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School's Out—For Bible Lessons

Jim Roberts



FILLING A PUBLIC SCHOOL NEED
It snowed the week Janet Magee launched her character education series. Her goal was to bring 200 children with disabilities from a local public school to her church for a special Christmas program. But in Texas, snow's a big thing. It was bigger than Magee anticipated. With the school closed, the principal sent all 2,000 students to her church!

Fourteen years later, Life Vision is thriving with 32,000 kids attending in Harlingen, Texas, and a startup with 3,000 students in neighboring Brownsville. Magee, a children's ministry veteran and retired executive director of Life Vision, is writing a workbook so communities across the country can use this program under the protection of time-release education.

"This is a fabulous way to bring children into God's house," she says. "Instead of being someone they fear, we have an opportunity to be their best friends."
Magee describes Life Vision as "an umbrella." Several ministries, including a Christmas program, drug prevention programs on school campuses, and character education, take place under the same outreach. "We may have events where we never quote a Bible verse, but we'll certainly present biblical principles," she says.

Slowly establishing trust with local schools, Magee strove to be a blessing to the public system. Feedback that Life Vision requests from school authorities keeps its leaders aware of how they can support the school. "Find out what the needs are and build a program around it," encourages Magee. For example, she wrote a lesson plan on character development after a school requested one.

Not only is Magee working within a public system, secular groups support her financially as well. The local hospital and newspaper as well as attorneys, doctors, and plumbers sponsor Life Vision's annual Christmas program.

"They know they're giving to something good that they can have some confidence in," Magee says. "They know that they're giving to something that benefits children."

"Our lowest expectation for our program would be that children are able to go inside a church building, have a wonderful experience, and know that church is a happy, fun place," says Magee. "Even if they don't go to church as a family, they're going to have good memories. We hope that when it's up to them to get themselves to church, they'll want to go."

"Our highest expectation," Magee continues, "is that the students will go home with an element of character education, and that they'll also go home with the real meaning of Christmas."

Magee attributes her program's success to paying strict attention to the law's limitations and the will of the Holy Spirit. Instead of looking at partnering with schools as a one-time opportunity, she worked on building a good relationship with the schools. She says, "The downfall for a lot of ministries that have lost favor with public schools is that these ministries have gone in with their guns loaded. They think, Well, this is our one shot, so I'm going to give them a big dose of Christianity. Really, you're there to plant seeds. Someone else is going to water, and someone else is going to reap that."

-Lidonna Beer

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