Laborers For Christ

Christian Education First in Growing Arizona Mission Field

April 27, 2017 | Posted by LCEF

“Thank you for helping us build a new campus!! I will get to learn more about God!!”

Karen Jensen understands why her daughter, Tabitha, used double exclamation points when the fourth-grader made a thank-you note for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF). Gratitude and enthusiasm beats strong as North Valley Christian Academy (NVCA) prepares to move to a long-awaited new campus that will serve preschoolers through high schoolers just north of Phoenix, Arizona.

When the Jensen family moved to Phoenix last year, NVCA was the only nearby Christian education opportunity – an opportunity Karen calls “so important today to give children the foundation they need to be in the world but not of the world.”

Lori Fox wants her two young sons – NVCA students since preschool – “to hear the same Christian message, whether they’re at home or church or school.”

“When we learned about the expansion and that our boys could go to the same school through the challenges of middle school and high school, our prayers were answered!” she said.

Community ripe for outreach

When NVCA begins its seventh academic year in August, it will be the only Lutheran Church–Missouri Church (LCMS) preschool-through-high school in Arizona. Some may be surprised by another distinction: The school was planted in a community where Lutherans are few and far between.

This is also a growing area where some 40 percent of families have no church home. “It’s not a Lutheran community, but a community ripe for outreach,” said LCEF’s Larry Crume, vice president, National Lending. “It’s a mission field.”

Independent, self-owned and operated, NVCA is affiliated with the LCMS. Unlike the traditional LCMS school, it’s not a ministry of a congregation.

“Our goal is to share Jesus by connecting kids and their families with academically strong, Christ-centered education and programs,” said Nate Kretzmann, executive director of NVCA, which expects to begin the new school year with more than 250 students, including debut freshman and sophomore high school classes.

School ministries all day, year round

In addition to serving more grades, the 72,000 square foot campus will offer new programs and a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum. Students will have more opportunities to participate in sports and fine arts.

Hosting a variety of summer camps and vacation Bible school on campus is already in the works for next summer. Conversations also have begun with an LCMS congregation or two about the possibility of using NVCA for weekend worship in the school’s new multi-purpose gymnasium.

“We envision our campus being used all day – from 6 a.m., if children need to be dropped off, until 10 at night,” Kretzmann said.

Established presence

In March, the “topping out” ceremony drew people from throughout the community to the new school, still under construction.

“It was great to see city officials, the media and so many people wanting to celebrate with North Valley,” said Crume, who attended along with LCEF President and CEO Rich Robertson and Becca Jones, senior vice president, Marketing, on one of many visits LCEF has made to NVCA over the years.

Crume talks about the ever-increasing number of homes and businesses. “This is an area drawing lots of families with school-age children, including families with an interest in Christian education,” Crume said.

Those families like that NVCA – the only Christian school within a 20-mile radius – is an established presence. “It’s not a start-up. It’s there to stay and grow,” he said.

Enabling school to do immeasurably more

From day one, LCEF has shared NVCA’s vision as a ministry partner, beginning with a line of credit loan that “allowed us to get moving in the right direction,” Kretzmann says.

LCEF’s Capital Funding Services helped launch the school’s biblically-based “Steps of Faith” campaign which, to date, has raised more than $4.2 million – gifts that helped acquire property and develop the 21st-century education facility founded in God’s Word.

If NVCA, established in 2011, had been forced to depend on a commercial institution for financial support, “our school would have been impossible,” Kretzmann said.

“God has opened doors, and LCEF has enabled us ‘to do immeasurably more,’” he said, with a nod to an LCEF tagline inspired by Ephesians 3:20.

Big vision ‘pulling people in’

During a time when too many Lutheran schools struggle to survive, NVCA was built to serve more. The campus has the capacity for as many as 650 students.

“Our supporters see the challenges in today’s culture and education, and they are passionate about their kids and grandkids learning about the world in a faith-based, Christ-centered environment,” Kretzmann said. “We have a big vision, but it’s a vision that’s pulling people in.”

Those NVCA families are thankful for LCEF supporters whose investments are strengthening Christian education and outreach in these Phoenix foothills. Karen Jensen, who is also an NVCA teacher, looks forward to sharing Christ with more children and their families as enrollment climbs in the new campus.

“Thank you for taking a leap of faith and believing in our school,” she said, echoing Tabitha’s thank-you note. “The love and care you’re sharing with us, we can share with others.”