LEHMAN TWP. — Ten Lake-Lehman High School students gathered in the school library to dissect Bible passages and discuss the meaning and how it relates to their lives.
The scene of students reading from the Bible and talking about Christ’s forgiveness and love for humankind under the leadership of three Sweet Valley teenagers is inspirational, said Pastor Rich Rexrode of the Sweet Valley Church of Christ.
Aleah Ashton, 16, Celeste Spak, 16 and Nicole Wojciechowski, 15, all Lake-Lehman High School students and members of Sweet Valley Church of Christ were inspired to organize a Bible study group after an experience at Camp Epachiseca in Stillwater last summer.
“I went to Camp Epachiseca over the summer. Everyone talked about Jesus,” Ashton said. “Then it hit me how important it is to talk about the Bible in a non-judgmental setting.”
“At camp, we grew our faith,” Spak said. “We wanted to bring that feeling into our community and school.”
With a desire to gear the meetings for their peers, the young women had to conquer several hurdles, including developing a Bible study format and find a convenient location to hold the meetings.
They first turned to Pastor Rexrode for help to develop lessons. He connected the teens with his 21-year-old daughter, Laura.
“Nicole mentioned to me she wanted to start a Bible study group,” said Laura Rexrode, a graduate of Johnson University in Tennessee. “I had just learned a simple method to promote spiritual growth that was perfect for what they wanted to do.”
Laura met with the girls and developed and practiced a meeting outline that involved four main parts: prayer, discussion, goal setting and taking action.
Next, Wojciechowski, Ashton and Spak approached the Lake-Lehman School District for permission to use the library as the meeting spot for their “community group.”
A public school-sponsored club cannot promote any religious denomination, Lake-Lehman High School Principal Doug Klopp explained. The Bible study group is considered a community club and not affiliated with the school district, Ashton said.
Since the student-led group is comprised of minors, an adult is required to be present at all meetings, said Ashton, whose mother, Lori, accepted the responsibility. Lori sits quietly nearby and listens as the girls pray and read the Bible.
The Bible study group started in October and meets from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. every Monday in the Lake-Lehman High School library. Participants range from seventh-grade students to seniors. Attendance varies week by week, ranging between seven to near 20 students, Ashton said.
“We had 15 students attend our first meeting,” Wojciechowski said.
On Feb. 22, 10 students sat in a circle and opened with a prayer. Then, they discussed the following verse: I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve: Jeremiah 17:10.
“What do you guys like about this?” Ashton asked the group.
Ashton started an open discussion by saying, “I think it means we age judged for what is in your heart not how others see you.”
“I like that our confidence can be found in God,” Wojciechowski said.
The meeting maintained a continuous flow of intellectual conversation regarding Bible passages such as Jeremiah 17: 7-9, Psalm 19:7-13 and Isaiah 40:28-31.
Spak, Wojciechowski and Ashton encouraged their peers to set goals for the upcoming week, including reading the Bible once a day, praying daily and vowing to offer three compliments to their “least-liked friends.”
The teens ended their hour together by praying for family members, fellow students and friends.
Ninth-grader Jacey Kleintob, 14, said she first attended the meetings to support her friends who started the group.
“Their love for Jesus is very powerful,” Kleintob said. “I feel a lot better — calmer — after (the Bible study group).”
In the five months the group has operated, interest among their peers surprised Ashton, Spak and Wojciechowski as well as Pastor Rexrode and his daughter.
“I was not sure how well it (Bible study) would work (with this age group),” Laura said.
Ashton admitted the group received negative comments on social media, but by placing their faith in God, the Bible study group persevered and continued to peak the interest of their peers.
“I think young people do not receive enough credit,” Pastor Rexrode said. “I have seen this group influence entire families. It is really exciting to see.”