Official news source of the Assemblies of God
As members of a New Mexico church have made it a priority to take an active role in the lives of kids in their rural community, God has opened up opportunities for ministry in the public school system.
According to Pastor Dereck S. Owen of First Assembly of God in Tucumcari — which has a population of only 5,000 — at least 90 percent of the students in the local high school have been involved with the church’s Wednesday night youth ministry programs at some point.
Owen, who has been on the pastoral staff for 16 years, first as youth minister, says he attributes this in large part to congregants being actively engaged in the community. Just in the school alone, church members have written encouraging notes to teachers, driven cheerleaders to games, attended extracurricular events, and treated the football team to a movie.
“We just want to be involved and active and let them know that we’re here for people,” says Owen. “We need to get into their world so they’ll continue to come into ours.”
Each Wednesday night, the church draws as many as 80 middle school and high school kids, as well as about 60 elementary pupils, many of whom don’t attend First Assembly. More than 20 people from the church, which has 300 adherents, volunteer as mentors for students and meet with smaller cell groups to counsel and teach youth.
High school teacher Mike Russell is one of those mentors. He meets with 15 to 20 boys during youth group to work on a Bible lesson and talks to the guys about what’s going on in their lives.
Some of the mentors connect with the youth throughout the week. Russell says he sees many of the church kids in his classes or in the halls, and it opens up opportunities to continue to further shape them.
“I just try to be a Christ-like example,” Russell says.
Russell says as students and administrators have seen the love of Christ shining through some of the students and teachers, it’s opened the door for ministry. He has been able to host a Bible study in his classroom and has been asked to pray before he coaches baseball games.
As those from First Assembly have built relationships in the community, they’ve become a trusted resource.
Owen was called by the school principal to counsel students and faculty after a member of the youth group was killed in a car accident. The principal invited the pastor to say whatever he felt led to during a student assembly. Owen returned to counsel others in the days following the tragedy, visiting with a steady stream of students and faculty.
Forming relationships with students has opened up doors to impact entire families, according to Owen.
“Nothing speaks to the hearts of parents and grandparents quite like touching the heart of their children,” Owen says.