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A Rural Church Meets Educational Needs

Mark Perko and MiRandi Chewning Headshot

As schools have become increasingly influenced by ideas that go against Scripture, many people have started looking at alternative ways to provide an education for children that also teaches them biblical truths. Churches have started opening schools to help offer parents a Christian alternative for their child’s education.

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Reverend Mark Perko and MiRandi Chewning to discuss Deep Creek Christian Academy, the school that they run through their church in rural North Carolina.

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Family Policy Matters
Transcript: A Rural Church Meets Educational Needs

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Every January, schools across the country celebrate National School Choice Week. North Carolina is among the leaders of a national trend of providing families with a variety of schooling options: home schools, public charter schools, and private schools. Some churches are responding in a very practical way to parents’ desire to send their children to schools that will teach according to their values or at least not contradict the values they’re teaching at home. Well, Pastor Mark Perko has led Deep Creek Baptist Church in Wadesboro, North Carolina for 13 years. Three years ago, the church started Deep Creek Christian Academy. Today, we’re joined by Pastor Mark Perko and Academy Director MiRandi Chewning. Mark and MiRandi, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

MARK PERKO: Thank you. It’s good to be with you today.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Alright, so Pastor Perko, what happened that made you consider this crazy idea about opening a school it seems like such an adventurous on taking?

MARK PERKO: Yes, I think a lot of people thought the same thing. I like what the Family Research Council said that 90% of children that are raised in Christian homes spend 30 to 35 hours a week in public schools that are typically run by people who don’t even have a biblical worldview. And then you multiply that times 12 years, and a lot of damage has been done, I think I also heard somebody say that if we send our kids to be educated by Caesar, we have no right to be surprised if they act like Romans. So we’re here in a small county, Hanson County, North Carolina, and parents wishing to send their kids to a nonpublic Christian school, they had to drive long distances for that to take place. So about 12 years ago, one of our young godly deacons, who has since passed, said in a vision casting meeting that we had here open to the congregation that he had a vision of a Christian school here at Deep Creek Baptist Church. And three years ago, we saw that vision become a reality. So, we basically spent nine years on this, but we got really serious the last three of those nine years in order to make that happen.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, we’ll talk about the mission then of Deep Creek Christian Academy,

MIRANDI CHEWNING: The mission of our school is to educate students in the light of God’s word to equip them for a lifetime of learning, leadership, service worship, but really, the base of it is to plant and grow the seed of Jesus. And it’s been really, really cool to watch how much these kids absorb that. And it’s been really awesome to watch how that has rippled out into their homes and into their families.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, is this a private school? Is it a charter school?

MIRANDI CHEWNING: We are registered as a private Christian school in North Carolina.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, talk about why you think churches are important players in expanding educational options for families.

MARK PERKO: Well, we figure we’ve only got one chance to get this right. And a lot of people know that back during the 18th, through the early 20th centuries, schools were allowed to teach the Bible to have prayer, etc. And then, of course, in 1963, that all changed with the ruling by the Supreme Court. And we sort of figured that we can’t put the church in school any longer. But we can sure fix this by trying to put a school into our churches. So you know, any family regardless of race, color, economic status, they ought to be allowed options as to where they send their children to school. And the reality is, is there are kids, they don’t belong to the government. And it’s our responsibility as parents, as grandparents, as relatives, as educators, to give them the best opportunity as Christian parents, and we ought to be able to send them to a Christian school.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you didn’t mention the legal aspects that maybe changed how we do public schools, but are there some things that are happening in North Carolina that make it easier for churches to start a private school as compared to other states?

MARK PERKO: Yes, you know, one of the things that we had to consider was, you know, with the changing political landscape, really across the country, how that affected us opening a school, you know, you thinking about the same-sex marriage ruling, the issue over bathrooms, the books that we’re finding in public school libraries, and so much more. That gives us a lot of reasons to do this. And really, the big concern is this big, slippery slope that the political climate is in right here in North Carolina. So when we began to meet about this, we got some advisors. We sought wise counsel, as the scripture tells us, and got some great advice, and we looked at different schools. We talked to a lot of people, we worked closely with at the Baptist state convention of North Carolina, and we’re still learning a lot of the legal things.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you mentioned nine years where you guys talked about doing this, explain a little bit more about what that process looked like, you explained that you had a lot of partners and I think that’s certainly a great idea. But give us some more specifics. What did that look like?

MIRANDI CHEWNING: The talk of the school had been going on for a really long time, which I know Mark’s already shared with you. And so of course, since we’re Baptists, we went ahead and got a committee together to get out there and do some research and things like that. And so we reached out and we looked into different schools around our community and outside of our county, we went in there, and we had questions laid out, and they gave us just really awesome advice on getting ready to start the school. The number one thing that everybody told us is, why are you doing this? The big thing was, if you are doing it for money, you are doing it for the wrong reason because there is no money in it. And there’s not. It’s all about God and nothing else. And like he mentioned before, we had a couple other kinds of smaller schools in our county, and we got their directors involved. And so they came over, and they talked to us. And they allowed us to go and see how they operate. And they gave us really good advice on how to get our baseline and how to get started. And it was super helpful to have those friends come along. And we’re very thankful for that.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, so you’ve been going around three years now. So, talk about the current status. How many students do you have? How many grades do you have?

MIRANDI CHEWNING: When we first started my very first year, we offered a two-year-old class, a three-year-old class, and a four-year-old class. Since then, we’ve grown. We have a one-year-old class, a two-year-old class two, three-year-old classes, a four-year-old class, kindergarten and first grade. We have a total of 58 students, we have 10 teachers on staff, we have a security on staff, and then I’m here as the director, and Preacher Perko is here too, so we have grown tremendously. And we’re just really excited about what’s going to happen in upcoming years.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, is this a common way to start? So you’re starting kind of in the younger ages, really preschool? Is that common? Is that like the wise way to do it, go ahead and get those kids are you going to take them on up the ladder?

MIRANDI CHEWNING: That is my prayer. I hope that God leads us in that direction. But really, it’s been awesome because the parents here have been so supportive that the ones that have started their children with us in their one-year-old class, it has been awesome to watch them get involved with the teachers and then they get excited about seeing them go to the next class the next year and have those teachers and I really, really think it makes a difference. I think that those parents are very appreciative of that relationship. They get to build with those teachers and the comfort level that they have there with them. And so when we first started, we kind of started knowing that with the younger grades, we were going to kind of get our feet wet and see how it went from there. And it just worked out beautifully.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Have there been some unexpected blessings? And what about the greatest challenge that you faced?

MIRANDI CHEWNING: There have been many, many blessings and many, many challenges, good challenges, growing pains. For me, I’ve told Preacher Mark a lot that I guess I thought my purpose here was going to be for the children. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I think God has put me here for the staff. I have loved getting to know these ladies, and to grow this family here. And we don’t even call it a job. We call it a ministry. And we’re thankful for the ministry that we get to come and be a part of. And that has been a huge, huge blessing to me. And then, as far as challenges go, right now, we’re growing like crazy. And I’m thankful for that. And we’re kind of running out of space. So, it is kind of like a puzzle, trying to figure out who we’re going to put where each year. I don’t like telling parents no because the parents love having their kids here; it makes me feel so good. Because anytime a parent calls, I say, I’ve heard nothing but good things about your school. And I’d tell all the parents, they will not get loved on any more than they will out here. The girls are five hours a day, their children are their priority. And I don’t like having to tell people or put them on a waitlist. Hopefully, our church will be expanding really soon. And we won’t have to put that many people on a waitlist, but definitely the challenge of different bases for all of the interests that we have here.

MARK PERKO: Yeah, just to touch a little bit more on the space issues. We are currently involved in the plans for a 7000 square foot addition. The church is growing, of course to the school is growing. So, we’re in the process of raising funds right now. So we can get the ground broken on that quickly. You know, there’s challenges. We meet them head-on, and we don’t let them deter us because we know this is a God thing. And he’s gonna see us through.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You’re in a rural area. Do you think it’s more important for the many rural areas that we have in North Carolina? Is this more important even for you because of where you’re located geographically?

MARK PERKO: I think some of it has to do with the culture of our county and that so many of our rural areas at one point they had a school that had a little country store, and they had a lot of people living out there, and they didn’t have the transportation and it was very convenient to walk to the school. As a matter of fact, there was once a Deep Creek School in this community. You can see the property from our church, and it closed in 1969. And even the neighbors here are excited that there is now a another Deep Creek School we’re the Christian Academy, but we’re back in this community again, and it’s not a hindrance, because people are coming here bringing their children from a lot of other rural areas, they’re bypassing the towns to come out here and bring their children some of them as much as 30 miles just to bring their children here.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Talk a little bit about the person whose idea this first was I know, you mentioned it was a young person, and this person has since passed away, which I’m sure it was a tragedy for your church. But this vision that God I’m sure planted in his heart and now is growing in the church just continues to grow. So talk about that as kind of an encouragement to the people that might be listening about what they need to do with those kinds of ideas that God plans in their hearts for their community.

MARK PERKO: Kevin Tucker is the young man’s name. And Kevin is all about the children. And we have a lot of different ministries that had begun here as a result of some of the visions that he had, were doing an outreach in another community for Christmas. Now, on the third year, because of his vision, visions can be like wildfire, and they just spread, and the people got excited. And we saw what God was doing and how he opened doors even we were going to start during COVID. And we decided to wait one year, which was a smart thing. And it gave us an extra year to prepare with what we were going to do. And it just really worked out good. And you know, I’d say to other pastors and church leaders who are considering is this something that they should do, and the most important thing, they need to just bathe this thing in prayer, you’re not going to open a school tomorrow, it’s going to take some time, but you definitely need the support of the church, not half the church, not three fourths of the church, they need the entire church to support that vision. And the pastor has got to get involved. We’ve met with many schools that are churches, and there was very little involvement from the pastor. And that’s got to be done. I look forward to being here every day and getting in the middle of those kids. Sometimes, I’m told I have to leave the classroom because I get them a little bit too stirred up. But that’s fun because my grandbabies live too far away. And I’ve just adopted 58 kids here,

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: MiRandi, any words of wisdom from you for people who might be considering going in this direction,

MIRANDI CHEWNING: Honestly, like Mark said, just put a lot of prayer on it and then get out of God’s way. I pray every day, whenever I come to work, I said, God just helped me take myself out of every decision and every action that I have today and just let it be all about you. And just to kind of put it in perspective, like Mark already said, Kevin passed away. It was early March; we had already been made in the year prior trying to get this going. And we put it on pause for COVID. He passed away, we had his service. And the very next week, our committee was meeting, and we were pushing forward; we had a lady come out from the North Carolina Baptist Association. And she kind of gave us some pointers on what we needed to do and what she says when do you want to open, and we said we want to open fall of this year. And this was like in April or May. And she was very nice about it. And he was super helpful. When we opened up in August, I went and spoke with her. And she told me she says I’m going to be honest with you. She said I didn’t know if you could pull it off by August. But we had our very first fundraiser in May. We threw it together in two weeks, and it made $20,000. And if that doesn’t show you that God’s in it, then I don’t know what does because he just has orchestrated every single thing. And it’s only by his grace that we have come this far. But I definitely would tell anybody that’s interested in doing it to put prayer on it and really pursue it because, like Mark has already said, I mean, it is our duty, and it’s our job to teach these babies about Jesus. And if we don’t do it, then somebody else is going to do it. And they’re not going to do it the way it needs to be done. So I would just encourage everybody out there to put a lot of prayer on it and see where God leads you.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We’re just about out of time. Where can our listeners go if they want to learn more about what you’re doing there at Deep Creek Christian Academy?

MARK PERKO: Well, we have a website you can just keyword Deep Creek Christian Academy, and it’ll bring us up and most of the questions could be answered through that website. We also offer visits by prospective students and their families and word of mouth basically around here is just really grown us.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Pastor Mark Perko and MiRandi Chewning. Thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.

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