Good News Club: First UMC Bakersfield teaching Gospel in public school

February 04, 2015

By Sophia McKenzie
On otherwise ordinary Mondays, the extraordinary happens at Harris Elementary School in Bakersfield, California. At 3 p.m., a group of excited, energetic and smiling students stream into a classroom after school to hear the Gospel and learn about Jesus.

It’s the weekly meeting of the school’s Good News Club, the first of its kind in the Bakersfield City School District. In the next fast-paced hour, the children in grades 1-5 will sing songs, play games, learn scripture, hear a Bible lesson, and pray together. The classroom belongs to Karen Howard, a transitional kindergarten teacher and liaison to the club, which is growing and thriving at the school.
“I think it’s awesome that we can go into a public school and do this,” Howard said on a recent afternoon. “For me, it is such a blessing and a privilege to do this, to share my faith and talk about Jesus in public school,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.
The club is a ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), an organization founded in 1937 to evangelize to children in neighborhood and community settings worldwide. It wasn’t until 2001 that a U.S. Supreme court ruling allowed Good News Clubs to meet in U.S. public schools after school hours on the same terms as other community groups.
First UMC Bakersfield sponsors the Harris Good News Club and was awarded a $750 Peace with Justice grant by the California-Nevada Conference of the UMC in October 2014 to pay for supplies. Katrina Cleveland, the church’s Coordinator of Children’s Ministries, serves as the club’s coordinator, too. Harris Elementary’s Principal, Anne Lopez, had heard about the Good News Club as a teacher and sought to bring the ministry to her school when she became an administrator, Cleveland said. The club started in January 2013 with 10 children meeting in the school library. They outgrew that space by the end of the school year.
When the club began meeting again in November of the following school year, attendance had quadrupled. Forty-six students were now participating, and the church gave Bibles to 40 of the children who did not have one at home, Cleveland said. Now in its third school year, the club hit a new attendance record with 54 children at its last meeting before Christmas.
In addition to Cleveland, a group of church volunteers teaches the children. Volunteer Michelle Costa believes the Bible lessons the children are learning now will bear much fruit in the future. 
“You tell the kids when they’re young, and it sticks with them. What better time to start than with these young, fresh minds,” Costa said. “We’re all the seed planters right now.”
Cleveland said many of the children come from troubled families. They ask for prayers for family members in jail, parents who are struggling with illness and siblings on “the wrong path.”
“These kids have more insecurities in their lives than what our volunteers have experienced in a lifetime, but they have such big hearts for others,” Cleveland said. “God has truly blessed us to be able to give these kids some stability in their lives by teaching them the Good News of Christ.”