Pictured: Pastor Sandra Tracy, Mary Grace Harper, and Doug Kramer at the Java Creek coffee shop inside Otter Creek Assembly of God Church. All proceeds go toward providing resources through school partnerships and other missions outreaches.
The Vital Families in Schools Initiative is about churches partnering with schools to strengthen families through moving from a project orientation to a relationship-building one. It is through relationships that ongoing encouragement and support can happen, and that lives are transformed.
One church, Otter Creek Assembly of God in Little Rock, illustrates that well through the intentional way that they interact with their partner schools and the families within them. Senior Pastor John Tracy’s wife, Pastor Sandra Tracy, and Mary Grace Harper, a former school teacher who now works at the church, engage others in the congregation to provide support and connection to families in need.
The church has gone from donating supplies en masse to schools to an approach of being more intentional and holistic in serving families within the school. Pastor Sandra says, “We don’t know the families’ needs, but the teachers know the needs. So, we reach out to the teachers in our congregation, the counselors at the schools, and the Parent Resource Center to hear about specific things that are needed.” But, they don’t stop there. They are about connecting with the families they serve as well. She continues, “You can meet a need, ‘give them a fish,’ but if you touch their heart, God can do things we can’t even imagine.”
One couple was dealing with an elementary-aged daughter who was having gender confusion and had asked her teacher to call her by a male name. The mother was looking for support and began attending the church, sharing her daughter’s struggle with some in the church. As they prayed for the family and the young girl, and consistently loved them well, and spoke truth about the little girl’s identity to her, she began to blossom and came to know and be excited about her identity in Christ. In fact, as students in her classroom were asked to share what they had done for their Easter break, she told her fellow classmates, “Easter bunnies are fine, but the truth of Easter is the crucifixion and Jesus dying for us.” She went on to invite any of the classmates who wanted to hear more about Jesus’ love to talk to her on the playground. The father was even baptized at the church, and the family is now fully engaged with their new church family.
Through the church’s relationship with school leaders, they were made aware of a family who had no heat over a Christmas break. They were able to work to have their HVAC unit fixed – meeting a critical need and showing love as they connected with the family.
A “Reach Week” in the summer was hosted by the church. It was a sports camp in the evenings focused on basketball with a member who is a highly-skilled former basketball player teaching drills to students, with fun elements like a DJ and trophies earned, along with life lessons taught each evening. Mary Grace Harper says, “In outreach, it is so important to delegate. When you find something that someone is passionate about, it runs itself!” They continue to seek to have opportunities to host activities, like chess and basketball, which are fun for kids and allow opportunities for connection and relationship building.
Speaking of moving away from a project-based focus to a more relational one, Pastor Sandra says, “A lot of times we (as churches) can use those mission dollars, and give things, and feel good, but it’s about touching their hearts.” That involves intentionality and a long-term commitment.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Vital Families in Schools Initiative, please email Mary Carol Pederson at email@example.com.