By Chris Cavan
East High School is one of the largest high schools in the state of Iowa. Located smack dab in the middle of the Des Moines Metro area, it has just north of 2,200 students. The student body is celebrated as one of the most diverse in the state of Iowa. Over 70 percent of enrolled students come from ethnic minority backgrounds, the largest minority group being Hispanic at over 40 percent. Although East High is rich in diversity, it suffers in academic and economic benchmarks, which has led to a rise in dropout rates and school violence.
As much as the school was experiencing academic decline, it was also marked by a spiritual need that needed to be addressed.
The church I pastor, Lifesong Church of the Open Bible, is located right across the street from East High. It is located in a 100-year-old building that has its fair share of issues because of its age. Nonetheless, I have been praying for God to use our church to be a light in the community and specifically praying for East High and its students and faculty.
In the fall of 2021, I began volunteering at a pancake breakfast outreach that was being held inside the high school. One of the teachers had obtained permission to hold this outreach in her classroom every Tuesday morning. It was a great way to get to know some of the students and interact with the faculty.
As part of the outreach, I was given the opportunity to share a short devotion as the students ate their breakfast. As soon as I called for their attention and began my talk, nearly half the room got up from their seats and walked out. I even heard one student say, “Oh no. Here comes the preaching.”
Clearly, these students were fed up with another preacher lecturing them. As a pastor, you learn not to take such reactions personally. Jesus said it Himself in John 15:18 (NLT):
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.”
Instead of feeling offended, I prayed all the more for God to soften the hearts of the students and to give me more opportunities to show them His love.
This past fall, due to a change in administration, new guidelines were put in place that made it difficult to continue the outreach on school grounds. That was when the decision was made to move the outreach across the street to Lifesong Church.
At first, I was worried that I would not have enough help on that first Tuesday morning. However, a dozen volunteers showed up, which was a good thing because nearly one hundred students came for pancakes and hot chocolate! My heart has never been to make this outreach a “Lifesong thing,” but instead to make it a community effort. And I’m blessed to have partners from other ministries coming alongside to love these students.
If I can be honest, I have often prayed that God would bless us with a nicer, bigger building or a better location. It’s easy to look at other churches and ministries and compare them to your own, which usually leads to jealousy or a sense of inadequacy. If I’ve learned anything in this past year, it’s that God places us in the right place at the right time. The grass is always greener where it’s watered. God showed me that I ought to be faithful (and grateful!) with what I have now, and I love where God has placed us.
About the Author
Chris Cavan is the digital media manager for Open Bible Churches, where his background in photography and videography have been put to good use. He also serves as the lead pastor of Lifesong Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines, Iowa. He loves spending his time with his wife, Mone, and their six energetic children.