When Faith and Education Collide: Illinois Church Invests in Local School
By Carl Stagner
Cannon Elementary School is exactly one mile from Community Church of God in Danville, Illinois. One mile was just too close to ignore the ten-mile long list of difficulties a school faces from year to year. A couple of years ago, the Holy Spirit placed a burden on the hearts of the missions team at Community to begin reaching out to the faculty, students, and staff of Cannon Elementary. Today, the school has come to recognize that if they are in need, the church is available. Now the church has discovered that the school is there for them, too.
Jeremy Zerkle serves as senior pastor of Community. Though he’s only been at Community for three-and-a-half- years, he’s witnessed God’s hand at work in some incredible ways within the congregation and the surrounding community. While he and his wife Jessica pursued further education at Asbury, they were inspired by the community outreach efforts of Grant Horner, then pastor of Eastland Church of God in Lexington, Kentucky. Eastland chose to invest in their local school, and after broadening the missions efforts of Community Church of God in Danville, Jeremy now leads a similar effort today. It all began with giving every teacher a gift at the beginning of the schoolyear and at Christmastime.
“We just wanted to say that we know you’re on the front lines with these kids,” Jeremy explains. “We told them we just wanted to come alongside them. We want to not just be a community church by name, but a community church by reputation.” Soon the church was offering lunch to the faculty in the break room, and the serving and the loving only escalated from there.
“We got a call from the music teacher saying they’d really like to have drums for their students,” Jeremy recalls. “Of course drums are really expensive, but she asked if we could provide five-gallon buckets to help them practice.” The church responded by donating more than fifty five-gallon buckets. It was a joy for Jeremy to hear the students practice, but what was really amazing took place about one year later.
“A year later, she called us back and asked if they could come and do a concert at our church. My thought was that there’s no way that a school can do this! But they did. Not long after this past Easter, they came and brought their students and those five-gallon buckets—on a Sunday morning! They played their drums, sang a few songs, and several parents came, too.” It was an Ephesians 3:20 moment for Jeremy Zerkle.
The church has continued to reach out to the school, including providing resources for uniforms for 293 students, most of whom are from low-income homes. The school hasn’t kept quiet about the church, either. “They’ve never been ‘hush-hush’ about our involvement,” Jeremy explains. “It’s just now starting to be that, when we come to the school, they all recognize us. We’re trying to communicate that these are opportunities to show the community we’re invested here. We want to grow this relationship. These aren’t just dollars.”
Then the tables were turned. In a demonstration of gratitude for the church’s investment in the school, the principle led an effort for the staff and students to give back to the church. At the church’s work day, faculty and staff showed up to help clean up the property, inside and out. Faith and education had collided in a beautiful display of what community really means.
On another encouraging front, Jeremy and Jessica Zerkle continue to champion the cause of CHOG TraffickLight. Much of the material Church of God congregations utilized for Freedom Sunday 2015 were developed by Jessica. She and her husband have had a heart for the world and especially the enslaved for many years. From the publicizing dangers and warning signs, to communicating the very real connection of pornography to sex trafficking, Jeremy and Jessica are “all in” when it comes to the fight for freedom. But CHOG TraffickLight is just one of many ways they’re connected to the collective ministries of the Church of God.
“It can be so destructive when we isolate ourselves, when we become like silos,” Jeremy explains. “Autonomy can sometimes really work against the body of Christ. Working together reminds me that the kingdom of God is so much greater than our church, so much greater than what we are doing alone.”
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