Released Time Bible Education shares Jesus each school day with 400 students from all five of Pickens County’s middle schools: Gettys Middle School in Easley, Pickens Middle School, Liberty Middle School, Dacusville Middle School, and R.C. Edwards Middle School, which serves the Clemson/Central/Six Mile area.
Offering off-campus Bible classes to students who are released from school for a class period, Released Time began in Pickens County in 2001 as part of Christian Learning Centers of the Upstate (which was founded in 1998 for Anderson County schools). In 2014, Pickens County separated to form Pickens County Christian Learning Centers.
In the three years since 2014, more than 500 decisions for Christ have been recorded in Pickens County, according to Brian Hale, who chairs the Board for Pickens County Christian Learning Centers. Those decisions include salvations and rededications, and Released Time has also influenced some students, from more than one school, to decide against contemplating suicide.
A middle school student wrote a letter to her Released Time teacher, Hale told The Christian View magazine. “She must have had a really bad life. She went into her room after school and locked the door and sat at the edge of the bed and decided that that day was going to be the day that she was going to take her life. She had already planned out what she was going to do, and the note she was going to leave for her family. Then, she started thinking about her Released Time teacher, who had told them something along the lines of, ‘God has a plan for you. He has a future for you. He would be disappointed if you don’t follow out the plan.’” The student also thought about how her Released Time teacher would be disappointed in her, too. “She started thinking about that, and she changed her mind,” said Hale. “She wrote the teacher a letter, saying, ‘I just wanted to let you know that, because of the impact you’ve had in my life, I decided not to take my own life.’ One little girl is definitely worth it. That’s just one example. We hear that a lot. They just need some hope.”
School Ministries, Inc., based in Columbia, South Carolina, is a national association of Released Time Bible education programs. “School Ministries is kind of our parent organization,” said Hale. “We are kind of under their umbrella, in a way, because they have all of the legal support, and they do a lot of research and find out a lot of stuff for us.”
The curriculum Released Time in Pickens County uses is Firm Foundations -- Creation to Christ from New Tribe Mission. “It was written originally to take to foreign countries, to teach people in other countries about Jesus,” said Hale. “They realized that we need it here in the United States. They wrote a really good high school curriculum, an adult and student curriculum, and we teach it. It starts in Genesis. If they (the students) don’t believe ‘In the beginning, God’, it’s hard for them to believe anything. We spend a lot of time in Genesis. And then it goes all of the way to the ascension of Christ. It’s a great curriculum. We bought flat screen tv’s and laptops for all of the rooms, so there are a lot of illustrations with this new curriculum. Every time they turn a page, they see an illustration on the screen, instead of (the teacher) just standing up there, reading to them. It’s full of scripture, and it’s a really good curriculum.
“There are no other organized religions that do this,” Hale said. “It takes a lot of organization. We’ve been doing this (in Pickens County) for 16 years. Released Time is in 42 states in the United States. There are over 350,000 Released Time students in the United States right now. It’s a very organized group.”
Hale said that there is more religious freedom for students in public schools than one might realize. “Any student can carry their own Bible and do their own Bible study, they can pray out loud, they can write book reports about the Bible. We so easily back down and are afraid to vocalize what we believe, which is sad. But this ministry works. There was a study done where they introduced Released Time into the public school system, and they monitored the students’ behavior and grades through several years. The behavioral problems went down, and the grade point averages went up. The schools love this program. All of the Principals love it. They can tell you how many students have had their lives changed because of this. It not only teaches them about the Bible, it also helps them at home. We see a lot of students lead their parents and brothers and sisters to Christ. Just about every semester, family members make decisions for Christ, because the kids go home and share with them. So, it impacts the family. I can’t imagine anybody not wanting this program.
“We had one little girl who got saved several years ago,” he continued. “We give them a little book, which basically says, ‘What do you do now?’ It talks about starting a quiet time, getting involved in a church, reading your Bible, and, in the back of that book, it has the plan of salvation. This little girl went home and her mom said, ‘What did you do today?’ And she told her, ‘I got saved.’ The mom said, ‘I don’t exactly know what that means.’ The little girl got the little yellow book out and started reading through it and read her the plan of salvation, and the lady got saved. The daddy came home and went in the living room, and the mother was on the couch with the little girl and the mother was crying. The daddy sat down and said, ‘What’s going on?’ And the mother read the book to the daddy, and he got saved and got the whole family into church. The last I heard, that whole family is still in church. That’s just an example of how it works. When you introduce people to God, and the spirit of God gets hold of them, it changes who they are. And that’s what we see on a regular basis. And we see kids who make terrible grades or dealing with addictions or (thoughts of) suicide get their lives turned around.”
When Hale oversaw the 2001 pilot program for Released Time in Pickens County, eight sixth graders participated. Released Time had been presented to all of the School Board in April of 2001, and, upon recommendation of then School District Superintendent Dr. Mendel Stewart, the Board approved the program at the following month’s board meeting. The first day of Released Time was held on the first day of class at public schools, on August 7, 2001, with eight sixth grade students from Gettys Middle School in attendance. Those former students are now in their late 20’s. Hale sometimes sees some of the former Released Time students from the earlier years, now grown and married with children of their own.
He recalled the early years as Released Time began in Pickens County as part of Christian Learning Centers of the Upstate, with eight students from Easley, and how it rapidly grew. “Oconee County stepped up several years ago, wanting to do a program,” he added, “so we opened up one in Oconee County. Then, Anderson County kept spreading out, and we decided to break out on our own in Pickens County. We started Pickens County Christian Learning Centers by ourselves.”
The Pickens County Released Time program has five 14-passenger buses, one for each middle school, and three of which have been purchased from donations since Pickens County separated and formed its own organization. Jacob’s Law will not allow students to be transported by van anymore, Hale said. “It has to be a dual axle. We prefer to use the bus bodies, because they are stronger and more stable. Three out of five of our buses we’ve purchased in the last year and a half to two years. The Lord has blessed us in that point.”
Hale’s goal is for Released Time to be available for credit for Pickens County high school students. He is currently searching for a certified teacher to teach Easley High School students.
“Ken Breivik, who is the Executive Director for School Ministries, with a couple of other folks, a couple of years ago went before the state and got that passed so that we can give credit toward high school graduation,” Hale said. “It’s an elective credit, but it’s just like any other elective class. So we’re working toward that. We really want to start it, now that we’ve got all of the middle schools. We just had to get established as Pickens County before we could move forward. Once we get RC Edwards established and funded, then the next project we’re going to do is probably Easley High School, as soon as we get a teacher. We’d love to hit all of the high schools. Our goal several years ago was to go from elementary school to high school, using Good News Club in elementary school and Released Time in middle school and high school. That way, we can carry these students from the time they get into school until they get out of school. Not all kids get to go to church, but almost all kids go to school. We don’t get the home-schooled kids. Most of the home-schooled kids are strong in their faith, anyway. But we want to get the public school kids from the time they get into school until they get out, give them as much about the Bible and introduce them to the Lord as much as we can. It seems to be working. We’ve just got to get the high school going. We’ve got everything lined up for the next semester. We’ve just got to have a teacher. We have to have a certified public school teacher for that program.”
Hale said that, when Pickens County was in with Anderson County, they had fundraisers that included yard sales, book sales, and car shows. “When I decided to do Pickens County, I went at this a different way,” he said. “I prayed about it, and God gave it to me to do ‘adopt a student.’ I took our budget and divided it by the number of students and it came to a little over $20 a student. It’s $25 a month now, because we’ve taken on more kids, and we don’t have as much support in some of the rural areas like Dacusville and RC Edwards. When you adopt a student, you get a little card, and it has pictures of kids on it and it has the student’s first name on it. It basically says to post that card somewhere, on your refrigerator or in your Sunday School class, so you can pray for that student every single day. And you get envelopes and one of the brochures in the sponsor packet. We’re getting 90 percent of our money through the $25 a month sponsorship. We still get a lot of money from churches. Most of the time, individuals do it. So, if anybody would like to sponsor a student, it’s $25 a month. You can give online; it drafts out of your account every month. Or you can write a check every month. Or you can do a one-time gift and sponsor a kid for a whole year. It’s $25 a month per student for 12 months. I figured it up over a 12-month period, not just for the 10 months the kids are in school, to make it low enough. The sponsorship program has been really big for us. It has really helped us out.”
To donate to Released Time, visit their website at www.pcreleasedtime.com.