The Happy Church, a Grace Brethren Church in Jackson, Ky. (Mike Tabor, pastor), runs 15 ministries geared toward teaching lasting skills and positive attitudes in adults and, especially, children. These ministries include weekly Bible studies; food baskets, where adults can work an hour in exchange for a meal; Happy Soles, a back-to-school ministry that provides kids with shoes, backpacks, and winter clothes; lessons and tutoring in musical instruments and various theatre projects; and Bible Quizzing, among many others.
Bible quizzing is perhaps The Happy Church’s most important discipleship tool, said Tabor, mainly because of the values it subtly imparts. Any child or teenager who decides to quiz automatically receives a good meal—and a dose of immediate gratification. Then, for every verse they memorize, the quizzers win “happy cash,” which they can spend at the church’s thrift store. That thrift store, however, is only open once a month, so quizzers must wait to redeem their prize. Thus, they learn the concept of delayed gratification along the way.
Once the team has earned the right to compete, they are treated to a special outing like ice skating or Jump Zone. Of course, the real prize comes when “they’re competing against kids who [the quizzers] think are smarter or rich or whatever. As they compete,” said Tabor, “they find out that they’re just as capable to not just compete but to excel.”
Long-term benefits include higher grades in school “because [the quizzers] realize they can memorize, and they can do well, even though they may have drug-addict parents or live in difficult circumstances. They see that they’re capable.”
Among the Bible quizzing success stories, Tabor spoke of a girl—the first in her family—to graduate from high school.
Another young boy, who had a serious speech impediment, desperately wanted to quiz. He joined the team. Every time he answered a question, however, no one understood him.
“He’d start crying,” said Tabor, who initially had doubts about the little boy’s ability to participate. The boy was afraid to talk and wouldn’t talk outside of quizzing, Tabor recalled. “But he kept at it, and we encouraged and encouraged and encouraged him. After six months,” Tabor said, “the school teacher said to [the little boy’s] mom, ‘What have you been doing? He’s talking to other kids. His speech has gotten a lot better.’ And she said, ‘He’s been going to Happy Church and doing Bible quizzing.’ And the boy chirps up and says, ‘I have five ribbons and won two trophies!’”
Bringing Christ to Jackson, Ky., is an everyday challenge for The Happy Church. “This is long and slow and hard. There is no three- to five-year plan,” said Tabor. “This is a generational plan.
“You have to say ‘no’ all the time,” he continued. “People want help with their water bills, electric bills, and we just can’t do it. We have to understand that it’s okay sometimes to say ‘no’, but [we] gotta’ do it with the right intentions. Sometimes, when you give stuff to impoverished thinkers,” Tabor said, “you’re actually confirming in their minds that they’re worthless and unable to take care of themselves. You have to try to find ways where people earn what they need.”
Tabor credited God for guiding The Happy Church’s ministries: “God’s helped us. He’s given us the ideas that we could put to use. We’re constantly telling people,” Tabor concluded, “that we’re just trying to figure out what God wants us to do not mess it up too bad.” — by Marisa Vogel
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.