Some people have formed a habit of working together. The Christian Missionary Alliance has made a long tradition of it, and at First Alliance on Hickory Valley Road in East Brainerd, Pastor Lee Peters has a 15-year tradition of working with a growing homeschool organization, Hilger Higher Learning.
“When I first came here,” Rev. Peters said, “Carlee Hilger came to me and said, ‘Pastor, I have a vision. I really feel that homeschoolers need help. I’m wondering if you would allow us to start meeting here in your church.’”
Her vision was to offer homeschool students excellent classes within a Christian worldview. “When she laid it out, it was quite interesting,” Rev. Peters said, “so we started together, and it has grown way beyond what Carlee could imagine.”
Eddy and Carlee Hilger are the founders of Hilger Higher Learning, Inc., which supports Chattanooga-area homeschooling families with academic and creative classes. Both graduated from Covenant College in 1995. She teaches biology, anatomy and physiology; he serves as the school’s administrator.
“We’ve had a great relationship with [First Alliance],” Mr. Hilger said. “We started with a couple rooms, and now we’re in almost every room. They’ve been really generous.”
“I’ve been delighted that our church has adopted them,” Rev. Peters said. “They have seen the vision of Hilger Higher Learning.”
When carpets have needed replacing, the church will ask the Hilgers how their people can help. When storage became an issue during a separate remodeling project, the church built closet space to accommodate classroom needs.
“One of the neatest things the Hilger Higher Learning community did was make-over their nursery,” Mr. Hilger said. Parents and students donated money, helped do the work, and drew murals on the walls. “It’s a give and take. [Rev. Peters] has been a great man to work with, a very godly man.”
“You’re seeing a bit more of it these days with things like Classical Conversations,” he said, “but for the most part you’ll see a church running their own program, keeping it in house. I’ve appreciated how they have trusted us to hire teachers and staff. We’re hopeful we’ll be one of those places in Chattanooga where parents are confident they can send their children for one or more classes and get excellent, godly role models and a great education, whether it’s choir, art, or an academic class.”
The Christian Missionary Alliance has two churches in the Chattanooga area, one in Hixson, one in East Brainerd. Rev. Peters came to First Alliance after 30 years as a missionary in The Philippines. He said his denomination is primarily a mission work.
“We are serving in 80 different countries,” he said, “300,000 members in The Philippines, one million in Vietnam. The Alliance is well known overseas, but not well known here.
“When I was a field director in The Philippines, I would have several people say to me, ‘We’ve just been on a trip through Asia. Everywhere we go, the Alliance church is bigger than any other evangelical church.’ We’re bigger than the Southern Baptists in The Philippines. I like to tell them that.
“This little church gives about half of its money to overseas work,” he said, speaking of his congregation. “When I was growing up that was not unusual, but it is today.”
Rev. Peters thinks his move from The Philippines to Chattanooga is a little ironic. In The Philippines, his teams could talk openly about Christ with people who were receptive to a new message. In Chattanooga, people think they have already heard it.
“My wife said, ‘You couldn’t find a better city to live in than Chattanooga, but you couldn’t find a harder city to work in.’ Because 90 percent of the citizens of Chattanooga are members of a church or synagogue, which means most people are members of a church, but they don’t attend. We are Christianized.”
Outreach efforts by many churches, he said, are akin to moving fish from one aquarium to another. “It’s mostly promoting better programs. We are neither capable of doing that nor have any desire to do that. It’s heartbreaking to see a city that knows about Jesus have so many who do not walk with him.”
By working with others in the community, whether it’s opening their doors to Hilger Higher Learning, supporting the work of Shepherd’s Arms Rescue Mission, or opening their field to East Hamilton Football, First Alliance hopes to build the relationships needed to help people follow Jesus Christ.
Phil Wade is a local writer and editor. Find him on Twitter: @Brandywinebooks or LinkedIn. He blogs regularly at Brandywinebooks.net