The idea for the schools work in our region began when, at a missionary report meeting on the Lords work in Africa, we heard about the hundreds of children coming each week to Sunday school to listen to the Word of God. I was left with the desire to see if it was possible to have that same experience in Northern Ireland.
A few days after the meeting I happened to be driving past one of our local primary schools during lunchtime, and looking through the gates I could see hundreds of children. The thought immediately came to me that if I wanted to speak to hundreds of children about the Word of God then this was the perfect place to do it.
My next step was to approach a school and ask them if I could take their assembly, and, as my three children had attended Carrowdore Primary School, this appeared to be the best place to start. The head teachers reaction to my nervous request to take a school assembly took me by surprise. "You go to a Gospel Hall; are you sure you want to do this?", she asked. When I assured her that I did, she agreed and we organised a suitable time. I have since found this to be a common reaction to a request to take a school assembly. In many places the school assembly is seen as a burden, and neither the school nor the local clergy seem very interested in assuming the responsibility. In a time in which it is increasingly hard to get people into our gospel meetings and Sunday schools, the opportunities that are presented by school assemblies are amazing. Hundreds of children are ready to listen, in an environment that is conducive to learning.
The work commenced in January, 2003, and, encouraged by the doors that God was opening to this assembly work in my local primary schools, Carrowdore and Ballywalter, I approached another larger school in the nearby town of Newtownards. The headmaster was less enthusiastic to my request to take assembly than our local schools had been, especially when I told him I attended a Gospel Hall. "We want no fire and brimstone preaching here", he informed me. I tried to reassure him that there was a lot more to the gospel message than "fire and brimstone". After a moments consideration he stated that he was in the process of filling out the years assembly rota and that if I really wanted to I could have a date. My first assembly in the school under the watchful eye of the headmaster seemed to go well; I simply explained to the children about the Lord Jesus Christ and His death for us at the place called Calvary. After the assembly the headmaster took me to one side and commented, "You used words today our children would not understand". When I asked which words he meant he amazed me by saying, "Calvary - these children have never heard of Calvary". This is one thing that continues to touch me as I carry on in this work - how little knowledge our children today have of spiritual things but how willing they are to learn.
In Comber Primary School I have started a question box for the children, and some of the questions they have been asking are wonderful. Hanna from Primary 7 asked: "What is heaven like?". "Are Adam and Eve in heaven?". "Do you go to heaven if you just believe in Him or do you have to ask Him into your heart?". "Thank you. There is so much I need to know". We replied, "You can have your sins forgiven only by trusting the Lord Jesus as your Saviour". The vast majority of the childrens questions are in a similar vein: not asked to make fun, but with a genuine desire to learn more about the things of God.
The next headmaster I approached told me that before he would let me take an assembly he would have to ask the board of governors. I was initially disappointed when the word came back that local clergy filled all the assembly dates. However, the headmaster told me that I had his permission to approach the teacher who ran the Scripture Union in the school. "The Lord has sent you", she told me, which I thought was a good start. It transpired that she had taken ill the year before and since then there had been no SU in the school. The format for the SU was that the children came voluntarily for 30 minutes during their lunch break. On the first week 40 children attended out of a possible 150, the second week it was 50, and it now averages 60-70 with our best being over 90 present. It is quite extraordinary to see so many children giving up their interval to come and sing choruses, learn verses, and listen to Gods Word. We have been there for two years now and I was very humbled recently seeing Gods hand in action when the same headmaster who earlier refused our offer came to me and told me that they now realised that we have only the childrens good at heart and invited me to take an assembly.
Recently in another school we had been giving out Scripture bookmarks, which all the children love. On our next visit the headmistress took me to one side and told me that one of the boys in the class came to see her. He had decided to check for himself that the verses we were teaching them were really in the Bible, so he went home and asked his mother if they had a Bible in the house. "No", was the reply, but later on in the evening the mother remembered that she had been given a Bible on the day of her wedding. After a prolonged search the Bible was found, and together they searched for the verse on the bookmark. The next morning the boy came to school with the Bible and showed it to the headmistress. "Look, Miss", he said, "We can believe what Mr Davidson is telling us because this verse really is in the Bible".
On my next visit to the school the same little boy put up his hand while I was speaking. "Mr Davidson, you are talking to us about being saved, but I still dont know what you mean, can you explain it to us again?". I abandoned my Bible story, and for the next 20 minutes I answered sensible questions about the Lord Jesus, His work, and the need for salvation.
These are only stories from a few schools. At present my son Gary and I visit 40 schools on a regular basis speaking to around 12,000 children and teachers. God continues to open doors, and our earnest prayer is that we might see His hand move in blessing and that many children and teachers would come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
My motivation for the school assembly work can be summed up in the words of Moses to the children of Israel. "Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God" (Deut 31.12-13).