Over the past 10 months the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has deployed volunteer chaplains to share God’s hope and comfort with tens of thousands in the Gulf Coast region who were affected by last year’s hurricanes. Until recently, most of these have been displaced homeowners and first responders. But this spring God opened a new door of ministry for the Rapid Response Team in the New Orleans area.
Rapid Response Team chaplain coordinator Kevin Shaner was invited to join a Youth for Christ ministry team at five schools for a total of 21 assemblies. Shaner used a martial arts demonstration as a platform for sharing his testimony and the Gospel message with hundreds of students in Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes. The YFC team was there to follow up with students who wanted more information.
“I never dreamed that I would be doing this in America,” Shaner says. He has spoken at schools internationally where there is a hunger and openness to the message, possibly due to social and political situations. But he was amazed to find a similar freedom in schools in the New Orleans area.
“I thought it was so profound how he demonstrated his strength of body but then tied it with his strength of soul,” said P.E. teacher Nancy Licciardi. “The kids were so attentive. They applauded after several things he said. I really felt like they took it to heart.”
Many of the students identify with Shaner’s story, which includes a painful road out of a life of drugs and alcohol, and into a relationship with Christ. In one school, most of the students at the assembly raised their hands when asked if any had lost a friend to substance abuse. Shaner sees students yearning for relationships, and many come to ask him more questions after the martial arts presentation. “The first question out of their mouths is something about martial arts,” he says, “but there is always something more they need to talk about.”
A few of the assemblies were voluntary, and Shaner was allowed to offer a call to follow Christ. In two such non-mandatory assemblies, all of the students–a total of 62–wanted to accept Christ into their lives. Shaner emphasized that if any were not sure of what they were doing, they should sit down. But when pressed if they really meant what they were going to pray, audible “Yes, sirs” came from their mouths.
Shaner gives God all the glory for putting him in the right place at the right time in order to present Christ at the school assemblies. “There’s no way we could have put these together,” he says. “Getting into schools, connecting with Youth for Christ–I couldn’t have done it.”
Many students who wanted to talk further after the assemblies left their contact information so that they could be followed up and connected to a church.
Shaner says that at least one school has requested more assemblies for the fall.