EL CAJON, Calif. (BP)–Cindy Wilcken warned the congregation at Shadow Mountain Community Church that she might cry as she addressed them on Sunday evening, April 15. Her audience laughed when she told them that her third grade students at Logan Elementary School know to expect a few tears from her whenever she tells them stories about her family and other people who are dear to her. And as she spoke to Shadow Mountain, Wilcken cried a few tears of gratitude on behalf of those students, whose lives she says have been impacted by a single day of service.
Three weeks earlier, on the morning of Saturday, March 24, more than 500 volunteers from Shadow Mountain arrived at Logan Elementary. They came ready to paint, clean, landscape, hang banners, plant a vegetable garden, build soccer goals, and tackle any other project that needed to be done. The day was an opportunity to put into action the church’s Signs of Life campaign, a six-week series of teaching focused on living like Jesus, with dusty shoes, worn-out knees, rolled-up sleeves, open hands and outstretched arms.
Several months ago, the church, led by Pastor David Jeremiah, approached the San Diego Unified School District with the idea of an “extreme makeover” for a local school. Shadow Mountain is located in El Cajon, in the eastern part of San Diego County, but the church was interested in reaching out to a different part of the city.
“We were challenged by Dr. Jeremiah to find an opportunity that was far enough away from us that we could experience giving away a gift of that nature,” said David St. John, who directs Shadow Mountain’s pastoral ministries and served as one of the event’s organizers. “We looked outside of our community for the purpose of expanding our sense of call, and to eliminate from the experience the barriers that are so often about protecting our own interest.”
Logan Elementary, located in an impoverished neighborhood near downtown San Diego, impressed church leaders with a commitment to excellence and to its students. In the weeks leading up to the makeover, the congregation heard from school leaders, including Shadow Mountain member and Logan Elementary counselor Danielle Stilwell, who referred to the school as a “security blanket” for its students. By reaching out to the school through the makeover, Stilwell said, Shadow Mountain had a great opportunity to enhance that security blanket.
Working with different business people within the church, Shadow Mountain gathered the materials needed for the makeover. New signs and pennants, concrete, office furniture, paint, turf — all were donated or offered at a deep discount. And when the call for volunteers went out, there were too many responses and not enough space at Logan. But the hundreds of volunteers who offered help after the cap was set still had an opportunity to serve. After the majority of the makeover work was done in the morning, 2,000 people, including volunteers and the Logan community, joined for a celebration in a neighborhood park. The event offered food, live music and a thank-you from San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who complimented the effort by the church and the community to work together. Boxes of food and personal care items also were distributed through partnering ministry Feed the Children.
The makeover and celebration were about exhibiting “signs of life,” living in such a way that the church is focused outwardly. In the days leading up to the project and during the event, Shadow Mountain’s media ministry team collected video footage to create a documentary that the church hopes will help other churches that want to reach into their communities. In the documentary, Jeremiah explains how the Logan Elementary outreach is meant to help reverse a trend that separates churches from the people who surround them.
“This is what the church is all about,” Jeremiah said. “For so long, we’ve thought the church was what happened when we all got together in a building on Sunday, but this is the way the church is supposed to function.”
At the close of the documentary, after several minutes of footage of painting and cleaning and serving, new faces come into view. They are smiling, laughing, excited faces. The students of Logan Elementary probably had no idea what their school would look like after the makeover, but Shadow Mountain’s cameras caught their reaction when they returned after the weekend. Principal Antonio Villar says the impact made on his students isn’t something that can be measured:
“They will remember that Monday morning for the rest of their lives.”