Category: FEATURES

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Featuring One of the Largest Collections of Classic VeggieTales, 3-2-1 Penguins, and Owlegories + a Collection of Kids Books such as the Amazon Bestseller— The Laugh and Learn Bible for Kids—Minno Provides Affirming, Faith-Based Content Curated for the 100 Million Americans who Attend Church Every Sunday.

When we find out about programs to help parents help our kiddos, we get really excited. We’ve interviewed experts like Dr. Everett Piper, as they discussed colleges being purposefully after the minds of our children. We’ve listened to City Elders, as they explain the assault on our children in the public-school systems across the country trying to shape their minds as early as possible. This is real and it’s happening now. It’s been happening but it is escalating. Rapidly.

Disney programming moved out of the morally sound realm, originally part of its DNA. Recent rumors around Elsa’s sexual orientation in Frozen 2 got our attention—and dropped our already dashed expectations for the media giant. We’ve heard countless stories of parents trusting PBS with programs like Arthur, only to find their children asking if they should marry a boy or a girl after seeing it on the formerly safe show. Just today at a birthday party, a parent shared that her parental control software program failed. She walked in on her kids watching an adult language show about a teddy bear (Ted), which included inappropriate language and content around body parts just not suitable for young minds.

If you aren’t scrambling for a safety net already, you might need to wake up. It’s a real threat. This isn’t news to parents trying to raise their children in Christ. It’s troubling dialogue without a great solution. UNTIL NOW!

Enter Minno. It’s a new, Nashville-based children’s digital media company offering Christian parents an alternative that is both entertaining and affirming. Minno features an ad-free, subscription digital platform with curated entertainment and educational choices the whole family will love—including one of the largest collections of Classic VeggieTales. Minno has a publishing arm in partnership with Hachette Nashville, with offerings such as the Amazon bestseller Laugh and Learn Bible for Kids, as well as Minno Life, a parenting blog with expert resources and voices for Christian parents. Minno aims to be a one-stop solution for parents and kids.

After receiving a press release on the new company, Community Spirit reached out to CEO and Co-founder of Minno, Erick Goss. He explained Minno’s focus. Goss said, “Parents are desperate to have spiritual conversations with their kids. If we give them some basic tools, we can help parents feel confident and have a sense of control. Parents are asking, ‘How can I connect with my children?’ So, we try to provide the catalysts for conversation.”

Goss went on, “Minno really wants to create teachable, winnable moments. So many parents really feel like the world is pushing against them. Parents feel they are in survival mode. We want to help them move from that mode into what does it mean to thrive and know the Holy Spirit is partnering with us. We want parents confident with discipling.” Goss added, “One thing we know, screen time is important, but off-screen time is also important according to children. We want to be a resource to families trying to raise their children in Christ. In addition to safe programming, we share books and things we recommend.”

Goss shared, “In addition to the programming, we created the Laugh and Learn Bible for Kids as part of the experience. Laughter Is the native language of children. The text is fairly narrative. Phil Vischer, Veggie Tales creator, is hilarious. We thought if we could take the best of what’s in the Bible with the fun tone of the Veggie Tales—put it in 52 selected Bible stories—Genesis to Revelation, we’d have a tool parents could really use.” Goss said, “The feedback has already been so positive.” He went on, “Parents have been commenting ‘I didn’t know this about the Bible. I’m learning this about the Bible.’” He added, “If it’s done in a really fun way, we can help families. We’ve even built parent connect sections at the end for more parental support.”

With a recent launch, Minno already has over 20,000 subscribers in over 40 countries according to Goss. He shared, “The reaction from parents reinforces and affirms the idea there are a lot of parents out there left behind by the media establishment that their stories and their kids are not on screen. It’s important kids can see kids like them. At worst God is a fairy tale. At best, He is irrelevant.”

The thing is—parents need partners, specifically those enabling protective barriers and discipleship of their children.

Our mall recently replaced an amazing play area that was blocked in with a new completely open area. Before, parents could come relax while their children played. It went from a relaxing break while you are shopping to a completely difficult situation to make sure your children are safe. It’s a very similar parallel to what has happened with children’s programming. Parents trying to guard the hearts and minds of their children are no longer able to sit them for a few idle minutes in front of a screen and just walk away. You have to be completely present. Completely on guard. It’s a lot.

Goss stressed, “Parents who care about their children’s faith are in a tough situation. While we attend church and have friends and neighbors who share our faith, the leading technology and media companies are fueling a content culture that is devoid of God and the importance of faith. Christian parents have more content choices than they’ve ever had, but fewer options that reflect their values.” Goss shared, “When you see media companies churning out more shows than ever but none of them reflect your family’s values you want to instill in your family, you are left with an impossible choice—not participating in culture or compromising what you care most about,” Goss said, “Minno resolves that problem, serving as a one-stop, trusted source and a partner in raising kids in today’s pluralistic, social, mobile and media-drenched world. Kids will see Minno as something fun to experience, while parents can feel good about the fact that our content is encouraging kids to deepen their faith and walk with God every day, at home or on-the-go.”

In the coming months, Minno will also offer parent’s guides on top-of-mind topics, family devotionals, and podcasts. In an increasingly secular world where faith and family values are often marginalized, there are few entertainment and education options available that parents can trust. 


Minno Distinctives

Minno—ad free, subscription digital video platform. Featuring the largest collection of Classic VeggieTales in the world and the best curated collection of Christian kids content anywhere that can be streamed or downloaded and watched on the go. Parents can try Minno for free by going here: www.gominno.com

Minno Life—a lifestyle blog full of helpful articles, family devotions, and printables developed intentionally to meet the needs of today’s families. Minno Life features curated content from expert thought leaders and parents in the trenches to offer the best in practical hope and help on top-of-mind issues such as spiritual development, education, social media, and culture. Recognized voices such as the team at Daystar Counseling Center—David Thomas, Sissy Goff, and Melissa Trevathan—are all featured contributors.

Minno Kids publishing—because Minno believes the Bible should be at the center of every aspect of living—including parenting—Minno Kids publishing efforts are anchored by the new Laugh and Learn Bible for Kids and also features a wonderful new collection of children’s board books, picture books as well as middle grade novels. 

Minno Store—which includes books, Bibles, and other resources from our children’s publishing program, aims to help families experience God together. From board books to middle-grade novels, Minno books help kids better understand what the Bible teaches and offers insights for living out their faith in everyday life. 

Kristen Marie

Written by Teresa Goodnight

“Today, I call Heaven and Earth as witnesses against you, And I set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Deuteronomy 30:19

Kristen Marie came from a broken upbringing surrounded by drugs, alcohol, and abuse.  As a child and young adult, she struggled to find stability navigating the chaos around her.  She desperately sought ways to stop the generational addiction.  The problem: her family had a spiritual void.  Kristen didn’t fill that spiritual hole with her family’s style of addictions.  Instead, she found solace in her relationship with food. 

Kristen shared, “Growing up, I saw the fierce grip that addiction had on them, and I wanted the generational cycles broken in my life.  I was determined to never get drunk, do drugs, or be promiscuous. However, I didn’t know how to deal with my pain and brokenness in a healthy manner.  It wasn’t until I was born-again that my eyes were opened to the addiction that I had. I was addicted to food.”  

As the third child to her 25-year old parents on the brink of divorce, Kristen was an unplanned pregnancy.  Her parents tried to make the marriage work, but ultimately divorced before she was two years old. Throughout her foundational years, Kristen was told by family members she was a mistake; they said her parents didn’t even want her and that she caused the divorce.  In addition to that trauma, throughout her preschool and elementary years, her parents continued to not work well with one another. Kristen, along with her older sister and brother, were shuffled back and forth from one parent’s house to the other. By the time she was ten years old, both of her parents had each married two more times.

Kristen went on, “Before my seventh-grade year, I chose to live with my dad since my older brother and sister were already living with him full-time. The house was always busy and swirling with something new.  At times there were nine kids all under one roof, between the full, half, and step siblings.  Although I was surrounded by many people in the same house, the message planted deep in my soul was—‘I am alone, and nobody gets me.’ For years I struggled with rejection.  It was just an unhealthy environment.” 

Kristen Marie

Kristen continued, “I can’t recall when my struggle with overeating began.  It may have originated at an early age when our pantry would often be empty, and I would be hungry.  During those times, I may have developed a poverty-mindset, feeling like I didn’t have enough, and when food was available, I would overeat out of fear.  Because of that, when the shelves were full of groceries, I would overeat.  I became incredibly, emotionally tied to food.” 

Like many of us have felt at times, Kristen was using food to soothe the heartaches of life.  Kristen said, “At times, I would eat out of boredom, loneliness, rejection or insecurity. The food caused me to feel something different than the pain.  Other times, it gave me some sense of control—a momentary satisfaction.”

Kristen communicated, “I said, ‘Yes’ to Jesus as Savior during my freshman year of college.  He began to open my eyes to many unhealthy, toxic decisions and habits in my life.  I longed for His healing in every part of me. I was ready to take personal responsibility for my choices and learn the changes/choices that I needed to make to connect to the abundant, full life that Jesus offers (John 10:10).”

Kristen admitted, “In reality, I lacked the understanding, skills and maturity to stop using food to ‘scratch the itch’ of the ache in my heart.” Although Kristen’s family couldn’t see it due to her high level of activity as a college soccer player, her relationship with food was less about fuel and more about emotional upkeep.  Kristen said, “During my junior year in college, I suffered a hip fracture playing soccer and was on crutches for six weeks. The inactivity coupled with my overeating caused me to gain a lot of weight quickly — about forty pounds. Finally, my family recognized my struggle with food addiction, but they had no solution.”  

Kristen revealed, “There was never any peace, I lived in a daily cycle of dread regarding food.  I struggled with self-defeating monologues and unhealthy emotions based on how much I overate or what I chose to eat, or worse—not being able to stop grabbing more to eat.  I felt like if I had one cookie, I would end up eating a dozen. Any sort of diet or food plan didn’t help me. It exacerbated the addiction by asking me to focus more on food, instead of turning my focus and attention elsewhere.” 

Kristen was able to find power over her addiction by staying connected to God’s Spirit within her.  She had to learn how to stay in communion with Jesus throughout her day. It was this choice to stay in constant communion (and communication) with Him that empowered her to change her thoughts, emotions, desires, behaviors, and habits. With each decision, she learned how to partner with Him and begin to experience freedom, self-control, and a new way to navigate through life — with a “Choose Life lens.”  The more Kristen chose to invite Jesus into her struggles and mundane activities (like eating), the greater her intimacy grew with Him; her attachment to food began to dissipate.   

“Always before me is the choice to usher in God’s Spirit fully to penetrate my thoughts and emotions.  Receiving and agreeing with the way God feels about things is a ‘Choose Life’ choice.”

It was then that Kristen felt she began making more and more “Choose Life” choices in her eating.  Kristen said, “I moved from living a food-focused, quick-fix high, to a Jesus-lasting solution. Deuteronomy 30:19 became more and more alive to me. With each choice I had in front of me, I learned to “Choose Life” by saturating myself with God’s Spirit by slowing my pace and choosing to stay connected to His Spirit inside of me.  I enjoyed recognizing His promptings and nudges. I loved yielding to Him. I was slowly learning how to overcome—to reveal “the Overcomer” that lives inside of me. To be the overcomer He desires for me to be.”

Kristen said, “If you find yourself in any kind of struggle of addiction—you have to decide to surrender your life to Jesus.  I know we say that a lot, and it can sound trite or even churchy.  But when you get truly connected to the Overcomer-Spirit (God’s Spirit) that lives inside you, choosing to live aligned to His Words, bondages begin to lose their power over you. You can stop seeking quick fixes and replace them with His presence through worship and prayer.”  Kristen went on, “When we are in God’s manifested presence, we are changed into His likeness. Chains fall off. Strongholds are broken. Diseases are healed.  Churchy sounding or not—it’s just what happens with His amazing power.”   

Kristen explained her key to conquering her addiction, as simple as it sounds, was built with consistent, quality time with God and His Word.  She said, “In this time of stillness, I press into His Spirit with an active lingering, until I feel a release inside of me.  This has become my habit instead of reaching for food, or any other substance. I can literally feel God’s Spirit advancing within me, leaving His emotional climate of peace, ease, humility, contentment and thanksgiving. Always before me is the choice to usher in God’s Spirit fully to penetrate my thoughts and emotions.  Receiving and agreeing with the way God feels about things is a ‘Choose Life’ choice.” 

As a personal trainer, Kristen has always desired to help people discover and usher in their best selves.  She helps others see a common tactic of the Enemy who uses food addiction to kill, steal, and destroy God’s people (John 10:10). The enemy kills by causing many to die premature deaths, because of obesity and diseases. He steals our joy and vision for our future, because we are focused on ourselves and our mistakes, instead of being thankful for what the present has to offer. He destroys our confidence and moments of intimacy (with others), by flooding our minds and emotions with regret, shame, and judgement of ourselves.  Thus, we don’t have the strength and self-worth to show up and be all in, offering our authentic self to our family and friends. Year after year, Kristen has seen many remain stuck and defeated, causing an even greater enslavement to food.  Out of her personal victories on overcoming, Kristen created “Choose Life Eating” to teach others how to overcome the enemy and to make successful steps forward.

Kristen’s programs, “Choose Life Eating” and “Choose Life Workouts,” as well as her other “Choose Life Choices,” are offered underneath the “Choose Life People” community umbrella. 

“At times, I would eat out of boredom, loneliness, rejection or insecurity.  The food caused me to feel something different than the pain. Other times, it gave me some sense of control—a momentary satisfaction.”

The “Choose Life People” is an authentic, vulnerable community of people, who are committed to live with a “Choose Life lens” and look for opportunities to connect to the abundant life Jesus offers them.  It is people who recognize the power of “we.” As such, they commit to journey together; they intentionally choose to partner with Heaven in their decisions. They believe God’s words in Deuteronomy 30:19, understanding their choices matter for their lives and the generations that follow. Kristen has both a website and a Facebook page which encompass the “Choose Life People.”

Kristen shared, “I would love to see a generation of ‘Choose Life People’ navigating through their days with a ‘Choose Life lens.’  They would reap the blessings connected to their specific choices, but also create a domino effect of power and momentum for the generations after them.”  Kristen ended, “Can you imagine a people, who with every choice, thought, emotion, and desire “Choose Life” by staying continually connected to Jesus instead of compartmentalizing Him to Sunday mornings? After all, He told us He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ (John 14:6).” 


Are YOU Purposefully Choosing Your Master?

Whether it’s a conscious decision—it’s still a choice.  I wanted to share Kristen’s story, because I think she’s got it.  God wasn’t meant to be kept in a box. He’s not just a Sunday friend.  He absolutely wants to be part of our daily lives. He is Life. He just is.  He is our power to choose better. He is the one who came to provide an abundant life for us.  That abundance is absolutely impeded with sinful choices.  

Paul writes in Romans 6:14 (NLT) “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”  

When we find ourselves addicted to any kind of external props to satisfy or fulfill needs, we are choosing to be addicted to sin, consciously or not.  It is a choice. It’s not a “Choose Life” choice. It’s actually quite the opposite. Addictive personalities can transfer those kinds of behaviors to many other things in life.  It’s not just drugs or alcohol. It’s not just sex or porn. It’s not just food. It’s a surrendering of our power and control to anything or anyone that can give us something we’re lacking.  

In the end, that void is the God-shaped vacuum referenced by C.S. Lewis.  We all have it. How are you choosing to fill yours? It is a choice. That’s where God comes in.  That’s why a relationship with a savior who loves you, wants the best for you and has a plan for your life outside of what you may see before you brings a whole new level of abundant living.  His promises for more are written all over history. They are manifested in His word. In fact, He gives us His WORD that He came so that we might have Life and have it MUCH more abundantly. In John 10:10  NLT Jesus says very directly, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” So, why wouldn’t we “Choose Life?”    

It’s important to understand what Paul shared in Romans above on this very situation when addressing sin.  Freedom in Christ empowers us to make better choices for our lives freeing us from the mode of “I can’t do this. I can’t do that.”  When you are free, you can technically do whatever you want. However, it’s BECAUSE you are free that you don’t choose to enslave yourself to those sins anymore.  When you realize everything you do, say, consume is a choice—then you suddenly realize the power Jesus Christ has in you if you will “Choose Life” and give it to Him.  When you choose Him, you are not a slave to any other master than the one you have chosen and you call Him Abba, Father.  

Becoming His child doesn’t just save you from a devastating eternal destination.  That may be where it starts, but it is NOT where it ends. It actually saves you for a satisfying, full life He created in advance for you to have.  When you “Choose Life,” as Kristen suggests, you connect your spirit to the power source to do life differently. I am confident that manifests itself when we have Him IN our daily lives.  

I can’t wait to see how God impacts your life in 2020 with the “Choose Life” mantra (or with this program if you decide to join in!). 

SERIOUSLY ADDICTED?  If you are experiencing a more serious addiction needing professional help, we would like to recommend these Christians counselors as a start.  They can really provide guidance toward living your new “Choose Life” journey. Cornerstone Christian Counseling 918.392.4008.

YouVerse names most popular Bible verse of 2019

About YouVersion: Created by Life.Church, YouVersion is on a mission to help people grow in their relationship with God by engaging with the Bible. The team designs and builds experiences that make it easy for people to integrate the Bible into their everyday lives. Since 2008, the Bible App has offered a free Bible experience that can be accessed on smartphones, browsers, voice platforms, and more. The Bible App for Kids launched in 2013 and engages children with Bible stories on an age-appropriate level. The newest app, Bible Lens, analyzes objects in photos, finds the most relevant Bible verse to match, and automatically creates beautiful, shareable artwork. For more information about YouVersion, visit youversion.com.


The global YouVersion community engaged more in the Bible this year than in any previous year. In fact, people read and listened to the Bible 30% more this year compared to last year. In total, YouVersion saw 5.6 billion chapters listened to and 35.6 billion chapters read in 2019.

Around the world, the Bible verse most engaged with throughout the year is Philippians 4:6: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

“Our desire is to help people grow in their relationship with God by encouraging them to read the Bible and seek Him every day,” said YouVersion Founder Bobby Gruenewald. “We’re encouraged to see so many people turning to the Bible in response to their worries, remembering what God has done in their lives, and choosing to trust in His faithfulness.”

One of the most popular offerings of the Bible App is daily Plans that combine portions of Scripture with devotional content. This year alone, the community completed a record-breaking 1.1 billion days in their daily Bible Plans. People also made 2 billion highlights, bookmarks, and notes to mark meaningful verses and record what God revealed to them in their studies. Many even took the extra step to tell others how the Bible was impacting them, resulting in more than 478 million verses shared.

“What we are seeing in global engagement is exciting to us because with every verse highlighted, Plan day completed, or audio chapter listened to, that’s a person who is being transformed by knowing God more intimately through spending time in the Bible,” said Gruenewald. “We’re humbled by the opportunity to see lives changed in every country around the world.”

The Bible App saw a significant global increase in both installs and engagement this year. In 2019, YouVersion grew by nearly 50 million unique installs to reach a total of 400 million installs worldwide, and the majority of those new installs came from outside the U.S. Based on the YouVersion Community’s engagement with Scripture throughout the year, Poland was one of the fastest growing countries with a 75% increase. India saw 51% more engagement in 2019 compared to last year. Bible engagement also grew across Southeast Asia in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam seeing increases by 36% and 37%, respectively.

“Every year, when we dig into these numbers, we’re overwhelmed by how God is using this app to deliver His message of hope and love to a hurting world,” said Gruenewald. “We also can’t help but recognize how much more work there is to be done together as the global Church to reach every nation.”

Right now, the Bible App offers more than 2,000 Bible versions in more than 1,350 languages. However, over a billion people globally don’t have access to a complete Bible in their native language. Together with illumiNations, a movement of ten Bible translation agencies, YouVersion is working to give more people the Bible in their native language. The group’s goal is that by 2033, 95% of the world’s population will have a complete Bible, 99.9% will have a complete New Testament, and 100% will have at least some portion of Scripture.

Through the generosity of the YouVersion community, translation projects in Republic of Congo, Malawi, Benin, Indonesia, Croatia, Madagascar, and Serbia received $1 million this year to advance their efforts. Combined, these projects will give more than 4.7 million people the first portion of Scripture ever available in their language. To date, the YouVersion community has donated a total of $3 million to fund Bible translation.

“When you take in Scripture in your native language, the words take on new meaning and suddenly, He isn’t a God who came for someone else. He is your God who knows you personally,” said Gruenewald. “Experiencing the Bible in your own language is a powerful gift, and we’re eternally grateful to our partners who share our dream of making the Bible for everyone.”

For more information about the YouVersion community’s Bible engagement in 2019, visit youversion.com/share2019.


How Do YOU YouVersion?

I was blown away when Life.Church first announced bringing the Bible to our mobile devices as an app. My fascination continued, as more and more downloads happened. With over 400 million downloads and counting, it’s literally revolutionized how you can engage with God’s word. Anyone remember toting your Bible on business trips in your bag? (If you haven’t downloaded it—I’d stop right now and grab it. Did I mention it is absolutely free? Plus, the studies are also free? Amazing, right?)

So, I wanted to talk through a few ways I do YouVersion because they are kind of out of the box for Bible reading. That’s my favorite part of this whole thing. It is a great way to engage with God’s word more often than just the time you sit in your quiet place. It makes God’s word a part of your day in really active ways. It’s easy. It’s educational. It’s certainly motivational. Plus, it never ever hurts to write more of God’s word on our hearts.

  1. YouVersion actually reads the Bible to me in my car. Yep. I can get through an entire chapter if the traffic is just right going from place to place.
  2. Walking—both in the neighborhood and at the gym when I find time to go—I just select it and it starts reading.
  3. On the plane—sitting on a runway and too tired to actually read? Keep on talking to me YouVersion.
  4. Witnessing in the mall—Yep. I was talking with the Chinese massage therapists and I needed to give them a Bible reference. We had a language barrier. I whipped out YouVersion and they read the verse in Chinese. Witnessing crisis averted.
  5. Multiple versions—Honestly, I love reading the same verse in 4-5 different versions—from New Living Translation to the Message. It brings life back into words I’ve read so many times that I sometimes gloss over them a bit. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, many verses that you’ve heard since your childhood become a bit easy to zip through as your brain believes you already know everything there is to know about the verse. Reading it in a different version with a bit different wording (translation) can give you a fresh perspective on the verse you know so well.
  6. Little Bible studies with reminders from some of my favorite authors. Share them with your Bible study group. Dr. Tony Evans has been a favorite of mine since college. If you don’t know him, you should give him a try. There are hundreds of others.

It’s pretty easy to “Choose Life” through investing in Bible study for 2020. Set your reminders and don’t choose to invest in God’s word and let it grow in your heart and your mind. It is truly powerful!

CITY ELDERS: Why Christians Must Be Involved in Government

Written by Jesse Leon Rodgers

If you are like me, you have watched the downward slide in our nation against Judeo-Christian values and felt overwhelmed at what has taken place in our courts and schools. In the last fifty plus years we have watched the following:

June 25, 1962 in a landmark case Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court decided the sanctity of prayer and word of God were no longer necessary or welcome in the public education system of the United States.

January 22, 1973 that same Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a child would no longer be safe in the womb of its mother. The sanctity of life now gone.

June 26, 2015 the same Supreme Court decided in another landmark ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges that the sanctity of marriage would be removed from our courts and our laws in the United States.

California Senate SB Bill 48 targeted the purity and innocence of our children with government mandated public education training of our children in the history and substance of the LGBTQ community.

The Illinois Legislature passed House Bill 5596 which also targeted the purity and innocence of our children in primary school by requiring the schools to teach the history of the LGBTQ community to school children to create gender confusion.

What we are seeing is social engineering and secular humanism at its best. How has this happened? Because we believed the lie that as Christians we were not to be involved in government and that pastors and Christian leaders were not allowed to speak out about these important issues. We stepped back and went silent. And this has been the result. We can no longer remain silent.

Jesse Leon Rodgers speaking at City Elders meeting.

We must recognize that government funded and government subsidized public education has been the greatest adversary of faith, family and freedom for a generation.

The Humanist Manifesto states blatantly that their desire is to turn the public education classroom into their sanctuary. The teacher is their high priest, secular Humanism, Dialectic Materialism (Marxism), Evolution and Atheism is their creed and our children are the worshippers in their new religion of secular humanism.

Has the vision and strategy of secular humanism worked? You bet. Over 80% of the children of evangelicals jettison their faith in their first year of college. These numbers are not sustainable. If we want to remain a free country, if we want the United States of America to remain free for our children and grandchildren, then the men and women of God across this nation must stand up to be collective in their efforts and we must do so right now.

That is the goal and role of City Elders, a non-profit organization with a model to position Christian leaders/elders to work alongside government officials across our nation. We are already seeing this happen as this model is implemented in our state.

Who are city elders? They are proven Christian leaders from the sectors of the church, the business community and civil government, who when they convene constitute the spiritual governing council of a city or community.

They are local leaders whose personal lives are guided by biblical principles and governed by Judeo Christian values and who are committed to the exaltation of Jesus Christ and the practice of his lordship in every sphere of life.

We need to return to the concept of city elders who in biblical days guarded and governed the cities at the city gates. It was the watchmen on the wall and the elders at the city gates who were the first line of defense against attacks, invasion or intrusion of any kind and their responsibility was the protection of the inhabitants of the city including their own families.

The mission of City Elders is to govern the gates of the city spiritually, politically, and economically so that life is protected, liberty is defended, Christ is exalted and families can flourish.

This is a national network strategy being implemented currently in Oklahoma in over forty of our seventy-seven counties. Can you imagine the transformation if this model was implemented in every state of our nation?

We have already surrendered far too many civil liberties and religious freedoms. We have watched as our own government has been commandeered and weaponized against Christians. The public education system has been infiltrated and militarized against the family, Judeo-Christian values and biblical world view.

It’s time now for the people of God to arise and take their position in the gates of the cities across this nation as we move back into government rather than watch from the sidelines.

For additional information or to become a part of City Elders go to: https://cityelders.com/

ABOUT: Jesse Leon Rodgers is the founder and president of City Elders, a reformation model of city and state governance that trains up and empowers Christian elders how to govern the gates of the city spiritually, politically, and economically.

He is the chairman of the Oklahoma Watchmen on the Wall Network; the pastor’s network of the Family Research Council, Washington, D.C.

Rodgers’ unique role with the Family Research Council and City Elders has positioned him to influence government officials from the local municipalities to the White House.

Elsa Isn’t the Only One Who Can “Let it Goooo!”

Written by Kim Thomas

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

When you hear the words, “let it go,” it would not be surprising to learn the popular Disney ballad from the animated film, Frozen, comes to mind. The song, “Let it Go” became one of the top 10 songs of 2014 and quickly following its release, had children of all ages belting out this catchy tune at the top of their lungs. Frozen tells the tale of a fictional character, Elsa, who is born with magical powers of ice and snow. When faced with her own emotions of anxiety, stress and anger, she loses control of her powers and unknowingly thrusts her kingdom into eternal winter and unintentionally freezes her sister’s heart. To avoid further harm, Elsa creates an ice palace where she isolates herself away from all others. But the story does not end here. By the time the story unfolds, Elsa learns that the harm she has caused is only undone when she shows love and compassion for others.

As I thought about this story, I began to reflect on how too often, unbeknownst to us, we find ourselves battling with our own frozen or hardened hearts. A frozen heart may be the result of a betrayed friendship, a wrongful accusation, wounds from past abuse, or any other occurrence that has allowed bitterness to take root in our heart.

To protect ourselves from further injury, just like Elsa, we create a kingdom of isolation. Isn’t that just what the devil wants us to do? He wants us to believe that if we put up walls, keep score of the wrongs done to us, or even refuse to forgive others, we can protect ourselves from being hurt again. He encourages us to rehearse our negative thoughts until they crystalize like an icy blast that continues to freeze and harden the walls of our hearts. Instead of protecting us, this isolation can lead to loneliness, misery, regret, and grief.

Forgiving others who have hurt or wronged us may seem like an insurmountable task. In fact, it can be one of the hardest things we will ever do. It is also one of the most freeing. Lewis Smedes once wrote that “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

In Ephesians 4:31, Paul instructs us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”

In other words, Paul is saying . . . “Let it go!”

Scripture goes on to say, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.”

Forgiveness is not the same things as having a lack of boundaries or even restoring trust in a relationship. Forgiveness means giving up the right to punish the other person. Instead of appointing ourselves as both the judge and jury that convicts the one who has harmed us, we allow God to melt our hearts and let Him be the ultimate authority.

In Frozen, Elsa sings of freedom in “letting it go.” While this song is intended to be an “anthem about acceptance,” I would like to offer another perspective. When we choose to let go of the pain and hurtful memories of those who have harmed us, we too, can sense a freedom to move forward. No more keeping score.

If you don’t know where to begin with releasing the hurts and offenses from your past, begin by being honest with our loving, Heavenly Father. He sees, knows, and understands your pain. Ask Him to help you move forward by giving you His heart and eyes of compassion for others.

It begins with a decision . . . 

Here’s to taking that first step!

Mark 11:25 says, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”


7 Tips on Surviving the Holidays with Family

Here come the holidays! And with the holidays come opportunities (and sometimes obligations) to spend time with family members who have at one time or another been difficult to get along with, we don’t have much in common with, or have caused us pain. Family members seem to know just how to push the right “buttons” in us. Negatively anticipating these encounters can surely put a damper on and create stress for what could otherwise be a pleasant time of year.

This year, make a conscious decision to intentionally make an effort to go into the holiday season with a positive outlook. Rather than just “psyching” yourself up to merely “tolerate” or “get through” any family holiday gatherings, proactively make a plan on how to make this upcoming holiday season more enjoyable.

  1. Begin with an attitude of gratitude. Instead of anticipating all of the things that could go “wrong” or ruminate on who has offended you in the past, spend some time focusing on the things you are thankful for as well as the things that could go “right.” Take a moment to be thankful for the friends and family members in your life that love and support you rather than the ones who offend or irritate you. The things you focus on, you will find more of.
  2. Make a plan. Don’t wait until the last minute. Before any gatherings arrive, begin thinking about which family members you would feel most comfortable sitting next to, what you could talk about, and how to fill uncomfortable voids of silence if they arise. Think of questions you could ask and how you can respond if interrogated or put on the spot.
  3. Avoid topics that could quickly turn into touchy subjects. This includes anything that encourages strong opinions such as talking about religion, politics, or any other sensitive subject that could strike a nerve with someone. Ways to do this include graciously asking the other person to “agree to disagree on this one.” Change the direction of a conversation by asking a question about what is going on in the other person’s life. Most people enjoy talking about themselves or things they are interested in.
  4. Remind yourself, “What is in my control and what is not?” While you cannot control another person’s attitudes or comments, you are the one in control of your responses, attitudes, and actions. When feeling defensive, take a moment to breathe. Remember to “respond and not react.” Do your best to stay positive and hopefully, others will follow your example.
  5. If necessary, excuse yourself and take a short break. Go check on children in another room, offer to clear the table and begin helping with dishes, go to the restroom, or simply go outside and get some fresh air. Looking at a funny text from a friend or favorite picture can make you smile and help relieve anxiety or stress.
  6. Embrace family differences. Even when you don’t agree with someone, it is helpful to remind yourself to allow others to simply be themselves. Just like you want to be accepted, so do they. Someone else’s opinions and actions reflect only them and not you. Don’t try to change others and make sure you have realistic expectations of others.
  7. Make a decision to forgive those who have hurt you in the past. Harboring grudges from years gone by only robs you of your mental energy and peace. Be willing to admit to ways you may have also contributed to any misunderstanding. Empathizing with the other person and trying to put yourself in their shoes can help facilitate a willingness to forgive. It has been said that, “hurt people . . . hurt people.” Remind yourself of all you have been forgiven for and God’s willingness to forgive us in spite of our sins.


Kim Thomas

ABOUT: Kim Thomas is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist and I have a private practice, There’s Hope! Counseling.  I am a monthly co-host on KNYD Oasis Network Radio.  I am married with a blended family.  I’m a mom of 4, mother-in-love to 2, and stepmom to 3 kiddos, and a dog mom to Rae.  Contact info is (918)277-0777 or www.thereshopehere.com

Student Impact: Special Needs Aren’t That “Special” At All

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Let’s cut to the chase. Kids with “special” needs are looking for love, social encounters, opportunities to grow, and education. There’s nothing “special” at all on their radar. They are looking to grow their relationship with Christ just like the rest of us. These students and their parents want exactly what the rest of us want—a place to belong and to be a part. As the Church, and certainly as Christian schools, we are going to have to do some rethinking of our position here. Could it be that we’re simply not paying attention to what we are not paying attention to in the area with these children of God? There’s a gap. One group in Owasso decided to do something about it.

Pretty little girl with pigtails, smiling

Julie Paul and a group of families and professionals launched King’s Grove School, a classical Christian private school for persons with special needs, this year in Owasso, Oklahoma. They started with 11 students, who are receiving an incredible opportunity to experience Christian classical education in an environment coupled with physical and occupational therapy. From my assessment, their program is possibly akin to Regent Preparatory School except that it’s moving at an appropriate pace and setting for their unique learners.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Julie, the Executive Director of King’s Grove. God has been challenging Community Spirit and our readers to think about the missing links in opportunities for those labeled with special needs in our existing structures. So, I wanted to get a peek inside the heart and souls breathing life into these amazing, but often overlooked souls. They challenged me right where I sat to even further rethink my own views on those with special needs.

“This is a program that hasn’t been tried before in our state.” Julie said. “ The three pillars of our school are Curriculum, Therapy and Community all built on the foundation of glorifying God in all we do while sharing the Gospel and making disciples of ALL men. We’re using a nationally recognized classical Christian curriculum specifically designed for special needs. We integrate therapy throughout every school day. We have a full time physical therapist and occupational therapist on staff. Next year we plan to add a speech therapist and an additional OT and PT aide.” Julie went on, ”We wanted a pilot group of families willing to help us begin this year, so, we self-selected for this first group. Within the design of community at KGS is the need for partnership with families to ensure a successful education for our students.. The Lord says the family is the primary teacher in the child relationship and we desire to come alongside families with special needs to help them in the areas of academics and education while they remain the primary source for life instruction for their children.”

Several similar schools have begun within existing schools on the east coast according to Julie. However, at this time, King’s Grove is a stand alone school and they decided to up it a notch with their integrated therapy specific to academics. This method allows the students to have access to having their sensory needs met within their daily school routine. King’s Grove wants to help families raise their children in Christ in their school the same as any other Christian school—even though that includes a few things not always found in a normal school.

 So far, the feedback has been fantastic. I don’t know how parents could be anything but overjoyed. In just the small amount of time I spent at the school, everything I saw was truly magnificent. I saw their faces. These kids were thriving. It was so beautiful to see them in an environment tailored specifically to grow them into who God created them to be. There’s a sense of purpose to every encounter. “That’s not by accident,” according to Julie. “The student program is designed around purpose in everything they do.”

Julie knows firsthand the challenges of parenting a child with special needs. She and her husband’s eight-year old son went to public schools for a day before they realized the environment wasn’t right for him. He’s non-verbal and on the autism spectrum like so many students. So, she started homeschooling him with this specifically designed curriculum. She quickly realized her path was going to be bigger than just focusing on her son. Now she can offer him, and others, the Christian education she and her husband want for him, while he gets to experience socialization at the same time. When I walked by him in class, it was easy to see he was in his element. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Giving these incredible kids a way to be their best selves? I could see their joy, as they had instruction with a teacher engaging them on whatever level they needed to be drawn into the experience of learning.

Students and teachers at King's Grove

The sensory rooms at King’s Grove School is one example of a simple way to meet these children’s needs. Any parent who has a child with sensory issues understands the need for some downtime to regroup. It can make the difference for the entire day if they just have room to regain their composure. Sometimes being in a classroom setting for too long can become a bit overstimulating. Sometimes the child needs a safe place to go and sort of catch their “sensory breath” if you will. It’s a simple technique that could easily be employed in every school with children who can experience sensory overload. It’s just one of the ways King’s Grove works to lead the way with instructional care fitting the needs of the students that attend there.

Julie added, “If the student can learn better self-regulating skills overtime through therapy and with a break in the sensory room or outside—it creates a win-win scenario. Then, the student can regain needed focus and composure to go back into the academic environment for instruction.” She continued, “A natural and calm setting is essential for our students to thrive. We spend a good amount of time outdoors to meet general sensory needs and then use a program called the Sonrise Method within our sensory rooms to encourage socialization and calmness to their abilities and meet sensory needs indoors when appropriate. Instead of our students having unmet sensory needs and derailing their education time, they can come into this room for a few minutes or longer depending on their needs that day. It gives them some time where they are not thinking about academics but are still in a learning atmosphere. There’s purpose to the play, instruction or interaction. Every single part of our day has a purpose to it. “

Integration

Through efforts towards community, King’s Grove School hopes to help Owasso and the greater Tulsa area see the need for special needs persons to be truly integrated into their communities. Julie said, “There is a benefit to our families to give excellent education to our special needs students. Yet, if there is no community willing to accept persons with special needs into their daily lives our purposes fall apart when our students reach adulthood. Unless their families move away, these students will become adults here. As a community, and especially in the community of believers, we want all of our citizens to be thriving in service, fellowship and work where applicable. Our communities and churches will not operate at their fullest purpose and potential unless all of our persons are involved and valued. We do not need to retrofit the community. We do not need a different part for some and another part for others. We need to retrofit people’s mindsets to value the personhood God has designed in all individuals within their community and network for the purpose of His glory and the furthering of His Kingdom. We are to do this together as one body.” King’s Grove is teaching these students how to have a meaningful purpose in society. They are being discipled to serve Christ.

Julie said, “Students at King’s Grove aren’t just receiving an education. They are also receiving that needed discipleship to teach them how to be contributing members inside the Body of Christ. We see their giftedness for His good work daily. The fruits of the Spirit are being taught inside these classrooms along with the academics to help live them out. We are striving to walk alongside them in community, education and discipleship as God grows them into who He created them to be.” I agreed with her. These students were being taught how to fulfill God’s purpose for them—to do what God created them specially to do.

As a Christian community, as the Church, we need to be thinking about how to help them help us to fulfill God’s purpose in His kingdom.

How can YOU Help?

King’s Grove School is looking for persons to partner and champion their students and vision by adding volunteers to their school days and in securing a firm future to help more families through donations. 

KGS has a great first semester group of volunteers. They hope to expand their day to day volunteers for their students.  Julie shared, “We are looking for persons who want a life changing experience. Our volunteers spend time with the students in both academics and socially. Most volunteers come once a week. Our school day is only 9:00–2:30. Some volunteers come in the morning and some in the afternoon. We vet our volunteers similarly to the Little Light House and provide training to help our volunteers feel ready to be with our students. Most of our volunteers have never had any formal training or time with special needs students. They just want to come and have a great day.” She continued, “So many of our volunteers comment on what a happy place KGS is. One volunteer texted me after their first day and said, ‘ Julie, the school broke me today. After seeing the students work hard, love on each other and then praise the Lord during music through song and dance, well, I just had to praise the Lord.’ That’s what we mean when we say we want persons who want a life changing experience. Be ready. It truly is.”

Julie also expressed the great need for donations during this first year of school. Private special needs education hasn’t been attempted at great lengths because it is very expensive. The national average to educate a neurotypical student is around $8500/ year. The national average sky-rockets to $34,000 / year for a student with special needs. King’s Grove School keeps things simple and purposeful with curriculum, campus and supplies. However, the cost of personnel that includes two teachers to a classroom and professional certified full time therapists is expensive but absolutely necessary. “Class sizes are intentionally small. That is a non negotiable for us. It is essential to the learning environment of our students. We never want money to be a reason that families cannot attend KGS. We want families who will partner with us in our approach to Christian education. Because of this our tuition makes up only ⅓ of our operations cost. We rely on fundraising and private donations to meet our annual budget needs and will rely on our community to continue to support us financially as we grow to accommodate more families.” Julie added, “ Since June of this year, we have had over 200 requests for application to our school. The need is so great. Our families share part of that financial responsibility but we pray our communities will see that this is an opportunity for all of us to improve and add beauty and value to our society and daily life. Your investment isn’t just for them it’s for everyone!”

King’s Grove Schools have several ways to donate. They encourage private giving and also are running a “GROW THE GROVE” campaign that encourages recurring monthly gifts of any amount. “Every single person in the greater Tulsa area can make a huge difference,“ said Julie. “Whether you donate $1 / month or $1000/month, you are impacting families and your own community. Two of our own students have donated their own allowance to their school. How beautiful is that? The Lord is using the smallest acts for the greatest impact to His kingdom.”

When I walked away, I found myself looking forward to more Christian schools in our area volunteering at the school as part of their own journey. KGS is looking for peer to peer volunteers to come on Fridays during their enrichment time to share in the non-academic experiences at KGS such as art, music and movement, with students their own age. I can already hear the stories from the students who went—thinking they were going to help and finding themselves walking away changed by these kids.

 I’m envisioning kids volunteering at the fund raisers and coming up with ideas to help fund King’s Grove. Every encounter shows me the gaps and the distance we have to go, but new foundations are being built. When God is through with the Church, I’m praying that He finds a community so fully integrated with these amazing students. As they journey into adulthood, I pray that He shines the light on it to help replicate this success throughout all of His work here on Earth. After all, He is the one who knew these children in their mother’s womb. He has certainly prepared works in advance for all of His children to do. 

Pray with me for God to move mountains to equip this school with the most integrated, fun-loving, people-loving students, volunteers and financial resources to make one GIGANTIC kingdom impact. Can you imagine? Hopefully very soon we won’t need to imagine it.


King’s Grove had over 200 families reach out to find out more. More will be trying to come. Right now they have nowhere else to go. There is no Christian school we can find offering an integrated program right now. Funding is always an issue, but now that we have someone making these amazing kids a priority, I think it’s at a minimum up to the rest of us to support them.

Do you want to be part of reaching ALL of God’s children: King’s Grove does not charge students the full amount needed to educate their children. It’s a ministry operating off of the donations, volunteerism, and hearts of people just like YOU! (yes YOU!). With the end of year “donation” season approaching—why don’t you add them to your list!

These kids are being left out on Christian education. They deserve to be educated with a Christian curriculum.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Will you help King’s Grove bring the opportunity to know Christ in their school environment? Let’s not stop them. Let’s give them everything they need to impact the world for Christ. Then, just sit back and watch.

Hop online at www.kingsgroveschool.com. Scroll to the bottom left side for both the volunteer and donate buttons. If God’s children are all a part of the body of Christ (and we know they are)—then when we aren’t bringing in and equipping those with special needs, we are essentially a body trying to operate without an essential functional piece. Can you imagine how well the Body of Christ will function when we’ve enveloped ALL of God’s children, equipped and joining in God’s missions prepared in advance for us to do together? #GoDoBe

Little boys drawing with teacher


Congressman Hern: Living out The American Dream

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Kevin and Tammy Hern

Meeting Kevin Hern:

I’ve had the honor to meet Congress­man Kevin Hern a few times. Each time, I find myself overwhelmed with the complete sincerity of conviction visible in his core. He’s a Christian. He believes in The American Dream.

The first time I met Hern, he was a guest speaker at a Christian dinner, where they were honoring Christian influential legacies. The second time, he came out on a hectic Saturday to support life and all the ways so many groups are helping infants, children and families in our community. The next time was a startle. He sort of burst into a City Elders meeting requesting prayer for the flood victims, because he knew the group would be meeting. He had just left a radio talk show and felt they needed immediate intercession. He was welcomed at the door, led the prayer and exited.

After that? I was surprised to see him speaking with flood victims over in Sand Springs, offering guidance and encouragement. He stayed long after the formal meeting was over talking with folks, who honestly just needed to be heard. He just shows up in places I would expect someone of his character to be. These places, these actions, they certainly don’t make the nightly news. However, they do make the cover in a magazine focused on finding Christians living out their faith in meaningful, inspirational ways in our community. He’s kind of the definition of #GoDoBe, our magazine motto.

So, I’m going to let his words, his story, speak to you as it has to me. We usually don’t get the chance to hear the story behind the man. Really, that story shares how the man was made—by God, for this purpose He prepared in advance for him to do.

Kevin shared,

“One of the things when you grow up and you maybe have a lot less than your peers have, a lot of times you don’t really know that. I think what’s different now than when I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, You didn’t have a lot of media outlets telling you that you were poor. You knew what you didn’t have compared to some of your friends, but you just weren’t told every day that you were not being treated fairly and it was wrong to be successful. I don’t ever recall hearing that being successful was wrong. They always kept you motivated to find somebody successful and try to emulate them instead of being envious of them.

Today, it’s different than that. We have a lot of people, in Washington D.C. and even running for President, saying that if you’ve been successful you are an evil person. You’ve cheated the system if you’ve been successful. And the problem is, that’s an affront to The American Dream. The American Dream says you work hard every day. You take risks. You get knocked down. You get knocked down and you get back up and do it time and time again. You do and repeat. Then you change your focus. If your focus isn’t enough, then maybe you have your allegiance in the wrong place. Maybe you’re seeking money as opposed to this thing called God.”

Growing Up Kevin Hern:

“For me, it wasn’t media telling me failure was eminent, because I was really poor. It was basically you could tell how people looked at you. ‘You can never be successful.’—not because being wealthy is bad, but because you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. ‘You or your stepdad live on food stamps and you can never do anything. You’re going to be locked into this world of poorness and poverty the rest of your life.’ That was my life.

Ironically in Arkansas, where I grew up, the slogan for the state in those days was ‘The Land of Opportunity.’ The joke was that you had the opportunity to stay there and starve to death or get out of the state and do something. It was sort of a mockery of the state because it was so poor. And, we were in that world.

My mom and dad were married. Before I was born, my older sister passed away with spina bifida just after birth. I was born about 14 months later with a brother who came along 18 months later. We lived on military bases. At that time, my mom and dad got divorced around 1968 when he was going to Vietnam for the third time. She was young, around 20’ish, and decided she couldn’t do this military mom thing anymore. Losing my sister was a lot to bear. She lived a long way from home and a support system. So, she moved my brother and I to Arkansas. Once there, my mom married a man, who had been married three times with three kids from each of those marriages; she then ended up having three kids with him. That was my life.

My stepdad didn’t like to work. He was actually the first generation in his family not working; his parents were very, very hard workers. He figured out how to master the system of not working hard, and not working at all, parlaying it into getting food stamps back in 1969. Then, through my entire childhood until I left home in 1979, he continued his plan.

We moved a lot; he wouldn’t pay the rent. People thought we were in the military until they knew who we were. We would move from school district to school district and sometimes back to the same one in the same year. Because I was the oldest at that time of two brothers and two sisters—I was always the one who caught the brunt of it. I remember the embarrassment of going from grocery store to grocery store with my mom trying to buy certain things with food stamps and she couldn’t. Then, she would ask me to go back and put it on the shelf. I remember that very vividly. Maybe it was because of my memory of those times that I made a mission in my life that I would always work hard, earn money, and never be dependent on anyone—not my parents, the government or anyone else. I’ve never taken a dime from the government at any time in my working life.

It was very tough being home. In 7th grade, I worked. Since we never had any real cash from his lack of working, I would come home and give most of my paycheck to my parents and specifically to my mom. In 9th grade, he would buy trucks all the time and never make any payments. They would go back. Then in 1976, he bought a new Chevrolet pickup. Eight months later, I took over the payments on the family car as a sophomore in high school.

All I ever knew was working hard. We never went to church. We never said God’s name in a way you would want to repeat it. It was a pretty tough life. So, it was always about me. It was about survivability. I married when I was 21. We never went to church as a couple—maybe a few times. When the offering plate went by, you’d put a dollar in there just so people thought you were doing the right thing. It was about observing what people thought about you. Never the right reasons.

I had a lot of failures along the way. One of the things I tell people we should never get rid of are failures. Failures remind you. You just always remember all your failures. In comparison, I doubt you remember all your successes unless they were recent highlights—having a child or something like that. Most of the time, with the successes in businesses, I’ve just moved on, but I’ve learned a lot from failures. I think one of the failures of our government is they want to eliminate failures. It’s part of The American Dream: taking a risk, living outside of your comfort zone, failing and getting back up again and going on.

70 years of living that I’ve ever met anyone more honest than you or who works harder than you—ever. But I’ll tell you this: you’re surely gonna go to hell if you don’t have God in your life.”

What I learned was, if you look at my direction in life from the time it was early, and even through my first marriage, it was all about work, work and work. I knew nobody would ever outwork me. Even today, that’s my narrative—it’s about work. I’ll tell you that chasing that materialism, chasing that narrative, is wrong.

What I learned later in life, after my marriage failed, is that it was always about me. Even my first marriage, my first daughter with that marriage, I was about achieving something for me. I put myself on a pinnacle to own a McDonald’s franchise. I was not only working 60-70 hours a week in the restaurant business, but also working in businesses outside of that one to save up $100,000 to get my first restaurant. I was always in this mode of ‘I’m going this direction. Everybody get on the bus.’ You don’t realize when it’s going on. Your intent is not to hurt anyone, but that becomes your mission. You drift apart from family and things like that.”

She asked, ‘Kevin, Do you KNOW God?’

“After my divorce in 1992, I was going to pick my daughter up—60 miles from where I lived. My ex-sister in law, whom I had known for most of her life, said ‘We have a person we want you to meet.’ We think she’d be really great. Funny enough, that’s how I met my wife.

She was a strong Christian lady. She led her mom and dad to Christ at about 16. I was 30 and she was 28 when we met. I asked her out. She said, ‘I’ll go out with you, but I need to ask you about yourself.’ I said, ‘Sure ask me anything. I know everything. I’m a survivor.’ She said very quickly, ‘I need to know if you know God.’ I said, ‘Well sure. I know everything. Everybody knows who God is.’ At that time, I think I was thinking little g and she was thinking big G. Very quickly after that she said, ‘Are you a Christian?’ I looked at her pretty funny and she said, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘I’ll get back with you on that one.’ I said. I didn’t have a response. I think that was God’s way of saying ‘You don’t truly know who I am. You know how to spell my name, but you don’t know who I am.’

Probably the first time I had ever been challenged in my life to know who God is and check on my personal salvation—at 30 years old. Clearly, I was not on the right path. My priorities were really messed up. Again, it was all about me, me, me. That’s how I had lived my life.

Even that day my previous wife filed the divorce papers, it was a bad moment, but it wasn’t truly a bad day. I am an eternal optimist about moving forward and not dwelling on the past. I always tell people when they ask how I’m doing—’Fantastic.’ I remember walking into my regular convenience store. The person behind the counter asked me how my day was. I answered it wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had. That’s the only time I remember saying it’s not a great day.

Again, you remember these failures. I think it was God’s way of taking a situation, I would never say he would cause that situation, but taking the situation and using it. He takes our weakest moments, because that was the only chink I had had in my armor at that time. Then, taking that opportunity to say to me ‘We’ve gotta get you on a different pathway. Right now, what you’ve got . . . you’ve opened the door a little bit. Let me come on in.’

Think about it. The person you would never think would introduce you to God and lead you to salvation was introduced to me just three months after my divorce by my ex-sister-in-law, a person no longer in my family unit. She has now been my now wife of 26 years and a great friend since 1992. So, after I was sitting in her living room and she asked me if I knew God, if I was a Christian, and if I was saved—I turned to my grandfather for answers.”

Grandpa Sets Him Straight

“My grandfather was really the person who gave me my greatest joy being with him. I got so many opportunities to work hard, haul hay, things that seem kind of flippant today or irrelevant. He was the person who was always very supportive of who I was. He always went to church. My grandmother, in those days when I was younger, was sort of a reprieve from a less than exciting household with my mom and stepdad. Some would probably argue, she was the one who probably raised me my last couple of years when I was in school.

So, I went to my grandpa and grabbed him. I said, ‘I need to ask you a question.’ You remember these days and exactly where you drove. So I told him, I met this lady and she asked me these three questions. Do you know God? Are you a Christian? Are you saved? I have to be honest with you I have no clue what she is talking about. He said ‘I don’t think in my 70 years of living that I’ve ever met anyone more honest than you or who works harder than you—ever. But I’ll tell you this: you’re surely gonna go to hell if you don’t have God in your life.’ That was his direct quote. I said, ‘Well that’s pretty direct.’ He wasn’t a really educated man, and so that’s the first time in my life ever hearing him say that or even talking of that. I’d been around him a lot. You look back and you think he didn’t go to church a lot, but you don’t have to go to church a lot to know where your priorities in life ought to be.

My grandpa said, “I don’t think in my
70 years of living that I’ve ever met anyone more honest than you or who works harder than you—ever. But I’ll tell you this: you’re surely gonna go to hell if you don’t have God in your life.”

So that was Feb 1993. I had been going to church at Antioch Baptist Church for a few months by myself. You hear these stories all the time about people who are under conviction and that was me. There was a guy, Henry Horton, who was a pretty hellfire and brimstone kind of pastor from Texas. It was kind of God working on my heart—putting the right people in the right place at the right time in my life as He does.

In April 1993, I became a Christian. At that time, I was 31 years old. I was a guy who knew everything in life, who knew really nothing. I had lost everything at that time. I was living without rent in somebody else’s house. I was making $25-26,000 a year. I had a blue recliner. I had a skillet my ex-wife gave me because my grandmother had given it to me. (Plus, she hated the blue recliner.) In reality, April 1993 was really a start to a new life, at 31 years old, as a very young Christian.”

Failure—a Stepping Stone towards Success

“In one of my lessons early on, I went to work for a guy just after the aerospace industry fell apart. It was right after I was married. He said, ‘I’ll help you get a McDonald’s franchise.’ and he never did. In 1991, he moved to Florida and I went to work for another guy. I was still married to my former wife. Then, this guy said if I’d work for him for two years, he’d help me get a McDonald’s restaurant. Then two years passed. Nothing. Then three years passed. Nothing. Four years passed. Nothing. I thought he was a friend. Then, finally I realized nothing was going to happen. It was very disappointing. I started looking and trying to get a restaurant. He said, ‘I hear you are looking—let me go fix these documents.’ This is five years into what was going to be a two-year deal. All in, it would be another ten years before I was going to get a restaurant. I didn’t do it.

So, because of this lesson, I have a guy who is working in my restaurants. I knew this fellow a month; I said, ‘Because of the lesson I learned from what was done to me, I’m gonna make sure it never happens to you.’ He’s gonna be a millionaire when he retires in a year or two.

I think this is part of the journey God has put me on since being saved in 1993—helping people be successful. I think some of the failures I had in my younger life, that God uses those. He set me up for an opportunity to run for Congress. I could not have done it had I not had a tremendous amount of success in business and experience working across different groups in an industry that’s extraordinarily difficult. The restaurant industry helped me build a very thick skin with folks who don’t always agree with what you do and how you do it. The world I worked in with national leadership at McDonalds, dealing with all ethnicities, every diversity group in America from coast to coast as well as a tremendous amount of experiences of real breadth in economic policy, tax policy, tariffs, insurance, the list goes on and on. I dealt with all of those things that really matter in congress. So, as a new congressman for about ten months, there really hasn’t been anything that I’ve seen or touched that I haven’t lived in my life.

The conversation of poverty is one I understand. You know you remember very vivid moments. I went through some training early on at one of the institutions just to get some policy background in 7-8 different policies. One was looking at the various income levels or socioeconomic levels in the country. Lower 1%, 10%, 25% and the list goes on and on. It is the Heritage Foundation, who is probably one of the largest think tanks in Washington D.C. I told these folks ‘I doubt that you will ever have many members or any members, who have actually lived in every one of those socioeconomic scales. Regardless of what anyone else tells you, it is much more fun and much more rewarding to live in the upper 1%. To know that you were in the lower 1% at the bottom and achieved all those scales and remember everything that you did and was done and the opportunities you have had? That’s what you want to secure.”

Helping Others Succeed

“This isn’t a zero-sum game in the United States of America. It doesn’t mean that the upper 1% exist because the other 99% have had to be pushed down and stepped on. You haven’t had to make everybody else look small so that you could look tall. I think that’s where we lose the narrative and we lose our way. ‘The only way I can succeed is if you fail.’ If you believe that everybody can succeed then you have a tremendous responsibility to help others succeed and that’s what I’ve done.

I’ve worked my entire life to help folks who thought they couldn’t do something to do something. When they were people who said ‘I’ve been told my entire life I couldn’t’ or ‘I can’t,’ well, that’s been a real motivator for me. When people tell me they can’t, I tell them ‘The only reason you can’t is because you think you can’t. It’s not because somebody else is telling you that you can’t.’ Because of that, we have McDonalds employees with high school educations making $60-70,000, $80,000 a year running multi-million dollar businesses. I think that God has put me in a position that I can have the opportunity to speak to folks. If I can inspire any hope—that it doesn’t matter where you came from— that you can be anything you want in this country, then I’ve won. That’s what it’s all about.

This is the greatest country on this planet. We have got to protect the opportunities for those successes. (CALL OUT) It doesn’t mean you will ever achieve everything you want to do. That’s what keeps you motivated. If someone is going to guarantee you success or outcome, you’ll never have that motivation to want to be something better every single day. It’s our job to better ourselves every single day. If I can inspire any hope—that it doesn’t matter where you came from— that you can be anything you want in this country, then I’ve won. That’s what it’s all about. 


So, what are you going to #GoDoBe today that someone told you you couldn’t do? That maybe you told yourself you can’t do? Satan is the great accuser trying to hold us down from all God has called us to be. God has prepared a plan in advance for you to do. So, the way has been made. All you need to do is step out from the lies and into the life God created you to live. So, again I ask, “What are you going to #GoDoBe today?”

Thesis By Natalie Stitt Regent Preparatory – Student, Guest Author

Here is Part 2 of Natalie Stitt’s senior thesis. If you missed Part 1 of Natalie’s article, check out the first half online at
www.communityspiritmagazine.com.

Just as ancients did, many in the Church today assume that disabilities are due directly to sin, and therefore have the overarching, if not sole purpose to be healed (Cross 317). Although this concept is visible in the Old and New Testaments, it is fundamentally a pagan idea: the notion that at any turn, a slight mistake could offend the gods and leave the sinner suddenly struck by lightning or turned into a cow terrorized the ancient world, and as Christianity spread, this idea was mixed with Christian thought. This concept of divine punishment heavily influenced both the early and contemporary Church (Moss).

In Jesus’ teachings, his disciples once asked, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:2-3). We tend to think that if something is bad, it is always divine punishment, but Jesus’ words in this passage should dispel any thoughts that disabilities are the results of God’s wrath (Yong 87). On the other hand, I do not mean to suggest that God is absent from the creation of those with disabilities; Scripture is very clear that there is purpose behind every individual, especially those with disabilities. When Moses confronted God about his speech impediment, asking Him to choose someone else, the Lord responded with, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). His response shows how purposeful each individual with special needs is: they are fully created by God, disability and all.

While it is folly to attribute disabilities to be direct effect of God’s wrath, sin might have something to do with the existence of disabilities, and for this, we must turn to Thomas Aquinas. When discussing physical impairments, Aquinas contends that disability, along with several other experiences that he deems “features of the human condition,” is not on direct account of sin, that is, divine punishment, but yet another manifestation of original sin in this world (Cross 318). The human condition does not only include disability, but all the ways that sin manifests in humanity: being prone to lie, having an addiction to alcohol, being born without the use of the legs, and having Down syndrome are all aspects that fall under Aquinas’s categorization (328-329). Despite physical appearances or mental abilities, theologically, there is no distinction between someone with or without disabilities.

In a sense, all effects of original sin are hindering in some manner or another: we are all disabled to a certain degree. I’d like to turn to Bach, a scholar of disability in theology: Both [disabled and not] are respectively created by God; both live in the fallen creation; both (as damaged creation) are dependent on the salvific deed of Christ; both are reconciled to God through Christ; both are members of the Body of Christ, both deficient and dependent upon others; both gifted with divine gifts, both expectant of salvation (Bach, as cited in Kunz, as cited in White 20).

In this light, the state of original sin unifies humanity, especially within the Body of Christ. One cannot treat a fellow sinner with contempt or arrogance because “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23). When Christians have a misconception of sin as it relates to disability, they see an individual with special needs as a mistake, if not a punishment, that requires healing. Nancy Eiesland, herself living with a disability, comments on the issue from experience: “our bodies have too often been touched by hands that have forgotten our humanity and attend only to curing us . . . healing has been the churchly parallel to rehabilitative medicine, in which the goal was ‘normalization’ of the bodies of people with disabilities” (Eiesland 244). She claims that instead of being welcomed into a loving and accepting community, she was merely viewed as an imperfection that needed healing and normalization.

Theologically there is nothing wrong with intercession for healing, but as Eiesland emphasized, one’s humanity and one’s disability cannot be separated for the purpose of healing, and healing with normalization in mind, is not without danger. In the gospel, it is very clearly stated that there should be no partiality in the Church (James 2): nothing about an individual should cause the church body to treat her in a better or worse manner. We are all defective, we are all broken, and we are all sinful, and no one is more or less than another. We should always keep this is in the forefront of our minds when we interact with anyone, with and without disabilities. The Lord does not bestow weaknesses or disabilities upon humanity in order to discourage them, but rather, through the relationship established on the cross, to make them perfect in his strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). Any suffering that we experience on earth should be a reminder for what Christ accomplished on the cross: he trampled Satan, and in death, gave us life.

The first step towards inclusion must begin with how we view individuals with special needs. In the New Testament and especially in the examples set by Jesus, diversity was obvious: men and women of all different backgrounds were unified as they worked to further the kingdom of the Lord. Jesus’ image of the Church as a body emphasizes unity over difference. Jesus even commanded that his followers “go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (Luke 14:21). He did not say “open your doors and let them come” but rather “go, and bring them in” (White 12). Later the Apostle Paul elaborates on Christ’s teaching concerning inclusion; in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 he says that: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Painting by Natalie Stitt

As Paul states, there is unity in diversity: “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). The unity that Christ instituted in the body of the Church was not motivated by a mere embrace of diversity, but it came from seeing each and every individual as a bearer of the Imago Dei; their value was nothing that could be proven, displayed, or won, it was instilled through God’s breath of life.

In today’s culture, where we base a high priority on rationality and intelligence, a hierarchy of humanity and, consequently, of disability, has been constructed from the measure of one’s intelligence and has been deeply ingrained within our society. People, Christian or not, usually view a neurotypical individual as on a ‘higher level’ than an individual with Down syndrome, and likewise someone with Aspergers is ‘rated higher’ than one with a profound mental disability. Although life on earth functions on the basis of classifications such as these, there is no tier of humanity even hinted towards in the Bible. “The value of a person, in God’s sight, is not measured by his or her knowledge and accomplishments. The value of a person is ultimately in the realm of love” (Edwards 73). People have no justification in classifying their fellow humans on any basis other than the love that the Father has freely given. It is for that love that Jesus came to earth as a man and died on the cross: it wasn’t for the intellectually qualified alone, but also for those that the general population has consigned to a lower category, perhaps irredeemably so.

As stated above, there is no theological difference between a completely dependent individual and you or me. The Church may not openly classify people on the basis of intelligence, but they do make classifications as to how much charity an individual requires, which is based off an assumption of a caste society. Charity, when properly motivated, should only prove to be beneficial to society: believers, as commanded, should always reach out to those in need. An issue does arise however, when an individual is stripped of their personhood and viewed as an object of charity, which is almost always for the satisfaction of the giver. It typically happens in one of two manners: in some cases, an individual with special needs is given special treatment, condescended to as if they are a child, or ‘helped’ by a member of the congregation. Although these actions in themselves may not appear malicious, they can be degrading to that individual’s inherent value, and in some cases, that individual can detect the air of false charity. The so-called ‘giver’ in this situation feels like a saint, a perfect benefactor to a person, whom they deem to be less than themselves. On the other hand, the misuse of charity may take place between an entire congregation and those with disabilities, not just between one member and another with a disability.

In many cases such as this, the Church will ‘invite’ an individual with special needs into their congregation and present them as their ‘special’ member. It gives that specific church a more diverse appearance and also makes them feel as if they are helping those in need. Although this situation, like the last, appears to be an honest attempt at inclusion, the heart is nowhere near the right place. Both of these situations stem from a selfish desire to be seen as good, not to simply fulfill the commandments and do good. Christians, as fallen and selfish beings, must always be reminded that works, for the sake of the good and not for the sake of self-satisfaction, without recognition are the most fulfilling way to show love; in Matthew it is written, “be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

Charity, when properly motivated, should only prove to be beneficial to society: believers, as commanded, should always reach out to those in need. An issue does arise however, when an individual is stripped of their personhood and viewed as an object of charity, which is almost always for the satisfaction of the giver. 

The most vital aspect in the repositioning of the heart is love. Love, as has been perfectly demonstrated by the Father through Christ, is one of the hardest yet simplest things we need in order to include those with special needs into the Body of Christ. In I Peter 4:8, it does not say, “love those who are convenient to love,” but rather “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Loving is not something that is convenient or easy: Christ’s death on the cross was the opposite of those things. There is no better way to truly experience love, than when the object of your affection becomes unlovable (Lewis 118). That is not to say that individuals with special needs are unlovable; in most cases they are quite the opposite, but oftentimes they have no way to reciprocate the love given freely to them, just as we have no way to earn or repay the Father’s love.

There is no better model to admire here than Christ (Hoekema 22). Theologians have dissected the defining aspects of humanity over and over, but just as a scientist can break down an element only up to a certain point, there is a baseline which theologians cannot proceed past. Humans, as centuries worth of philosophy displays, are complex and unique creatures layered with desires and flaws, but each and every human being is made in the holy Image of God. Whether it is acknowledged or not, this intrinsic value is something that can never be added to or subtracted from; it places all humans, despite race, gender, socio-economic status, intelligence, and physical ability under one category: children of the living God.

For centuries, people with disabilities have faced discrimination and contempt, even in the Church. Their intrinsic worth has been overlooked, and consequently, they have been ignored, they have been refused access to the sacraments, and they have even been marginalized from God-ordained community that the Body of Christ is to provide. An individual’s value, whether they are at the cognitive level of a toddler or of a genius, is nothing that can be added to or subtracted from: it rests solely on the basis of God’s breath of life, his holy image (Lewis 116). It is something that spans across all of humanity; every individual must be treated with the utmost respect: if they are not, not only is their humanity marred, but the sacred image of the Lord is defiled. This factor should dispel every air of discomfort, indifference, and most certainly pride, and should establish and enforce full inclusion of those with special needs in the body of the Church. In all of your future interactions with those with and without disabilities, always remember Jesus’ words, “let all the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Works Cited in Thesis 

Admin, Gardens. “Oklahoma Disability Statistics.” Oklahoma Department of  Rehabilitation Services, 13 Aug. 2018. 

Cross, Richard. “Aquinas on Physical Impairment: Human Nature and Original Sin.” Harvard Theological Review, vol. 110, no. 03, 2017, pp. 317–338. 

Edwards, June. “Children with Learning Difficulties and the Sacraments.” Children with Learning Difficulties, 1994, pp. 70-81. The Way, 17 Jan. 2019. 

Eiesland, Nancy L. “Sacramental Bodies.” Journal of Religion, Disability & Health, vol. 13, no. 3-4, 2009, pp. 236–246. 

“Five Statistics We Can’t Ignore: Disability and The Gospel.” The Banquet Network, 4” Sept. 2018. 

Greenberg, Ben. “Inclusion Is a Jewish Imperative.” My Jewish Learning, 8 Apr. 2015. 

Hoekema, Anthony A. Created In God’s Image. 1st ed., Eerdmans, 1994. Print. 

“Jewish Values and Disability Rights.” Religious Action Center, 3 Dec. 2015. 

Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. HarperOne, 2017. Print. 

Moss, Candida R. “Disability in the New Testament.” Bible Odyssey, 1 Oct. 2014, www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/video-gallery/d/disability-in-the-nt 

“Orthodox Theological Perspectives on Disability.” World Council of Churches, 21 Oct. 2015.

Reinders, Hans. Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008. Print.

“Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics and Statistics.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public

Life Project, 11 May 2015. The Bible. New International Version. Biblica, 2011. Bible Gateway.

White, George. People with Disabilities within Christian Community. 2014.

Yong, Amos. The Bible, Disability, and the Church: a New Vision of the People of God. Eerdmans, 2011. Print.

Our Governor’s daughter has a beautiful heart. However, if you just read the article and don’t take action, you just might break it. Natalie prayerfully prepared her thesis hoping God would use it to impact our community . . . to change us. We have an opportunity to become different, to do things differently—in our churches and our schools. Both entities of God’s Kingdom need to reconsider our positions to make sure we’re in alignment with the challenging words of this teenager. I challenge you to think about what your next steps could be to help make amazing life altering changes to our ministries.  Then #GoDoBe.

Written by Teresa Goodnight

Natalie Stitt’s article has already touched so many. We’ve had families thanking us for approaching the subject both for schools and for churches. It’s opened my mind beyond where God started me. I pray with this little story God inspires you to move into action. It’s really that simple.

Forming a ministry for those who are differently abled is incredibly difficult. Right?

Wrong.

Few things could be further from the truth. Our two-part series with Natalie’s senior thesis challenges us all on our role as the Church (and as Christian Schools) to go into the community and seek out those with disabilities to bring them to God.

Job 29:15 (NLT) says, “I served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame.” The Bible is full of references to God’s heart for those with any kind of physical or mental needs. However, many of us have unknowingly created a world where they don’t seem to belong. Does that even sound right when you read it? Not in a Church called to reach the least of these, it doesn’t.

There are scattered churches in our area, who have made wonderful efforts towards reaching these souls for Christ. However, as Natalie referenced in her thesis, the needs of those with a handicap of some kind aren’t really “special.” They have needs just like any of us—to be loved, included, cared for, part of the Body of Christ. So many people believe a lie Satan puts in their minds that ministering to those who are crippled in some way is difficult. Eastland Assembly is one church who has proven otherwise for 26 years now.

“Eastland’s ministry started with puppets at Hissom Memorial Center (a residential training facility for mentally disabled children).” shared LaDonna Harper, who now has the reigns for the ministry with her husband, Al Harper. She went on, “The church launched the ministry with Jason Couch, one little member. It grew quite quickly by word of mouth. It has been steady ever since.”

Jason was an autistic boy. He was also the pastor’s son. If we think about the newfound awareness for autism we have these days—it’s better than it was, but still very misunderstood by most. So, 26 years ago, it was really a shot in the dark to begin this ministry. LaDonna said, “Since then, we have 150–170 people each Sunday who attend the service. That includes caregivers. We have about 100 people or so with special needs, but we also have the 75 or so caregivers. That’s a captive audience, because the caregivers bring them to ­services at their request.” LaDonna continued, “Most of the ministry on Sunday mornings for the service is done with songs. You talk about pure praise. It is just beautiful.” When she mentioned the caregivers attending services, being fed the Gospel, it even further opened my heart as to why this ministry is so critical to a church in their efforts to reach the world for Christ.

LaDonna said, “There are separate services but sometimes we bring both groups together with our regular service. Those in the 0–21 category attend the regular children’s and teen programs. They would have someone from our church with them full time if they needed someone from the church or they might have their own caregiver. The adults have their own class.” In Eastland’s program, the parents get a needed break with their children being so well cared for in the classes. Just a little extra attention really ministers to the entire family when you think about it. All parents know parenting is incredible, but a little break goes a long way. When a child has a disability, that can be even more true. It’s really a ministry to so many different people when you think about it.

LaDonna explained, “We use the ‘Action Bible’ chronologically with the Bible stories. It looks like a comic book, but it’s amazing. We just go through it with them.” LaDonna said, “Sunday school at 9:15 and 10:00 service so that they can have their meds at noon. That’s about the biggest bit of advice we have, because everything else is just holding a regular kind of service. That timing gives them room to get back to their facilities and homes for the medication.”

One other tip LaDonna had was to skip the donuts. LaDonna laughed, “We used to have a larger Sunday school when I brought donuts. It did get them out of bed, but the sugar affects their behavior so much. That leaves their staff dealing with those impacts when they get back. So, we steer clear of the donuts now to create the right situation for everyone.”

LaDonna shared, “We have parties for holidays like the 4th of July and of course we have a big Christmas party. We give them gifts. Sometimes that’s the only gift they get. Many are wards of the state. They are aged from their early 20’s to 75 or so. Actually, half of our congregation has been here the whole 26 years.”

We give them gifts. Sometimes that’s the only gift they get. 

I was in awe of what LaDonna was doing. However, realizing she had ZERO training in special needs ministry or education was the biggest surprise. LaDonna said, “We decided to fill in when the team left the church to try to help other churches start ministries like ours. I would come in and sing, but I didn’t really think about being part of the ministry. My husband is an engineer. We just never thought about this ministry. It’s been an amazing journey. Most people that come see them in worship can’t watch without crying. My mother in law was Presbyterian and is now Baptist. She just sits down and cries at the service. It’s something to see.”

LaDonna shared, “There are many times when you go through struggles in life. Sundays are more like salvation for my husband and I. I know that Jesus truly is our salvation, but there’s so much love
in this service; it just gives you a peace
for the rest of the things going on in
your life.”

It’s quite beautiful and contrary to popular belief, quite simple. That’s really the message here. Of course, there will be challenges once in a while, like with any ministry. However, if your church isn’t doing it—then maybe God is calling you to be the one to get the ball rolling? Maybe? It may not be anything you’ve ever even thought about before reading this article. However, if you drop in on Eastland Assembly for one service and take a tour, it might ignite your heart with fire you never even knew were burning inside of you. God certainly lit LaDonna and Al with a fiery passion, equipping them with exactly what they needed to bless these families. #GoDoBe

LaDonna Harper invites people from other churches to come check out their services to get ideas and inspiration on what you might be able to do at your church. Their door is always open. She said, “I’m not worried if someone starts another ministry that we lose attendees. If the new location is closer to them, then it’s better for them. This is about what’s best for them.” Stop by one Sunday. See if this might be the God has prepared in advance for YOU to do.

Written by Teresa Goodnight

“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”

Proverbs 22:6, New Living Translation (NLT)

I attended a basics of Christianity class with my four-year old daughter at Jenks First Baptist one Sunday evening. It was fascinating to watch her listen so intently. I had the opportunity to explain our faith with the teacher as he went. The event moved me to tears, because outside of our Bible readings at home—that was the first time in her life that we had the opportunity to experience this kind of class together in a church setting. Why was that? It struck me funny. Why hadn’t we had that opportunity before? Was it not a good idea?

Before I finished my thoughts, I saw my daughter’s hand shoot straight up to answer a question. Honestly, I didn’t even hear the question. She must’ve been the youngest one in the class, but to my surprise—he called on her. I was a bit petrified. We didn’t discuss it. What would she say? Wow. She nailed it. I realized things we taught her before armed her with the answer like attending youth church, reading her Bible for Kids (It’s the YouVersion Kid’s Bible with activities—you have GOT to get the free app if you don’t have it for phones and tablets!) So, some of what we had been doing was working! It’s nice when that happens. However, the class really challenged me that I was not understanding how much “Jesus teaching” she was ready to absorb. She left wanting more of it. So did I.

Somehow, the way we do church separately, I was missing some great opportunities to strengthen her. It just never occurred to me. Part of that is because most churches keep everyone in the right box. Married. Single. Kids. Teens. It’s kind of a given that it’s a right thing to do to group together on these levels. However, it shouldn’t be the ONLY ways we are engaging with our kids during church I think. (case in point!)

Why weren’t there more opportunities to engage together in discipling our children hand in hand with the church? I wondered, have some of the churches forgotten (with me!) how much these kids are ready to absorb? Are there studies out there showing kids learn better in environments with their parents sometimes? Maybe we should mix more of these opportunities into their path on purpose?

In that short time, we took the kids from 0 to 60 on the “What’s this Christian stuff all about” gage. From Adam and Eve and the fall to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We tackled it point by point with a nice picture we drew together. Jesus was God’s son. We drew out on paper diagrams to show that no matter how good we are as men and women—that we fall short of God’s perfect standard. We talked clearly about God coming to us because we could never bridge the gap. We only connected to God through grace, accepting Jesus Christ as our savior. I’d bet that many of the parents learned (or were reminded) of a few things along the way as well. After all, those basics like salvation by grace and not by works are some of the things that trip us up most! My spirit was on fire with the concept that felt so new to me.

Then, just few Sundays later, we had a blended service at church for families. My daughter came into the service with us. She sang worship songs with us. I was so thankful to God—sharing worship with my husband and my baby girl. This moment praising God together was seared into my heart forever. When they played “Raise a Hallelujah” for the Fall’s Creek video segment, she sang loud enough to be heard for rows around us. Everyone around smiled. She fell in love with the song in the Easter play at Victory Christian Center. My husband has been very intentional about filling her with great Christian music, and it is working. This big people song pierced the heart of my little girl. She said, “Mom—I totally know why they used that song when Jesus rose from the dead that day in that play.”

As if God needed to poke me harder on the matter, during worship she whispered in my ear, “Mommy—I’m sorry I kicked at your arm in the car.” She was frustrated at something in the car, and from her car seat reached as far as she could with her foot to shove my arm. She had been immediately disciplined of course, but in the midst of worshipping our God—His Spirit was alive and active with her. She whispered again, “I’m not going to be mean anymore either.” She hugged me more times than I can count. I held her as the worship continued. We swayed back and forth in the presence of our almighty King together. It was such a beautiful moment of confession, repentance and learning in the presence of our God. My heart once again just couldn’t contain both my joy and my thoughts on why this interaction was so important.

When worship ended, with a blank piece of paper and crayons given to us at the door for her, she began to draw. The sermon began. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to her doodles. I looked down about 15 minutes later. There it was. She recreated the image from our basics of our faith lesson several weeks back. She drew the chasm between us and God with Jesus connecting it. She drew the cross. She drew the tomb. She even included the arrows going in and out of the tomb. She whispered to me and explained every bit of it. She didn’t need to explain it. I knew exactly what it was. I looked at my husband. Tears filled my eyes again. God had my full attention on the matter.

Watching God working in her heart and growing her into His child—it took my breath away. In some ways it boosted my own faith, watching the sweetness of Him moving in her in ways she understood. It felt right to be there with her. From here forward, I know these kinds of interactions need to be part of her world. They need to be part of my world. God absolutely wanted me to see all that He could do. He wanted me to experience a glimpse into what He experiences when we learn things, when we respond to His spirit, when we flat out nail it.

So, why am I sharing this story with you?

I was reminded in a beautiful way, one I won’t soon forget, how important sharing these kinds of experiences with our children can be. My hope is that by telling you about our experience, that you will seek out your own experiences like these. I don’t think they are always going to just happen. I think we need to be intentional with them. You can even help your church start offering them.

There is power in a basic discipleship class, teaching our children the foundations of our faith. It meant more doing it together—for both of us. She paid attention more. She was eager to show me what she remembered and learned. It was Jesus-centered discipleship with my baby girl. And, best of all? It was really simple to make happen.

What kinds of action steps did we take?

Well, we decided to dedicate a lot of space this issue to discipling our children. We sought out some examples of that kind of discipleship to share with you.

Other steps? We started a new LifeGroup (Bible Study) at our church inviting parents and children to take the journey together for 6-8 weeks. The focus? Discipleship 101 with our kiddos. It’s a great way to teach the children. It’s also a safe way to help newer believers to become solid in the basics of their faith with their children. It’s one easy way parents can grow with their kids in the basics of our faith in a safe, fun environment.

What actions could you take? Whatever you do, don’t just put it off. I’m a full time mom with a high maintenance rugrat. What we put off until tomorrow—well, that tomorrow becomes next week, next month, next year. These kids are only little for so long. They only embrace such interactions with excitement for so long. If you need help? Send me a note at teresa@communityspiritmagazine.com and I’ll sign you up for a class we are putting together to teach others these basics in a way they can share them!

If you’re already engaged? Incredible! Send your tips on disciplining children to us. We’d love to publish and share more ideas! It’s too important for their walk with Christ to miss the chance while we have it.