Lessons in Faith: Bible Club Puts God Back in School

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BOSTON -- Opportunities keep popping up for one of the world's biggest student Bible clubs in a public school. And the club's adviser is giving some of the credit to CBN News for stories in the past that have let the outside world see how fun and exciting such a club can be for students.

Two-thirds of the student body at Redbank Valley High School in small town New Bethlehem, Pa., rush to the club's meetings held in the public school's auditorium one day a week.

Club adviser Joe Harmon and past president, Doug Gundlach, recently traveled to Boston, where churches, parents and students asked if the two men could share suggestions on how to create and sustain such wildly successful Bible clubs throughout the Boston area.

Some 500 Bostonians gathered at a largely Hispanic church in the Chelsea area to take in what the Pennsylvanians had to share.

Harmon has been the Redbank club's adviser since it started and believes its success can be copied anywhere.

"I think kids are kids no matter where they are," the history teacher and creator of SchoolBibleClub.com told CBN News. "I think they can be motivated to learn the Bible in the same way in rural Pennsylvania or in the big city of Boston."

Playing Disciples, Winds and Waves

The Redbank club puts on lively presentations and wacky skits to keep their meetings fun and appealing.
    
For instance, Harmon and Gundlach had Boston kids young and old acting out the story of Jesus walking on the water. But not only did the kids play Jesus and the disciples, they became the boat, the waves and the winds, too.

In the process, they also communicated Bible truths about faith and obedience.

One of the reasons the Bostonians want to start Bible clubs in their public schools is to help counteract the sense of despair, fear and sadness that's hit many students in the wake of the December 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

"So their vision was to create clubs throughout New England," Harmon said.

After Gundlach and Harmon gave their action-packed presentation, Harmon said he was hopeful the Bostonians would act.

"Take this and get excited and use the gifts that God's given them to do a Bible club in their own schools," Harmon said.

Reaching the Un-Churched

Harmon feels it can fill a vital need in New England, the most un-churched region of America.

He said students fortunate enough to have such a club, "...get the Word of God in their school, which is largely absent unless there is a Christian-themed club there."

Wakefield, Mass., student Sabrina Boelho seemed to agree.

After laughing along with the many skits and acts the Pennsylvanians had her fellow students doing and being inspired by their faith, Boelho came away ready to create a club in her own high school.

"I want to do that," Boelho said, adding that her student body is desperately under-churched. "When I ask people in school about God, nobody knows."

Chelsea High School student Gisselle Sauceda also plans to start a club, but is sober about its chances for success.

"I don't know if people are going to want to join it," she told CBN News. "But it's worth a try."

Making Church Fun

Sauceda said she wants to show fellow students a life with God can be exciting "because there are a lot of people who don't go to church because it's so strict or they say 'Oh, church is boring.'"

"But there are ways to make church fun," she asserted.

Still, in a time when many Americans believe the U.S. Supreme Court tossed God and prayer out of the public schools, some of these Bostonian parents and students wondered whether Bible clubs would be a defiant flouting of the separation of church and state.

"We're not trying to incite these kids to go back and be rebellious youth," Harmon said. "I just talked to a student earlier who said his teacher told him to put the Bible away -- he wasn't allowed to have it, even to carry around in school."

"I told him, 'You still respect and obey your teacher. However, legally, you are allowed to carry your Bible around in school. It's okay,'" Harmon said.

Educating School Administrators

Harmon said some resistant school administrations may just need a bit of gentle "schooling" about what the law says they must allow.
 
"These students here in Boston and students across America have the right to have Bible clubs," he stated.
 
But that's not what the fictional principal and teachers in the new Christian film "Uncommon" believe. They bully students trying to do a Bible study and a play based on the Bible.

As the principal states in one scene, "There cannot and will not be any Bible activities on the premises of Rosewood High School."

Actor Erik Estrada, made famous by the 1970s "C.H.I.P.S." TV series and now starring in JCFilms' "Uncommon," wanted to bring his new movie to Redbank Valley High School because it gets law and liberty so right, as compared to the film's fictional school that ends up in court trying to stifle its students' religious rights.

Consequently, Estrada brought "Uncommon" to Redbank for a Friday night showing packed by a sold-out crowd of Redbank students and their parents.

Fighting for the Faith

Estrada said Christian students have to know their rights and stand up for them.

"If a teacher says to them 'You can't pray at lunch. You can't pray at graduation. You can't wear that t-shirt that says 'Jesus Loves You,' they can say 'up your nose with a rubber hose. I'm going to pray,'" he stated.

In the film, Estrada's character and students he advises ask for the help of lawyer Mat Staver, head of Liberty Counsel, a real-life legal group defending religious rights across America.

In the movie, Staver plays himself and pleads the students' case in court:

"Freedom forms the very foundation of our rights, your rights, the rights of students in public school," he says in one scene. "The school officials must respect that freedom. Freedom is not freedom if you're forced to exercise it in private."

The judge in the movie rules the school is wrong and the students can go ahead with both their play and Bible study.

"Uncommon" Path for Student's Song

Redbank's Student Bible Club member Rachel Hook heard the movie was coming for a special showing to New Bethlehem and wrote her own song about Christian kids in schools, calling it "Uncommon."

One of the movie's producers heard the song, had Rachel record it professionally, and it will be on the film's soundtrack. You can hear it at http://Uncommonmovie.com/</A>'>Uncommonfilm.com  or here.

Hook performed the song at Redbank the night the film showed, singing of her fellow students' faith, "If one heart was touched their work was done. They were uncommon, just a bunch of kids that decided to follow Him -- uncommon, changing lives because of Jesus Christ. And you could see the light in them; they were uncommon."

"I just wrote it for myself," Hook said of the song. "I didn't even think my family would hear it."

Not "A Godless Vacuum"

At Redbank, Estrada had high praise for students like Hook and their school.

"It's nice to be in a school that is not a godless vacuum.  It is a school where God is absolutely loved," he told CBN News.

Meanwhile, Redbank's Bible club continues its interesting odyssey: a Hollywood star flying thousands of miles to present his new film of faith and its representatives traveling hundreds of miles to show Bostonians how to do their own student Bible clubs.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.