Seminarian Erik Zabell’s reflections on his work at Kingdom Prep Lutheran High School
How do you connect with students, teachers, and family members at your schools?
As a chaplain, I conduct Bible studies throughout the week with groups of two to three students. I also assist students with their homework and help teachers prepare materials for classes.
Describe an interaction with a student, teacher, or family member that illustrates how your ministry was effective.
Early in the school year, the chaplains interviewed each of the 50+ students at KP. One student I interviewed did not grow up with Jesus and only started believing in him about 2 years ago in the 7th grade. When I asked him about his relationship with God, he readily confessed that he believed that Jesus died for his sins, but he wasn’t sure if he would go to heaven or hell. He was nervous he might not know what to say when God asks him why he should let him into heaven. After I assured him that he could be confident he will go to heaven and that God made sure his baptism was valid, he became so relieved! He has one of the strongest faiths I’ve witnessed of those in his class, and he has only believed for two years! I meet with him every week and he always talks about how much he loves coming to Bible study and reading about his Savior.
Describe an interaction with a student, teacher, or family member that may not have gone as planned. What did you learn from that interaction?
Another interview I had was with a student whose mother is a Muslim. Every time I brought up Jesus or the Bible, he would try to shoot me down. He wouldn’t hear any of it because it just didn’t make sense to him. I now meet with him every week. He still is vocal about his reservations, but he keeps coming back to hear our Bible discussions. I’ve learned that in this ministry, you aren’t guaranteed immediate results. I may not see a change of heart from this student while I’m at Kingdom Prep, but I know that the Word is living and active. The Holy Spirit is at work in his heart when we talk about Jesus. The Bible has introduced ideas to him that cause him to think about Christianity and how different it is from Islam. The gospel message is indeed leaving an impression that lasts after we chaplains go home for the evening.
What surprised you about doing ministry at an urban school? Were any of your assumptions about urban schools, students, and/or families challenged? Did they change? If so, how?
I was surprised to see how readily the teachers and students wear their hearts on their sleeves. Relationships run strong here. Barring some students who have trouble opening up, most of the others eagerly share their opinions and troubles with the chaplains. It goes to show that our presence here every day has a positive impact in its own right. We get to be seen as male role models.
Why was this a better job for you than working a retail or service job?
I came to the seminary not knowing where I would work. I asked some people about their jobs driving buses or busing tables. Then I heard something different. A friend of mine had worked through the Center for Urban Teaching over the summer and was looking forward to working at one of the HOPE schools over the school year. After describing it to me, I said, “Wait, so you’re telling me that at your job, you’ll get to lead Bible studies and help kids to grow in their faith? You evangelize and even get paid for it? Sign me up!” This job seems especially relevant for someone training for the called ministry. It’s not only great pastor practice, it’s good practice for being a Christian.
Would you recommend CiS finds ways for seminarians to serve in urban schools in the future? Why or why not?
Absolutely. I’ve learned as much – if not more – from these teachers and students as they’ve learned from me. This is a job I can be passionate about. I’ve never had a job before where I’d wake up in the morning looking forward to going to work for the day. I’ve established friendships and connections here that I may have for the rest of my life. Not only is it great evangelism practice, but it’s also great for interpersonal skills development. I’ve learned all kinds of “do’s” and “don’ts” for dealing with people. I view this kind of work as necessary for anyone in the called ministry to consider.