Teaching teachers to be modern-day Daniels

Public Schools | Public school educators are learning to be bold about sharing their faith on campus
by Sophia Lee
Posted 5/18/16, 08:35 am

Mike Hicks realized just how isolated Christian teachers in public schools were when he bumped into a colleague at a beach parking lot and couldn’t remember where he’d met him. Hicks, a high school biology teacher at Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif., and the other man, an English teacher at the same school, at first stared awkwardly at each other, trying to figure out where their path had crossed. When they finally realized they taught at the same school, both men chuckled with embarrassment.

Several months later, Hicks met that teacher again at a local football game and a casual, “Hi, how you doing?” through the fence turned into an hour-long conversation. As the crowd cheered along with the game, the English teacher talked about how his broken marriage taught him to desperately depend on God. That’s when Hicks realized how much he'd been missing.

“How could we have been across campus from each other, and miss out on this deep friendship with a brother of Christ?” he recalled. “We could have had this friendship for years!”

Ever since that incident, Hicks began connecting with other Christian teachers to collectively pray for their schools. Initially, it was just he and the English teacher meeting for breakfast and prayer at a nearby Denny’s every other week. That casual meeting expanded into a six-member prayer group, and then into bi-weekly, open-invite fellowship luncheons on the school campus.

They called the gathering LIFT: Lasting Impact Fellowship for Teachers. Soon, Hicks started dreaming about expansion.

“What if we had a LIFT in every school, a gathering of public educators in every city?” he asked. “What would it look like for every school to have teachers who collectively pray for our schools?”

For more than a year, that vision haunted him until Hicks attended a leadership training for teachers called The Daniel Project, which seeks to inspire public school educators to become “modern-day Daniels” in their field. It was there, through the encouragement and prayers of other Christian teachers, that Hicks started believing God would “put wheels to this dream.”

So Hicks decided to organize a countywide gathering of public school educators. He convinced pastors and community leaders to don white dress shirts and black pants to serve roast chicken and red potatoes. He booked a church gym, hired a live band, and ordered catering—all with the audacious expectation that 400 people would show up.

That night of the event, the church parking lot filled as educators from all over Kern County milled in the sanctuary. Hicks had trouble getting the event started because people were too excited to settle down when they recognized fellow teachers, principals, administrators, and board members they hadn’t known were Christians, too. Many sprinkled exclamation marks on their post-event comment cards: “I’m not alone!” “I’m so surprised to see who came!” “How uplifting!”

At the end of the event, Hicks received the total tally of attendees: exactly 400. He wept and vowed never to doubt God’s faithfulness. Since then, Hicks has organized two more gatherings in Kern County and has inspired a similar gathering in Southern California. After 24 years of teaching, Hicks is retiring this year so he can do this full-time. His goal: To help connect Christian educators in public schools all across the nation, transforming their campuses and students.

Hicks isn’t the only one calling for Christian teachers to unite. The Daniel Project that inspired Hicks began with a similar mission when the board members of the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI), a 63-year-old, nonprofit professional association for Christian educators in public and private schools, sat together in 2009 to discuss how to turn CEAI’s vision—“transforming public schools through God’s love and truth”—into reality.

Though CEAI has about 6,000 members all across the country, few had contact with each other, and many of them didn’t understand their legal rights or opportunities to share their faith in public schools. CEAI board members decided that to transform schools, the teachers first needed to transform. They chose the Bible’s Daniel as their model.

In 2010, CEAI and Tentmakers, a leadership-building ministry, partnered and organized The Daniel Project with the goal of raising “modern-day Daniels” on public school campuses. The project includes a weekend-long training course called the “Daniel Weekend” and a 40-day summer course called “Daniel Leadership Institute” at a campsite in Minnesota. In both programs, Christian teachers learn about their legal rights, discuss how to overcome current challenges, and brainstorm how to effectively and legally share their faith in class. So far, hundreds of teachers across the nation have attended the weekend or summer training.

Hicks said even though America’s public school system may seem as bleak as Babylon, Christian teachers still have much to offer: “It’s kind of a lie of our adversary, I believe, that we are to be quiet in public about our faith. People have tried to kick God out of schools, but they’ll never do that so long as God abides in us. God's not dead, even in public school campus.”

Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD Magazine. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

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