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Off-campus Bible class booster seeks to lessen students’ fear of calamity

LUBBOCK, Texas (BP)–The leader of a move to bring off-campus biblically based instruction to public school students in Texas received her inspiration from a Southern Baptist periodical.

While in a hospital waiting room, Barbara Mandry read an article about released time education, which appeared in LifeWay Christian Resources’ HomeLife magazine in September 1998. Several months later, she and her husband were shocked by the student massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Mandry, who was already active with a grief support organization, felt released time classes could make an excellent preventive measure to prevent further sorrow among students.

“We see a great connection to the ministry we’ve been involved in,” said the founder of SONshine Promises, which was organized in 1994. “We’ve seen a lot of heartache. Our hearts were affected by Columbine.”

Her group’s emphasis had been on grief support, through a series of 16-week peer support groups. They use curriculum she wrote based on God’s promises from the Bible.

But last May, the group set up “The Nehemiah Project” to organize released time education in the Lubbock area. It also pledged to provide resources and training for other Texas communities wanting this form of Christian education. The organization’s Internet site is sonshinepromises.com.

However, Mandry’s first attempt in behalf of released time education didn’t succeed. First proposed to the Frenship Independent School District last July, it was discussed for six months.

The board voted it down last January in spite of unanimous support from parents and students who spoke at the meeting, Mandry said.

Despite the setback, the member of The Springs United Methodist Church was encouraged by the widespread support from the Christian community.

That included a letter of endorsement from Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which was helpful in approaching Southern Baptist churches, she said.

After one board member said he hadn’t heard anything about the released time proposal, church members and parents flooded the board with calls and letters, she recounted. A group of citizens also packed the meeting room for the final discussion and vote.

She plans to continue the battle. She has worked with a group from Littlefield, Texas, where an informational session was held April 2 at Trinity Fellowship Church.

She is also working with groups of parents and concerned Christians from Amarillo and the Idalow School District located 15 miles east of Lubbock.

“The Scripture, ‘My people perish for lack of knowledge,’ applies here,” Mandry said. “People don’t think it can happen here. We need to share the good things that are happening in places like Virginia and California.

“Virginia has been doing it for 49 years, with 95 percent participation. Now, if we could just get folks from Texas to catch this vision. The more we share with folks and tell them about this, the more say they want to be a part of it.”

One reason for her concern comes from her contact with children at a Wednesday night children’s class she teaches at her church.

At a recent session, students’ prayer requests concerned their fears of such possible calamities as being shot at school or hearing other teens threatening to use a bomb to blow up the building.

“Talk to the kids for a few minutes,” she said. “This is on their mind.”

Ann Bennett had a similar experience when she taught a group of eighth-graders during a one-year pilot project at a middle school in Kingsport, Tenn. The school board there voted not to continue with released time after the 1997-98 school year.

The member of Indian Springs Baptist Church said she heard such prayer requests as:

— “My brother tried to commit suicide last night and is in the hospital.”

— “I’ve got a boyfriend and I’m having sexual temptations.”

— “Pray for my daddy. He’s drinking himself to death.”

“You can’t have that in a counseling session,” she said. “We had 43 students sign up for class out of 75 (eighth-graders) in the school. I saw how hungry these kids were. When there is an established released time program, 90 percent of the students will participate.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker