Cora (middle) with other students from Moody's Elementary Education program.
When Cora heard about Decision Point she was instantly drawn to its mission of equipping Christian public school students to reach their peers with the gospel. As part of Moody Bible Institute’s Practical Christian Ministry program, the freshman Elementary Education major would mentor student leaders of Christian clubs in public high schools across Chicago.
But Cora’s first assignment didn’t go as expected. With the Chicago public school system shutting down in-person instruction due to COVID-19, Cora first met her mentee, Jill*, via Zoom in January 2021. Jill was a sophomore leading a new Christian club at a Chicago public high school.
As they got to know one another, Cora quickly discovered that they were different in nearly every conceivable way. Cora grew up in a traditional two-parent Christian household in a middle-class neighborhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Jill was being raised by an unbelieving grandfather in a lower-income urban environment.
Living in a dysfunctional, unchurched family, Jill wasn’t the typical Christian club student leader. During her eighth-grade year she happened to find a Bible at her grandfather’s house, began reading it on her own, and became interested in spiritual matters. Since her grandpa wasn’t a believer, Jill took it upon herself to search online for a church until discovering one nearby. She visited the church by herself as a freshman in high school, heard the gospel for the first time, and placed her faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior.
As a sophomore Jill started serving in her church’s music and children's ministries. Soon after she applied and was accepted to be a student leader with Decision Point. The nationwide evangelistic ministry trains student leaders of public-school Christian clubs through one-on-one relationships with Decision Point coaches. These volunteer coaches disciple and mentor leaders in how to share the gospel, plan outreach events, and lead group Bible studies. Jill sought and received permission from her school’s administration to lead an extracurricular Christian club and began meeting for an hour each week with Cora to prepare for her leadership role.
Overcoming fear and isolation
In her meetings with Cora, Jill initially was overwhelmed juggling her new faith and new leadership position. She also had no family support.
“I mentored her for a whole semester with her Zoom camera off,” Cora says. “She didn't want to turn her camera on. I knew what she sounded like but didn't see her face the entire semester, but I felt we had a lot in common in our love for God and His Word, so I decided I'll keep on trying. We tried to keep in touch over the summer, which is harder because neither of us were in school. The next fall we began meeting in person as COVID began letting up.”
Cora’s coaching sessions began allaying Jill’s fears, building a biblical foundation for her young faith, and infusing her with confidence. Each week Cora and Jill developed lesson plans and outreach opportunities for her club, discussed issues she was facing, studied how to communicate the gospel and share a personal testimony with other students, and learned biblical principles about discipleship, leadership, evangelism, and identity as a child of God.
“She also had a goal to have outreach events with her club. She wants every student on campus to hear the gospel,” Cora says. “We talk about how to invite the students at her school to club events and how to find good guest speakers. We also talk about her legal rights in sharing the gospel at a public school.”
Faithfulness to fruitfulness
After collaborating with Jill to establish a Christian club at Jill’s school, Cora looked forward to helping Jill take the club to the next level in the 2022–23 school year. But Jill battled feelings of doubt over whether the club would even continue.
“Jill was discouraged,” Cora says. “Her family aren't believers, and she hadn't heard from anyone in her club over the summer since the previous school year had ended. I said, ‘Let's just promote the club at the start of the school year, show up, and be consistent.’ She had a table for the club at the school's student fair, and 60 people signed up who were interested in the club. That was so encouraging for her.”
With Cora’s vision and support, Jill planned a variety of outreach activities for her club that have attracted students from every grade level. She invited former NFL athletes, spoken word artists, and other guests with name recognition among teens to speak at after-school events. She even hosted outreaches over lunch periods to make it easier for students to take part in the club during the school day.
‘She is on fire for Christ’
As a senior overseeing a steadily growing club, Jill is almost unrecognizable compared to when she first met Cora on Zoom as a sophomore.
“I would take the CTA and get to Starbucks to meet with her,” Cora says, “and she'd tell me how she was talking to other students about Christ and introducing them to the club. After hearing her excitement and commitment to sharing Christ at her public school, it made me want to share Christ with other people on the CTA as I went back to campus. She's really grown and come out of her shell. She is on fire for Christ and passionate about sharing the gospel with other public school students.”
Standing up for students’ legal rights
In spring of 2022 Cora, then a junior at Moody, was promoted to a new paid part-time position with Decision Point as a lead coach in Chicago. She mentors eight female students from high schools around the city. Two of the students are attempting to form a Christian club at their school but have gotten no support from school leadership.
“They've tried to start a Christian club at their school since September. The school’s administration hasn't responded to them yet,” says Cora, noting that Decision Point helps student leaders stand up for constitutional rights that protect students' free speech. “I tell them we have legal people who can help with that and tips on how to communicate with your administration. It's good for students to know they have the legal right to host a club at school that openly talks about God. We're still working on getting that club started.”
Another student lost three friends who spread false rumors about her being hateful to non-Christians after the student began the process of organizing a Christian club at their high school.
“It's a challenge to lead Christian clubs at public schools today,” Cora says. “They're going against the flow of what their high school teaches and what the majority of students, teachers, and administrators believe, especially with LGBTQ students and other students who’ve sometimes been very confrontational with student leaders. It's not easy for them to do in a public school setting. You're asking to be targeted, but they do it because they want to share Christ with students who need Him.”
Practicing what she’s learning
Mentoring student leaders from public schools has stretched Cora’s own leadership skills and her own dedication to proclaiming Christ.
“When the students tell me about the backlash they face, I encourage them to stay consistent and stand firm to what God is calling you to,” Cora says. “Fortunately we have had students we work with who have said, 'Yeah, I've been bullied, but I stayed firm and now I've seen five students come to the Lord since then.' I remind them God is with you and He will support, strengthen, and lead you as you seek His direction.”
As she nears graduation in May with a BA in Elementary Education, Cora is weighing three career options: teaching school full time, working full time with Decision Point, or full-time teaching while continuing to coach part time with Decision Point.
“I have a heart for God and for helping students see Him in all areas of their life, even in math or science, and I also have a passion for helping them share with other students about God,” she says.
One of Cora's professors at Moody, Dr. Lisa Smith, sees the qualities that Cora uses in Decision Point displayed in the classroom.
“I salute Cora because she embraces the task of being an ambassador for Christ through the lessons she designs for teaching academics to children,” says Dr. Smith, program head of Elementary Education. “Her courage, confidence, and love for the Lord as displayed and enhanced in Elementary Ed courses seems to complement her role as a mentor of Christian student leaders in public schools. Quiet confidence in Christ that manifests in thoughtfulness and bravery might be exactly what her young protégés need to see.”
Cora's service in Decision Point has also left Cora with a deeper appreciation for her education and ministry training at Moody, which cultivated her desire to reach public school students with the gospel through her influence as a coach.
“Moody has helped me stay focused and on target in helping students with their goals of leading a Christian club at their school,” Cora says. “Moody is a supportive Christian community where everyone cares about you not only as a student but also in your relationship with God and in every aspect of your life. And I can see that speaking God's truth, planning lessons, and discipling public school girls with the Decision Point PCM has helped me keep God at the center of everything I do.”