When Redeemer Lutheran in Austin opened its new 15,000-square-foot cafetorium late last year, it was just the latest physical manifestation of a grand spiritual vision. Redeemer’s church and school for decades have worked in concert to bring Jesus’ love to their rapidly changing north Austin neighborhood. The new facility simply provides the space to contain and grow that ministry.

Redeemer’s commitment to its community is strong. Consider the recent example of Redeemer students writing personal notes to include in care packages for Austin’s homeless. The project came about when Texas District CEF partnered with LINC Austin—an organization that provides holistic care for those needing the healing love and hope of Jesus Christ. CEF and LINC wanted to provide care packages for the city’s homeless, and Redeemer Austin’s students pitched in to write personalized prayer cards. Each child chose their own message, ranging from “Jesus loves you” to “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 4:10

When asked what impact he hoped the card would have, one student remarked, “I hope it will make them feel comforted by God and happy that someone is thinking about them.”

That wish certainly came true. Debbie, a homeless recipient of LINC Austin Outreach’s services remarked that the children’s notes “actually mean the world to me because I’ve never had daily reminders that I’m cared about, that I’m loved, and that God’s there for me, especially being homeless. Those little bags—they just mean the world.”

[Learn more about the prayer cards in this video.]

Redeemer’s students—ranging in age from 15 months through 8th grade—quickly imbibe the core message that you’re never too young to change someone’s life and to lead them to Jesus. “Today it’s easy for young children to become self-centered and only see the world through their immediate surroundings,” says Redeemer’s principal, Carol Mueller. “We’re always trying to open their eyes to see how Jesus could use them to make a difference.”

Redeemer’s school may focus on teaching its students to become God’s servants, but their mission is also tightly integrated into the ministry of the larger church. “There’s really a special relationship between the church and school here at Redeemer,” says Family Life Pastor Landon Ledlow. “It’s hard to tell where one starts and the other stops because of how aligned we are to carry out the mission to Love Jesus, Love Learning, and Love Others.” The two work in tight concert to form one unified ministry. “I have worked with several large churches with schools connected to them,” says Ledlow. “I’ve never been at one where we are this unified and it’s exciting!”

This cohesion also showed last December, when Redeemer hosted their Night of Hope event. The event arose out of a request from the administration at Wooten Elementary, the neighborhood school, which primarily serves low-income families. Redeemer jumped at the invitation, organizing both a massive effort to provide Christmas presents for children who attended and then a fun festival to share the good news of Christ’s birth. The festival included a manger scene with live nativity and a tent where teenagers performed a skit and talked to kids about the Christmas story. Hundreds attended and the joy was palpable. “Honestly I was thinking maybe my kids weren’t even going to have gifts this year,” said one mom who attended with her children. “But y’all saved me. You saved our Christmas. All I can say is thank you for everything you have done for me and my family.”

[Watch a video about Night of Hope 2018.]

Redeemer’s deep commitment to its community has also shaped its long-term planning. Several years ago, Redeemer decided to apply for a loan from CEF to build a new school cafeteria and saw the opportunity to do more than just feed its children. The new cafetorium was intentionally designed as a multi-purpose space: school cafeteria by day and so much more on nights and weekends. In the six months since it opened, the facility has hosted a musical theater performance, orchestra recital, a Texas District conference, weekly Chorus Austin meetings, and worship services every Thursday night.

“It’s a beautiful addition,” says Principal Mueller. “It’s allowing us to look at ministry and ask how we can use this to disciple more to kids and their families. We know a large percentage of our students come in unchurched, so it’s important that we have a common vision to lead these families to the Lord.” For example, for Lent, the Redeemer cafetorium will host a supper and activities for families to learn how to disciple their children. A service will follow that is held in the commons rather than in the church. “It allows people to feel more relaxed,” says Mueller. “They don’t need to understand church for this; they can just relax and enjoy the service.”

As Austin changes rapidly around Redeemer, the church and school hope to be a light in their rapidly re-gentrifying neighborhood. When we help people, it’s in the name of Jesus,” says Pastor Ledlow. “When people come on board with that, they don’t have to understand life the way we do. The other people helping can meet Jesus, too. When the community comes together—the churches, the businesses, the nonprofits, the school district, the city—and meets a need, that’s really powerful.”