God Opens Doors: The Story of Living Word AcademyBy Billie Sue Dunn, American Indian Field
What happens when you are pastoring a small Kentucky church in the 1970s and God calls you into missions? Leland and Carol Conway found themselves in this very place. This is the story of how God was faithful to show them the plan He had for their family.
After Leland and Carol Conway applied to two different missions organizations and were turned down, they were a bit confused as to how God would use them. It wasn’t long until a different door of service opened for the Conway family. They began serving on World Gospel Mission work teams to Southwest Indian School in Peoria, Arizona, for two-week time periods. Leland left the pastorate in Kentucky and was asked to supervise building projects at SIS.
After completion of the building, they returned to Kentucky, still seeking God’s will and way for service to Him. An unexpected door opened. Leland received a phone call from a pastor on the Tohono O’odham reservation to come and build a church building for them. Leland was eager to help and headed to the reservation. Meanwhile, Carol remained in Kentucky while their youngest daughter finished her last year of high school. When Leland arrived on the reservation, neither the funds for the building nor the pastor was there. He was asked to replace the pastor for a while and to be the administrator of the Christian private school the church had established. The school used the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. Leland was soon off to Lewisville, Texas, the headquarters for ACE, for training. He returned to the reservation to accept this new challenge. Was this the open door for which they had been praying?
In the late summer, Leland returned to Kentucky. He had decided that the opportunity he had been offered with the church and the school was not God’s will for them, but he was offered a job working for a small Native American–owned construction company. He rented a small mobile home for his family to live in. After giving away most of their personal belongings, they stuffed what was left in Leland’s work van, and headed west.
On a scorching hot day in September 1984, Leland and Carol arrived in Sells, Arizona. They began to attend the Sells Nazarene Church, making friends and establishing relationships with some very special children in the neighborhood. Forming relationships while living among the people was important to pointing the people to Christ. However, God was about to open a very special door to lead others to Jesus.
They began homeschooling their third-grade son using the ACE curriculum. Using the teaching aids sent with the curriculum, Carol began tutoring other children in the community who needed extra help with their schooling. Some of the families expressed an interest in homeschooling. Permission was granted to operate a Christian private school out of the Conway’s home, and Living Word Academy was officially established in 1985. The Conways now had the opportunity to meet the need of the community and use that means to present the gospel on a daily basis.
For the first nine years, school was held in the three-bedroom mobile home that doubled as the Conway’s residence. The gospel message was proclaimed to the students and their families.
God opened many doors in those next several years. He brought volunteer help through parents, WGM missionaries, and family members. More space was also provided at each stage of growth. In the early 1990s, the school moved into the Sells Nazarene Church and classes were conducted there for two years. Then God orchestrated another move. A mobile unit was purchased, a piece of land was leased, and classes began in a regular classroom. Even though the classroom was rather crude, the ministry continued with the Lord’s help.
It became evident to Leland and Carol that the time had come to relinquish the school into the hands of people who could give more direction and establish a more efficient and permanent work. The Conways contacted WGM because of its reputation of good work in education with the Native people and its strong biblical standard and holiness doctrine. Once again God opened the door. In the spring of 1999, staff from Southwest Indian Ministries Center met with Leland and Carol, and the transition was made that put Living Word Academy under the supervision of WGM. The school became Southwest Indian School/Living Word Academy. Carol continued to be involved in the school as a teacher.
Living Word Academy continues to present the gospel and trusts the Lord to change lives today.
Could you ever imagine that the Conway’s journey from their small Kentucky church would bring them to opening a school that would inspire policemen, teachers, and community leaders? That could only be God’s doing.
GO: God is still opening doors. Is He opening a new door for you? Be part of teaching Native American children about Jesus in an educational setting. Living Word Academy has short-term and career opportunities available. Visit www.wgm.org/aif to learn more.