Schools Outreach in Northamptonshire
Wyn Williams, Northampton, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Since 2001 the Lord has been pleased to open up to us a work here in Northampton enabling us to reach schools in the shire with the gospel. By the grace and enabling of God this work has grown over the last four years and continues to grow.
This outreach started with the arrival in March 2001 of the Ayrshire Bible Exhibition as an aid for gospel outreach by the assembly meeting in Spencer Bridge Road. The Exhibition had been held previously in 1999 but as the believers were in employment there was little opportunity to really capitalize on schools’ contacts, but even so as a result of it several schools invited us to do morning assemblies now and then. On this occasion, as previously, we gave additional prizes of Bibles and New Testaments to selected children from each group that came to see the exhibition, making it plain that we would like to go to the school to do the presentations. Taking this additional opportunity of contact with the schools we stated our willingness to support them further by taking assemblies and/or RE lessons. This was only possible because able believers had now retired early and were willing to make a commitment to this work.
Some nine schools agreed that we could come and take assemblies, a few also asked if we would support them by taking RE lessons on specific subjects. Since then two methods of approaching schools have been used. Using existing school contacts as references we write to other schools to offer our ‘services’. When making first written contact with schools it may be worth bearing in mind the following experience; when recipients have seen the words ‘The Gospel Hall’ at the top of the letterhead they have automatically made the erroneous connection to ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (Kingdom Hall) and have discarded the letter. It may be worth adopting a separate title for this work while maintaining the address clearly as ‘The Gospel Hall’. Once a link has been made you will find that teachers will take some time to respond to your letters or phone calls. They are very busy people with a mountain of administration to do so do not be afraid to keep ‘phoning them until you make contact. Most teachers will appreciate this.
We also agreed as an assembly that the Lord would have us schedule the Exhibition on a two-yearly basis. We have found by experience that the largest influence in opening up new schools to us has been teachers commending our service to their colleagues. Also we have found that as teachers that know of the work change schools we get them inviting us to attend their new one as well.
How do we use these opportunities? Usually we simply tell Bible stories, hopefully in a manner that keeps the attention of the pupils. As the children range in ages from four to eleven, this alone can be quite demanding, but we also have teachers and helpers present watching everything we do and say. Occasionally we use some ‘Jungle Doctor’ stories using illustrations from various booklets, with the publisher’s permission. Other visual aids employed are overhead slides, computer presentations via a projector, flash cards, and the object lesson. By far and away the most successful aid is the large version of the Betty Lukens Through the Bible in Felt. This tool really grabs the attention of the pupils of this age range and is also greatly admired by teachers for it’s brilliant colour. This has even been used successfully when taking an assembly of over 500 children.
We do aim to present the gospel, albeit ever so briefly and simply, every time. However, we believe that another important need is met by this work. It quickly became apparent to us that there is a great lack of knowledge of even the very familiar Bible stories. This ignorance is not just amongst the pupils. In telling these stories we hope to show the children that the Bible is worth reading and encourage them at least to try and read the Bible for themselves. Sometimes we are given a ‘theme’ to speak to; it can often become quite a challenge to think of a Bible story to tie in with it!
When taking RE lessons it is usually to a single class or year group and there will be a specific subject to cover. Subjects we have taken range from, ‘My Faith’, through to, ‘What we do at our church’, and ‘The Trinity’. This can be either as single lessons or a series. These lessons always include a time for questions and it is vital that one has a good grasp of the subject as any delay or hesitancy to provide an answer will result in loss of attention from the pupils. It is usual to have to respond to questions on anything to do with the Bible or what we believe, as well as the inevitable questions that are raised by a world that has largely turned its back on our God. This again can be quite challenging and much prayer is needed for wisdom to be given to be able to respond to these demanding situations before such lessons.
How frequently we visit a school depends mainly on the school. This may start off as once per half term but as a relationship builds between us and the staff, or at least the main contact, this can increase. Some schools say they would welcome us every week. Much will depend on how many schools are visited, as school assembly times are not set up to suit us but the demands of the school. We find that Monday and Tuesday mornings are very popular whereas afternoons are much less so.
Having mentioned the importance of relationships it is vital to get to know as many of the staff as possible. Joining them for their breaks is a good way, if invited. Also, as time progresses, attending some of their events such as special assemblies for ‘Leavers’, or ‘Carol Singing’ assemblies. You need to be selective but it does help them to see you as part of their school ‘family’.
So far we have never met opposition as such. Admittedly not all the schools contacted have availed themselves of our services and two schools did not invite us back and no reason was given. At one school, which had a 65% Muslim population, it was suggested to us that in our stories we should not talk about the person and work of Jesus Christ as often as we did. We felt we could work within this constraint but after a few visits, and a change of teacher, the school did not invite us back. At another school we were told that some teachers and pupils had objected to the fact that we said that Christ was the only way to heaven. Our contact did tell us that as a Christian she agreed with us 110% but having to work now within the constraints that apply to our so-called, ‘multi-faith culture’, we could not state this as a blanket statement. However, she helpfully added that as long as we prefaced such remarks with, ‘The Bible says’ or, ‘As a Christian I believe that’ then it was acceptable. This constraint is considered a small price to pay for gaining access to some 250 pupils at this or any other school. These are the only constraints placed on us in reaching, currently, twenty-five schools.
This is a truly open door for us to enter that began by using the Bible Exhibition and inviting schools to come to us. Now, in the Lord’s goodness, we are able to go to them with the gospel.
AUTHOR PROFILE: He serves the Lord as an elder in the Spencer Bridge Road assembly in Nortampton. For the last five years he has been involved in children's work especially working in schools. He is married and has four grown up children.