God grants a mother’s dream to encourage thousands of students in their faith through their high school.
by Terry Ann Kelly
A mom with a desire to raise her children to have a heart for the Lord, combined with a simple God-breathed party idea, has organically grown into a ministry designed to help children know they aren’t alone in their faith, even while in the secular environment of public school. I was that mom, and the ministry is Students Standing Strong.
My husband, Jay, and I live in Grapevine, Texas. We have five incredible kids. Our parenting journey began with one foundational goal. When our children leave home, they’ll have a personal relationship with Christ, filled with His Spirit, desiring to live according to His Word, knowing they’re unconditionally loved by their parents and God. Achieving goals requires an action plan. We determined while our children were young that part of our action plan involved educating Katelin, Clay, Colt, Clint, and Chad in private Christian school.
For me, five children meant loads of laundry, homework to check, papers to sign, ballgames to attend, piano and voice lessons to enjoy, groceries to buy and cook, and bills to pay. Surely, I must have cleaned a bathroom and dusted at some point, but I don’t remember. Although I tumbled into bed every night exhausted, I found peace knowing the next morning our kids put on their sometimes clean, rarely ironed school uniforms and were out the door to Faith Christian School. Each day of the school week, they were lovingly educated in math, reading, writing and the Bible. Even school sports began with prayer.
But, after a few years, Jay felt it was best to move all five Kelly kids to public school. It wasn’t a change I was ready to make, but I went along, kicking and screaming a little and praying and crying a lot. But I knew that God would take care of our children as I honored my husband’s leadership. Though at the time, I was sure that if the Lord had spoken to Jay about where our kids should go to school, his ears must have been filled with wax. But was I ever wrong. I was unable to comprehend that God was taking our family on an unfathomable and amazing spiritual journey.
Our middle son, Colt, made the public school move the last year of elementary school and knew only a few boys in his new class through community sports. I remember thinking, Elementary school is one thing, but there’s no way that next year we’re sending our naïve, sheltered, soon-to-be-sixth-grade son into a scary place … public middle school! I prayed — and I prayed some more. In the midst of my worry, a little idea came into my mind and heart: So Colt won’t feel totally alone in his faith-filled convictions, why not get the addresses from the school directory and send an invitation to all of the fifth graders from his school, plus their parents and siblings, to our home for a faith-based, end-of-the-year party!
The party would be filled with fun, food, and even a free t-shirt, but more importantly, I would talk to Colt and his classmates about the new, exciting, and sometimes scary challenges they would face as they moved into middle school. Encouraging them that they could approach this new time in life with confidence, I would explain that they didn’t have to be afraid or alone; there were others at school who wanted to live for God, too. They could be students standing strong against negative peer pressure if they would accept God’s gift of salvation and rely on His strength to honor their parents and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Party planning began taking form in my mind, but I never dreamed that the response might be so great that our home wouldn’t hold all of the attendees. Needing help, but knowing only one mom who might be interested, I approached her and learned she went to church and her son was in Colt’s class. That was good enough for me! I shared the idea, and she quickly recruited a few other moms and dads. In no time, this purpose-filled party idea, now called the “S3 Big Send-Off,” spread across all five of the schools’ fifth grade classes.
Sensing the growing excitement, it dawned on me that most Christian parents want the same thing. We want our kids’ faith to be so personal that it affects the way they live and the choices they make. We desire that our children not only believe but can also stand strong and live out their biblical convictions when faced with temptations and the wrong crowd. I was empowered all the more to motivate other parents to equip their kids, too.
I drew out a rough sketch for the Students Standing Strong logo on a coffee shop napkin after having had the party theme verse, 1 Corinthians 15:58, jump off the page of my Bible: “Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” T-shirts were designed, and homemade invitations were mailed. On a rainy, windy, overcast day in April 2004, 75 of the 112 fifth graders, along with parents and siblings, showed up to our home. We hosted approximately 250 people in all. How could our home accommodate that many people? Only God, in His perfect foreknowledge, knew that the reason He allowed us to live in a home located inside a city park was so that we could swing open our front doors and move His party to the park. On that day, scores of families would get to hear His message of saving hope.
But it was storming outside. Disappointed, I thought, What’s up Lord? He was teaching us to trust Him because this was His event. After all, it was His idea in the first place. We prayed. At the precise moment the party was to start, the rain stopped and the clouds parted as the sun burst through the gray sky. Just in time, our students could walk on dry ground to the park so they could attend a party where they would hear about what God had promised them.
From that simple party, the Lord has grown Students Standing Strong into a legal, on-campus, student-led public school organization that encourages, embraces, and engages thousands of students in their faith through high school.
From that simple party, the Lord has grown Students Standing Strong into a legal, on-campus, student-led public school organization that encourages, embraces, and engages thousands of students in their faith through high school. God spoke His words to my heart, which allowed me to write a student-led, middle-school Bible study series based on the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23. Later, upon God’s leading, the student-led high school curriculum developed into verse-by-verse studies of several books of the Bible, including James and Philippians.
I believe that God envisioned Students Standing Strong so that His Truth would ring out to the largest youth group in America — the public school. He may want you to bring Students Standing Strong to your child’s school. But if not, the Lord does want you to do something to help your child become a Christian leader.
If our goal, as parents, is to raise our children with a heart for God, enabling them to stand strong when presented with the godless values of our secular society, then we must be strategic. Use this two-pronged approach: Ask God for a plan to help your kids stand strong in their Christian faith. Then, when God, through His Holy Spirit, speaks the plan to your heart and mind, be obedient, no matter how out of the ordinary that plan might seem.
All pre-teens and teens struggle with their identity and seek to define who they are. Often feeling they don’t measure up, combined with their need to feel accepted, even the most spiritually grounded students can compromise what they know to be true and right. If that’s what you’re experiencing with your child, be encouraged by these instructional words found in Galatians 6:9: “So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” With a determined and joyful heart, push up your sleeves, relying on your Heavenly Father to help you.
If you have older children, do you wish there were times you could go back and have a parent do-over? I do. Be encouraged because God handpicked you as your child’s parent. Plus, He’s able to step in when we mess up. God the Father is the only perfect parent. And even He has prodigal children. Your children, just like us, are given a free will to choose whom they will serve, God or man. As parents, we can’t choose for them. I love this verse written about God’s children of Israel found in Jeremiah 31:16-17:
“Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for the reward for your work will come. There is hope for your future … and your children will return to their own territory.”
Maybe, for the first time, you’re realizing that just as you need a plan to help ensure your family’s financial future, you also need a plan to help ensure your family’s spiritual future. Reach out to other Christian parents for wise counsel. Spend time in church, in prayer, and in God’s Word. If you ask, the Lord will speak His thoughts to your mind and heart. He may ask you to make hard choices about what you will and won’t allow your kids to do. He may instruct you to send them to church camp, no matter how much they complain. You could also consider a parent-child Christian retreat. You could host a “Godly Girl” or “Godly Guy” sleepover with popcorn, inviting a spiritually grounded college student to lead them in a late-night Bible study. Bring a Students Standing Strong club to your child’s school or help your child start a Bible study group.
God wants you to step out in faith. Whatever He asks, be determined to do it. Like me, you’ll stand in awe of His miraculous power and at the proper time, your family will reap a harvest of blessing. •
Terry Ann Kelly has an extensive background in public speaking at women’s retreats and other events. She has taught public speaking and business communication classes at Baylor, Belmont, and Dallas Baptist University. She finds her greatest fulfillment in meeting the needs of her husband and five children.
WHAT IS STUDENTS STANDING STRONG?
- Big Send-Off Party: Fun-filled, end-of-the-year party for every child in the last grade of elementary school to come eat, socialize, and learn how to rely on Jesus Christ, while parents find support to establish homes of faith
- Fruit Snacks Bible Study: Based on Galatians 5:22-23, weekly on-campus, student-led club using multi-year curriculum uniquely written to enable middle and junior high students to teach and/or lead other students while encouraging one another to make good biblical choices
- S3 Club: Student-led, on-campus Christian club designed to allow students to lead and teach their peers by diving deep into Scripture, verse-by-verse, and encouraging campus outreach and community service so that together they can stand strong in their faith
- S3 is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization protected by the Federal Equal Access Act
WANT TO BRING STUDENTS STANDING STRONG TO YOUR CHILD’S SCHOOL?
- Pray, seeking wisdom from the Lord.
- Visit the S3 website: StudentsStandingStrong.org.
- Contact the S3 office for more information at info@StudentsStandingStrong.org or 817-864-9111.
- Gather parents and share the S3 vision.
- Request Students Standing Strong: How to Get Started from Sheli Johnson, Director of Club Expansion at sheli@StudentsStandingStrong.org.
This article appeared in the August, 2014 issue of Home Life