By Heidi Shoemaker, Communications, Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
[Editor’s Note: I first learned of some of the events at Clarksfield, Ohio a few months ago and began asking for a feature. This week I share two related stories, both by Heidi Shoemaker, which show God’s amazing working in northeastern Ohio and in human hearts. DLK]
Educational Evangelism Grows Clarksfield Adventist School
Clarksfield, known as “the school in a cornfield,” is one of the oldest in the Ohio Conference. Built in 1897, this school once boasted nearly 100 students back in the days when Clarksfield was a stop on the railroad for nearby farms and their families, and who were unable to send their children to Mount Vernon Academy. They have produced countless Adventist overseas missionaries, teachers, and conference leaders. Sadly by 2012, as the population of the area declined, enrollment in the school was only five students.
That was the year teacher Leona Bange came to the school, wondering if this might be the final year. She quickly began reaching out into her community, and together with local church support and involvement, enrollment grew exponentially: from five students to 49 (K-12 and homeschool co-op) students in May 2016, the majority of whom are transported in from the greater Cleveland area.
How did this happen? Bange began making connections. First she offered a homeschool co-op. Then she began collaborating with pastors and members of Adventist churches as far away as Brooklyn. Soon she and her family were involved with Pathfinders and Adventurers at the Westlake church, where a friend credentialed to teach music began volunteering at Clarksfield. Before long, the Brooklyn and Elyria churches became connected through their Pathfinder and Adventurer programs. Due to these connections with children and their families, parents felt they knew the Clarksfield school leadership team, making an easier and more receptive transition into the school.
Interestingly, not all students or their families are Adventist. This does not deter Bange or her staff. “We’re here to support our Adventist families – whether in Clarksfield, homeschool, or public school – that’s how we build connections.” It has been the philosophy which has allowed the school to use education to minister to their community. Ken Knudsen, Superintendent of Education for the Ohio Conference shared recently at a conference committee meeting, “We are in a prime time for educational evangelism.”
Bange shares countless stories of connections Clarksfield has made. Most notable is the story of 16-year-old Jacob who wanted his family to return to church. After Bible studies last fall with the local pastor, he expressed interest in Adventist Christian education and was referred to Bange. “What do I need to do to go to your school?” he asked at their first meeting. Soon Jacob was enrolled, followed by his two siblings, and now the family attends church regularly – after learning that his mother and aunt used to attend Clarksfield as children. “This is the mission field,” noted Bange.
Prayer has been front and center for Bange, the students and her dedicated team of volunteers. Throughout this journey they have identified needs, prayed faithfully, shared news of God’s blessings before praying about their next need. “Where God takes it from here, I haven’t a clue,” said Bange. “We struggle to not lead ahead of God.”
AUGUST 2016 UPDATE: The staff and students have outgown the historic Clarksfield schoolhouse. What is the next step in this journey? We will share their many stories of how God has blessed in articles and a video at the end of September, and introduce you to NOAA. What is NOAA? Stay tuned!
Prayer Helps Open New School in Northeastern Ohio
Members of seven churches in northeastern Ohio, along with the Ohio Conference, have been on a journey of faith this year. The July-August issue of Visitor magazine shared how educational evangelism grew a rural school in Clarksfield, Ohio. Having outgrown their building, students and parents, teachers and pastors, members and conference leaders earnestly prayed for a new building. Ron Halvorsen Jr, conference president, was often observed praying over a map of the Ohio – praying for a solution.
Tentative plans were made, but school leaders encountered numerous challenges. Resigned to the idea of temporary building, teacher Jeanne Sinka decided to search the internet “one more time” for a permanent location for the school. Her search turned up a recently closed public school building in Sheffield Lake, a suburb of the greater Cleveland area. Upon checking with their realtor, they learned the school had providentially not yet been entered into the MLS system. A showing was scheduled with the owner, which led to emergency board meetings with church and conference leadership. An offer was made only days after the property was discovered, and then everyone went home and prayed.
Their first offer, less than half the asking price, was accepted by the owner despite there being two higher offers from others. “He (the owner) felt they were different than any other group he had ever worked with,” explained the realtor. Closing on the 28,000 square foot school on 3 ½ acre property a mere block from Lake Erie came quickly, and work began the same day principal Leona Bange received the keys.
NOAA (Northern Ohio Adventist Academy) now had a home. Large classrooms wired for internet and projectors, a gymnasium containing folding lunch tables and wall pads, rooms suitable for a music room and future science lab, not to mention nearly $10,000 in equipment, materials, and supplies. A work bee was scheduled to clean and prepare the school to open September 6th.
Sheffield Lake residents are reportedly enthusiastic about a private school in their community. Neighbors and officials from city hall have offered to help clean and landscape. Visitors stop by regularly to inquire about what NOAA offers and look forward to attending their Christmas program.
While purchasing carpet for her school office at the nearby Home Depot, Bange was assisted by a friendly employee. After some polite conversation he asked, “Would your school have any need for us to do a project for you?” She soon learned she was speaking with the store’s Community Team Leader, who could not find projects in the surrounding wealthy school districts. Arrangements were made for a team of 10-12 employees to clean and repair the school playground this fall, with Home Depot providing all the supplies. They offered to complete two projects a year for the school. “It’s God pouring out the resources of heaven for these kids!” exclaimed Bange.
Learn more, see pictures and videos, at Ohio Conference’s online newsletter here.