching for a ministry home and believing that teaching was one of his gifts, he joined the Learning Center even though he had never imagined himself working in a high school.
“It has turned out to be an amazing experience,” he explained. “It’s taught me to trust that God is always at work. There are challenges in every class, ranging from the logistics, funding, the students themselves, but every time God delivers; I’ve seen Him at work in theses kids’ lives. If not for our classes, many of our students, some of whom come from very unfavorable environments, would have never heard the Gospel.”
And as it turns out, many of the students probably would not have crossed paths if not for their enrollment in the class. Coming from different socioeconomic, cultural and religious backgrounds, they previously had little to no reason to speak with each other. “In addition to bringing the Gospel to them, one of the most rewarding things about this ministry,” Lee said, “is watching the students connect with one another. In our classroom, they become friends where before they probably wouldn’t have.”
While the school makes the class offering possible for its students, it, due to restrictions enforced by federal law, does little else to support the Learning Center. “We use a bus loaned to us by one church to transport the students to another church which allows us to use space for a classroom,” Lee explained. “Although the logistics can be challenging, it gives us the freedom to teach Christianity in an unencumbered way. And it bears fruit. One student in particular came into our class a non-believer, but after learning about Christ she accepted Him as her savior. Today she is in college, has a heart for discipleship and mentoring of young girls, and is now herself telling others about the Gospel. She is the best example of why this program exists.”
I looked up and saw a church bus pull into the parking lot, and moments later a half-dozen laughing teenagers spilled into the café. They were accompanied by Leroy, a teacher with the Norcross Christian Learning Center, and Cory, a former student and graduate of the high school who remains involved in the program as a volunteer.
Cory told me of how, through the classes, he learned about Islam, Judaism, Atheism and Christianity, and the contrast and comparison discussions led by Lee and Leroy reinforced his own beliefs to the point that he decided to attend seminary school after he graduated. Today he studies Apologetics and is passionate about defending his beliefs. More fruit.
When I could coax him away from the students who were vying for his attention, Leroy described the same challenges and rewards I had heard earlier from Lee, but added his own faith is strengthened by his relationships in the classroom. “Watching theses kids evolve in their faith, or motivating one to even consider a relationship with God, is very inspiring to me,” he said.
Many students, like Cory, stay in touch with Leroy after they’ve taken the classes and graduated, calling on him for Christian guidance and support. “I know that we are helping them to stay on straight paths,” he added before responding to calls that he return to the table.
Shortly all had consumed their breakfast and it was time to return to the school. Just before they boarded the bus I snapped a photograph. Looking through the lens I saw an unlikely group of friends, yet at the same time, an affectionate cohort of Believers. The credit goes to the Norcross Christian Learning Center.
As the bus drove away I remembered something Lee had said: “High school can be a difficult and dark place for many students, and sometimes we may not see the results of what we’ve done there. But I believe if all we’ve accomplished in the short term is to introduce a few students to God then its all worth it. Nothing we do in God’s name is in vain.”