By Carl Stagner
There wasn’t much time to respond, but there was no question what had to be done. When public school teachers in Arizona went on strike beginning on Thursday, April 26, the church community didn’t hesitate. Uninterested in taking sides or entering the political fray, the church saw their role as simply ministry. For the single parent who must work during the school day, the church was there. For the student who relies on the school for daily sustenance, the church was there. For a community divided, the church was there with a message of hope. With no certain end to the teacher walkout in sight (as of Tuesday, May 1), Church of God congregations were among those hardest at work to meet the needs of their neighbors.
From 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon during the walkout, Mountain Park Church in Phoenix, the church that hosted the Regional Convention in mid-April, is now hosting local elementary-age students affected by the walkout. Middle school and high school students are affected, as well, but the greatest need for childcare are the elementary students. Middle school and high school students aren’t left out, though. They’re encouraged to sign up as volunteers. “Walkout Camp” isn’t your ordinary VBS, and it’s not even summer yet! But throughout the day, Mountain Park and community volunteers have come together to put on a quality program, featuring sports activities, games, STEM activities, and time for reading and homework. The camp is 100-percent free to all who need it, though donations of snacks and other essentials have been encouraged.
Kimberly Tussing, children’s ministry director, has been at the helm of the entire operation. “One of our core values as a church is to make a difference by sharing God’s love in tangible ways, and this was a clear way that we could do that,” she explains. “For many families in our community, caring for a child who can’t go to school (in this case, because of the teacher walkout), means a loss of income because someone has to stay home from work. That can make things difficult for parents, especially single parents. Because we don’t know how long the walkout will last, it’s hard to estimate just how much it might cost families. It was very short notice, but we have been blessed with the space needed to care for kids, as well as volunteers willing to step up immediately and offer help.”
One of the side benefits has been the communication of the love of God through his people. “This camp allows us to introduce ourselves to people in our community who might not ever come on a Sunday,” Kimberly explains. “In other words, people who are really skeptical of faith get to see that we aren’t so scary, that we are here to love on their families, and that they will be welcomed with open arms.”
Mountain Park is blessed with leaders and volunteers who are ready to help when called upon. They’ve done a wide variety of community ministry over the years, but this one was certainly unusual, to say the least. “Obviously, we don’t typically run camps like this, so we didn’t pull a pre-made formula out of a box to put this together,” Kimberly explains. “Our staff was eager and willing to give up time on Friday and Saturday (days they usually have off) to do what was needed to make this happen.” Kimberly also cites a volunteer culture cultivated at Mountain Park, even among youth. From an early age, students are believed in and encouraged to play an active role in ministry.
In Maricopa, Arizona, our Church of God congregation was also poised to do what was necessary to meet the needs that have accompanied the walkout. By partnering with other churches in the community, Community of Hope was blessed to be able to provide volunteers to help care for students in need. “We are constantly working with the schools, so this sounded like another great way to serve,” Pastor Rusty Akers explains.
Among other congregations in the Church of God and beyond, Central Christian Church, based in Mesa, is also addressing the need, but in a slightly different fashion. The church, where Regional Convention 2018 featured speaker Jeff Whye serves as an associate campus pastor, is collecting and distributing snack packs to families with children who qualify for free and reduced lunches. They see it as just another way to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus Christ in their community.
As teacher walkouts have affected states like Arizona and Colorado, thank you for your prayers for all the students, teachers, churches, and government officials involved.
In Arizona, across North America, and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Reach our world. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.