“Can we talk out in the hallway?”
Craig can see the mixture of seriousness and nerves on the young student’s face. He’s helping him apply for a college scholarship, and they’ve landed on a prompt asking to share an experience that was difficult to overcome.
Craig nods and goes out into the hallway with the student. Slowly, the student opens up – he doesn’t know who his dad is, and his mom has children with several men. When he was in middle school, his mom had an abusive boyfriend. He tried to take him on, which his mother didn’t approve of. For twenty minutes, the student pours out his feelings. Craig could clearly see the traumatic impact on him. All he can do is listen.
Craig and his wife, Megan, both grew up as pastor’s kids. He was saved and baptized at a young age. As he got older, he understood more and more that a relationship with Christ is not the kind where you do good things in the hopes to appease God, but a friendship. He wanted to help people and see God change people, so he decided to enter ministry.
Craig met Megan at Moody Bible College. Together, they worked in a local church’s youth ministry. Because of his father’s work as a campus ministry, the transition into college ministry was natural. In 2008, he and his wife moved to Salem Oregon to work as Campus Ambassadors at Willamette University.
School Chaplain (and More)
Craig was itching to try something new, and the Lord put the Salem Leadership Foundation in his path. SLF is faith-based network of nonprofit and government funded organizations in Salem, dedicated to supporting the community. They work with churches, neighborhoods, and schools, the latter of which is how Craig got involved.
He was approached by SLF to be a mentor, chaplain, and all-around volunteer in the local public high school. The school district was considering implementing a role like this into their schools to tackle mental health issues. Five years ago, a few students and even teachers in the district had tragically taken their life. Suicide is the one of the highest killers of young people. Craig and Megan were immediately interested and, in 2019, had the support of Missions Door to transition from Campus Ambassadors to the school’s full-time volunteers.
Craig wears a lot of hats. He’s an assistant football coach, homework helper, and lunch buddy. Most of all, his job is to check in on the well-being of students and teachers and to show them love and care. He doesn’t hide his faith, but spiritual conversations with students only happen if they’re student initiated or off campus. An example of this was a student whose grandmother died. Craig listened carefully to the student, offered his condolences, and spoke to him about grief. The student, however, had many questions about what happens to someone after they die. He asked Craig what he believed, and Craig was able to tell him and provide hope through the gospel.
Salem is the capital of Oregon, but not the biggest city. It currently has a population of around 175,000 people. Northeast Salem, where Craig works and lives, has a strong a blue-collar community compared to the more affluent areas of Salem. Many work in farms fifteen minutes away or factories, and lots of parents have multiple jobs. Others are college-educated and business owners or work for the state, hospital, or school system. Northeast Salem also has a lot of ethnic diversity and refugees compared to the rest of the city. Craig works at an inner-city minority-majority school with a large Mexican American population and refugee students from Sudan, Congo, and most recently, Afghanistan.
There’s a good sense of community and lots of churches. But the area isn’t without its problems. Like many schools across the nation, the emotional and behavioral state of students was stunted due to social distancing and remote learning. Many students had to take care of their siblings or work during Covid to help their parents financially. Post-Covid, lots of students returned to in-person learning behind on their education and lacking social norms. Some feel embarrassed and angry for being behind; security guards must break up fights nearly every week. Some skip class, walk out mid-way, or won’t remain seated because they became used to not having to learn inside a classroom and obey a teacher. Many have lost loved ones to Covid and are processing their grief.
Even before Covid, a lot of students were already living in low-income families or poverty. Unfortunately, many parents are working hard all the time to try and provide, and their involvement in their children’s’ lives suffer. This lack of parental involvement only adds to students’ behavior issues. Because of this, teachers feel burnt out and frustrated. So, it’s important for Craig to all check in on the teachers as well (this was especially true during Covid). He makes sure they know he loves them and is on their side.
Caring for Families
Not only is Craig involved in students’ and teachers’ lives, but he gets to make an impact on the students’ families. He’s been able to bring condolence meals to families who have lost a loved one and pray for them. He’s gotten to invite parents to church. “I’ve gotten comfortable with letting God be at work in people’s life at whatever pace,” he says.
With every opportunity to benefit the community, God opens a door for Craig to meet a student’s or family’s emotional and spiritual needs. He’s gotten to know families better by setting up college-visit trips with students. During Covid, Craig partnered with a local church to allow students to study in their large youth room twice a week. They had to socially distance and wear masks, but he was still able to be present for these kids during a time where many of them felt lonely. The study hub had around twenty-five students. Two of them were failing their classes, but through Craig’s relationship with them, they eventually graduated high school.
Fruits of Labor
“Ask any school counselor, and they’ll all say they don’t have enough time for all the students,” Craig explains. Thankfully, the school district is increasing its number of counselors and is working to have part-time social workers and clinical therapists on campus. While Craig is not a counselor, he was able to direct that student he was helping with the scholarship application to a professional therapist. He recently caught up with that former student. He’s graduated now, may have his community college paid for, and is considering a career in social work or counseling. One doesn’t have to be a therapist to show someone love, which is why Craig is considering starting a club that teaches students how to care for each other.
He says he’s thankful for the support Missions Door gives him, and he wants to emphasize that Megan is a very big part of the ministry and has been involved in all the stories shared. Our organization never had a school chaplaincy plan, but we trust God’s vision for Craig and Megan. They would like to see more mentors/volunteers/chaplains like themselves in schools, so please be praying for that. If you’d like to support missionaries like Craig and Megan, you can do so at their page here.
How Can You Help
The Great Commission is what spurs us to do indigenous ministry. Around the world, Christians are bringing the Gospel to their people and making disciples in their hometowns. How will you be a part of this?