Jesus Day at Stuyvesant High School Featured in New York Times May 25, 2006Posted by peterong in Asian American Youth.
Here is an Article from New York Times written by Michael Luo for the New York Times there is also a video clip from the article here.
On a recent sunny afternoon at Stuyvesant High School, the track team warmed up in the lobby. On the sixth floor, the school newspaper staff assembled to listen to a speaker. Outside, a cluster of students gathered to pray.
The students were members of Seekers, the elite school's Christian club. Like Joshua marching around Jericho before the walls came tumbling down, they were walking around their building and praying in preparation for an event called Jesus Day.
"Our main goal for Jesus Day is evangelism," said David Seok, 18, a senior and a co-president of Seekers. "We try to reach out to our school and our friends who don't believe."
About 30 public high schools in New York City have Seekers clubs like Stuyvesant's. Loosely affiliated with the Urban Youth Alliance, an evangelical Christian organization based in the Bronx, the Seekers clubs, which date to at least the 1980's, comprise the largest and most established network of Christian student groups in New York City public schools. For most of them, Jesus Day — actually a series of outreach-oriented rallies that were held on different days last week in schools across the city — is their capstone event of the year.
"It's a day to tell everyone what we're about," said Regina Chan, 17, a senior and the other co-president of Stuyvesant's Seekers club.
But evangelism in a public high school, especially in New York City, can be complicated. In a school like Stuyvesant, full of people with different beliefs and some with none at all, belonging to an evangelical group like Seekers can make members the objects of scorn from classmates and even teachers.
"There are a lot of people who respect that you're religious and you're involved in Seekers," Miss Chan said. "And there are also a lot of those who just kind of see you as someone who's a religious fanatic, that we don't care about science, that we're ignorant."
School administrators must also wrestle with difficult questions about where the right to religious expression ends and the separation of church and state begins. Some school officials have discouraged their Seekers clubs over the years from having Jesus Day, while others have imposed strict limitations on advertising for the event, including prohibiting groups from using the name "Jesus" in any literature.
At the Bronx High School of Science last year, Michael Zhou, 18, the Seekers club president, said, the group got around restrictions placed on them by leaving out the letter "u" from Jesus, putting up posters reading, "Jes s," and the message, "All that's missing is U."
At Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, Queens, the Seekers club was not even allowed to meet on campus until several years ago. The school's principal barred members of the faculty from advising the club, making it impossible for it to become an officially sanctioned student organization, said Ellen Fee, a math teacher and assistant principal who is the club's current adviser.
Ms. Fee agreed to become the club's adviser after coming to the school in 2003 — she also advises the Muslim students group — paving the way for Seekers to become official. Today, it is the school's second-largest club, she said. But the school's principal, Thomas Cunningham, asked the members not to take part in Jesus Day.
"That's one of the criteria that the principal laid down," said Vivian Shibata, the club's president. "He preferred that we didn't have Jesus Day. We didn't want to push the limits."
At Stuyvesant, Stanley Teitel, the school's principal, has given the group wider latitude, saying he trusts other students at the school to be able to make up their own minds about Jesus Day. The school also has Jewish and Muslim clubs. The members of Seekers were free to post fliers for Jesus Day around the school and hold their event in the cafeteria after school.
"It's your decision as to whether or not you want to go," Mr. Teitel said. "I'm not forcing you. It's not part of your instructional day. They're just advertising this event is occurring. We do many after-school events."
Several years ago, after receiving a directive from the New York City Board of Education, the school reversed its policy of prohibiting students from holding Jesus Day on campus, he said. Before that, the students held the event on a street corner near the school, off school property.
"We were told we had to give everybody equal access," he said.
As a result, about a hundred students gathered last Tuesday in the Stuyvesant cafeteria for Jesus Day 2006. A colorful poster explaining "How do U get saved" covered one window. A poster in the middle of the cafeteria was decorated with pink hearts containing prayer requests. "Get into Yale. Get love," one read. "Stepmom, stepdad get saved," another read.
A book table offered Bibles and tracts. "The Atheist Test," was the title of one; another explained evolution, "The Evidence: For and Against."
Stuyvesant's is one of the largest and most active Seekers clubs in the city. During the school year, about 30 students meet every Thursday after school in a classroom, where they worship and study the Bible together, or just talk. At its essence, the group provides students, Christian or not, a spiritual and social refuge in the midst of what can be a difficult time, high school, members say.
Wing Wong, 17, a senior, who described himself as still searching spiritually, joined Seekers about two months ago after enlisting in the Marine Corps. He did it, he said, because he was looking for people who would genuinely care for him. "I wanted to look for a new group of friends who would always be there," he said.
The program last week got off to a shaky start. The group had scheduled several performances and "testimonies" by Mr. Seok and Miss Chan on what Jesus Christ had done in their lives. But the acoustics in the cafeteria made it difficult to hear. Many of the students appeared to be there just for the free food, goofing off, while others tried to hush them. Many started trickling out after the event began.
But the guest speaker, Yei Jong Ahn, who works with a youth group at the United Korean Church of New York in Brooklyn, managed to hold the attention of most through a half-hour-long message about Jacob wrestling with an angel of God.
"No matter what you've done in your life, no matter where you are, you will never be alone," he said. "God is there with you, struggling with you."
Afterward, the Rev. Frank Meyer, a pastor at the Church of Living Grace in Livingston, N.J., offered quarters to students who asked him a "tough question about God."
Soon, he had them going: Is evolution true? What does God think about premarital sex? If God loves us, why is there so much suffering in the world?
The event drew to a close with a final musical number. But by then there were mostly only Seekers members remaining. Gone were the unbelieving friends many had invited. Gone were those on the fringes of the group who had come. The people left were family. They danced and sang together.