It’s a relatively easy thing to do. I just want to thank the Iron County Board of Education and the school system for being on board with this. That’s been phenomenal. —Rev. Gerald van Iwaarden, pastor of Westview Christian Center
CEDAR CITY — Pastors from several Christian denominations in Cedar City have created the first Bible class for students to he held during school hours.
The young Christians now have a release option from school to study the scriptures just as students who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do with their release-time seminary classes. Instead of first-period classes in their high schools, these teens now have the option to study the scriptures at the Cedar Bible Institute, which is located close enough for some students to walk to class.
The idea started with the students.
"I wanted to strengthen the Christian community here, as well as the kids," said Cedar City High School student Hanan Pruitt. "There’s a lot of stuff holding Christians back, I believe, here. Since I just moved from (Las) Vegas, I just wanted everybody to be more together, like we’re here for you. We don’t have to be different churches. We can be a community so that they were more connected and that they weren't afraid to be who they are."
The 21 students attending the Bible class are either students from Cedar or Canyon View high schools or are home-schooled. The Christian churches in the city are providing the funding, and pastors said they feel it's important for these teens to balance their secular studies with their faith every day.
"If we can provide them with proper ways of thinking and analyzing the things they encounter, then they're going to be better citizens," said the Rev. Gerald van Iwaarden, pastor of Westview Christian Center. "A lot of us are somewhat distressed about the moral state of our country and other things like that, and so here we have a chance to reverse those trends in ways that we have not had before."
The pastor illustrated that goal of the program by citing Ephesians chapter 6 in the Bible, where the apostle Paul encourages Christians to put on the "armor of God." The Rev. van Iwaarden said these classes are doing that for youths to "help them understand how a relationship with Jesus Christ and knowing truth can enable them to withstand the lies and deceptions that are out in the world. Like for instance, 'You're not of any value, you'll never make it, you're just a kid that's full of trouble.'
"So what we do is provide them the intellectual and spiritual armor so that they can withstand all these lies and understand how they are accepted, secure and significant in their daily lives," he said.
The Rev. van Iwaarden touted the ability of different Christian churches to work together on this effort, saying he is part of the Assembly of God denomination and has collaborated with Southern Baptist, Foursquare International Church and Calvary Chapel leaders.
He has shared information with other pastors in Utah and the Intermountain West about how they could do the same thing in their communities.
"It’s a relatively easy thing to do," he said. "I just want to thank the Iron County Board of Education and the school system for being on board with this. That’s been phenomenal.”
Some of the students did not know each other before attending the Cedar Bible Institute, and now they are friends.
“I just think because you’re with a whole group of kids that have the same spiritual belief as you," said Cedar High's Elizabeth Dempsey, "you get a great lesson from each pastor that you have, and you just feel such a connection with God and the Holy Spirit and you feel so spiritual after you leave. We can come here, unite as high schoolers, and have that ability to share our beliefs and study the Bible together.
"And that's just an amazing experience to me."