A church’s child care center offers the opportunity to reach out to not only its students but also to its workers.
On April 20, 2014, Deb Burgess posted the following message on her Facebook page: Today, a very special child of God became a member of St. Peter. Congratulations, Katie! Welcome to our church family! I look forward to worshiping, praising, and serving our God together!
What an exciting post, but who is this Katie? Who is Deb? And how did they meet? There’s more to this story than a simple Facebook friendship, and it all, strangely, begins in a child care center.
Katie Erb, now 23, was a student at Northcentral Technical College (NTC) in the early childhood education program. In the fall of 2012, NTC assigned Erb to Key to Life Childcare Center, a ministry of St. Peter, Schofield, Wis., for her practicum experience. Erb had had only brief encounters with Christianity and had stopped attending church due to the busyness of school work and her waitressing job. But while fulfilling her 108 hours of observation, Erb overheard the director saying more help was needed in the school-age room, and Erb jumped at the opportunity. Soon she was working part time and then full time at Key to Life in the toddler room and fitting college in online, at night, and on the weekends.
Erb’s first impressions of Key to Life were positive. “The teachers were really nice,” she says. She found Bible time, her first exposure to some of these stories, to be interesting. “I was intrigued,” she says.
Deb Burgess, meanwhile, began working part time at the center. She and Erb worked together periodically in different classrooms. Erb and Burgess both agree that they immediately “hit it off” and worked well together. “We talked A LOT. We talked in the classroom, on the playground, on long walks with the children,” says Burgess. “Katie is especially bubbly and out-going, and we got to know one another very well. Katie began to see that Christ and our church played a major role in my life, and I learned that neither Katie nor her family was attending a church and hadn’t for a long time. I also learned that Katie had experienced many struggles growing up. I kept Katie in my prayers and knew that I had to share the hope of Christ with her.”
Erb remembers Burgess’ invitations to join her and her family for Sunday worship. For three months, Erb’s response was “No, thanks.” However, according to Erb, Burgess was “very persistent, but she never judged me, just loved me for who I was.”
Burgess recalls worrying that she would offend Erb. “I felt I just had to take the risk,” she says, “because I cared too deeply about Katie not to try to expose her to what she was missing by not having Christ in her life. I recall questioning some of her behavior and later learning I was the only one who stepped forward and that she was glad I cared enough to take that risk. I couldn’t give up. I felt God was calling me to be there for Katie.”
Finally, Erb said she would join Burgess’ family at church. Burgess says, “I had tears as I showed her where we were in the service. I tried
to quietly explain what was going on.” In subsequent weeks, Burgess con-tinued to encourage Erb to join her family at church, saying, “You always have a spot in the pew with us.”
Erb enjoyed the services. She says, “They focused on a relationship with God.” She also speaks highly of the friendly members and the pastor who always shook her hand. “It was somewhere that could be my home,” she says.
After about a month of attending services and many conversations with her friend, Erb still had lots of questions. “Sometimes I didn’t really even know how to answer,” says Burgess. She recommended that Erb attend Bible information class. It turns out that the pastor also had invited Erb to the classes. “I could tell the Holy Spirit was working on her heart in a big way!” says Jeff Mahnke, pastor at St. Peter.
With the Holy Spirit’s working, the pastor’s instruction, and Burgess’ encouragements, Erb faithfully completed the class and was welcomed as a member on Easter Sunday. “How fitting!” says Burgess. “Our church was celebrating that Christ died for our sins and had risen from the dead and Katie was confessing this to be true. To God be the glory!”
Once Erb became a member, Burgess continued to encourage and invite her to attend Bible class and consider other opportunities to get involved. Currently, Erb teaches Sunday school and vacation Bible school and assists with the youth group, even chaperoning at this summer’s youth rally in Colorado. “She’s on fire for her Savior, and it’s so awesome to see that!” says Mahnke.
Burgess says, “[Katie is] now often my encourager. I never thought I would still be working at Key to Life for almost three years, but it’s become one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever held. I can’t thank God enough for bringing me here and for bringing Katie and me together.”
Burgess and Erb no longer work in the same classroom, but Burgess says she’s observed “renewed hope and confidence in Katie since she’s come to know Jesus as her Savior. She lets her Christian light shine. . . . She often refers to me as her second mom, and she will always hold a special spot in my heart.”
Kate Shambeau, Key to Life’s director, was also instrumental in inviting Erb to church activities and speaks highly of her: “Katie is a perfect example of the outreach opportunities present in our child care center not only with the families we serve but with our staff as well. She is a constant reminder that it is solely by the grace of God that we have faith. Over the past couple of years, it has been a pleasure to see Katie become more and more involved at church. She truly is an inspiration to me and those around her!”
Mahnke agrees, “It’s amazing how . . . God opened the door for us for sharing the gospel with one of our staff members. How cool is that!”
Erb is forever grateful for all the people at Key to Life and St. Peter’s. “God was shining his light through them,” she says. “[It’s] all about having faith. Jesus died on the cross. The rest of life is just details.”
Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017
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