[SLIDESHOW=51224,51225] CORBIN, Ky. (BP) — The big blue-and-white bus pulls in front of a public elementary school and children come out and step aboard.
The bus has been retrofitted into a portable classroom where children learn truths from the Bible, with the seats taken out and rows of bleachers constructed on each side.
Too good to be true?
It’s happening in southeastern Kentucky’s BREAK ministry, with support from a dozen or more churches collaborating together, including Central Baptist and Immanuel Baptist in Corbin and Main Street Baptist in Williamsburg.
“It’s a tremendous ministry,” Central Baptist pastor Chad Fugitt said. “We support them out of our budget. It has been a blessing for our church to be involved with them. A lot of our people are volunteering.”
Central Baptist children’s pastor Josh Pollitt is one of the teachers and a BREAK board member.
“Here’s our children’s pastor and he’s connecting with a lot of kids that would never come to church,” Fugitt said. “Their parents are not going to bring them to church, but they will let them go to the BREAK ministry.”
Elementary-age students from three school systems — Corbin, Williamsburg and Whitley County — have participated in the BREAK program during the past school year. BREAK is an acronym for the Bible Release-Time Education Association of Kentucky that has been operating since 2006.
Released Time Bible Education gives public school children the opportunity for Bible-based moral instruction as part of their education during the school day. The concept started more than 100 years ago and has been fought through the Supreme Court.
BREAK is legal because 1) students only attend at the request of their parents or guardians, 2) classes cannot be held on school property and 3) it’s not supported by the school in any way.
“We are in the Bible Belt,” said John Lowder, who started the BREAK program with James McDonald. “We are strengthening things that still remain. Trying to do this in San Francisco probably wouldn’t fly.”
Lowder is a member of Central Baptist; McDonald is a Mission Service Corps missionary and pastor of Callihan Baptist Church in Knox County. They met in 2005 at a Bible camp in Richmond, Ky.
Faith & follow-up
Volunteers joined with three different teachers to cover five schools a month from September to April.
Nearly 300 BREAK students expressed interest in being saved, with 201 praying to ask Jesus into their heart.
The next step will be connecting those 201 children to a local church, McDonald said.
Enter the churches sponsoring the program. Fugitt said Central Baptist will be helping follow up with the 200 children and get them connected to a local church.
“This is a ministry outside the local church, but the missionaries and volunteers are all very connected to local churches in the area and most of them are Kentucky Baptist churches,” the pastor said.
The curriculum is drawn from Children’s Evangelism Fellowship resources. Classes normally last less than an hour with about 20 to 25 students per session. They have Bible lessons, fun songs, Bible memory verses and games in a Christ-centered environment.
“This year we did the Ten Commandments,” Pollitt said. “In the last month, we purposely presented the Gospel, and we’re telling them about Jesus all the time. In the last session we gave them the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.”
The students were given a choice between playing the games or responding to the Gospel call, McDonald said.
“If it’s not important enough to give up game time, it’s probably not that important to them,” he said.
“I have no problem telling you that we have done everything we know to do to keep from giving these children a false sense of salvation,” McDonald said, noting that in a number of instances the leaders felt various students weren’t ready.”
Decision cards are used, with one side sharing the ABCs of salvation and the other side being a response card with three options: 1) I am already saved; 2) I want to give my life to Jesus and be saved; and 3) I am not yet ready to give my life to Jesus.
BREAK has chosen to work with students in grades three to six, Lowder said, because “we want to put our resources in the most effective ground. That’s where truly the fields are white for harvest.” The children are old enough to understand the Gospel and being convicted by the Holy Spirit but haven’t yet succumbed to a lot of peer pressure, he said.
In more than 20 years of ministry, McDonald said nothing has been more rewarding.
“There’s a good chance that you’re going to lead five or six kids to the Lord on any given day, [which is] almost unheard of in any ministry situation, and I wasn’t the only one doing it. That’s why we say the public school system is the largest untapped mission field in the country.”
Spreading the word
Lowder, who left a farm and a career in computers when God “literally put this in my heart,” voiced a vision for every Kentucky Baptist church in every community to be a part of a BREAK ministry.
“Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church,” he said. “We see ourselves as part of the church, accountable to the church.”
There was a time in history when Sunday School was not part of the church and many even thought it was wrong, Lowder noted.
“Now we look at Sunday School and it’s everywhere. … The same thing happened with Vacation Bible School and AWANA. … My vision is for the same thing to happen with Bible release time.”
In Manchester, Ky., a philanthropic group that helped children with dental and health needs wanted to add nurture to their spiritual life. The group set up a grant for the BREAK group to hire a bus to take about 100 or more children to a church-owned facility, Lowder said.
In Williamsburg, Main Street Baptist Church is adjacent to the elementary school and students walk to the church for BREAK classes. “The church is embracing it,” Lowder said.
In another instance, Lowder recounted, he was meeting with a group of doctors for a Bible study when one of them asked for prayer in moving into town from the suburbs. Lowder asked if they would consider moving to a property next to Corbin Elementary.
J.D. Blankenship and his wife Janet agreed to the move and became dedicated to the program. When it came time for class, they cleared out their living room and dining room for students a couple of times a week. Janet even became a teacher, Lowder said.
“You can have a house, a bus, transport them to a church or anything else as long as you follow the three guidelines,” he said. “We are the solution, not the problem. It needs to be grassroots.”