The school year has been a learning and loving experience for some members of Grace Life Fellowship Church in Baton Rouge.

In its mission to reach the community, the church answered the call to get involved in schools, establishing a relationship with Lasalle Elementary School at 8000 Lasalle St.

“We had wanted to get connected to the community,” said Emily Soule, the youth director at Grace Life. “We felt our best fit was to partner with schools in general and do some big projects and then kind of fall in where they needed some help.”

Grace Life did more than help out at Lasalle. The church excelled, becoming popular with teachers and students and even being recognized as a Volunteer in Public Schools Star Community Partner.

“Our Partners in Education program works hard to establish partnerships within our public schools. Grace Life is one of the many outstanding faith partners we have. In fact, Grace Life’s partnership was two years in the making. When they finally decided to come on board, they really burst on board,” said Tiffany Temple, coordinator of Partners in Education and Volunteers in Public Schools.

After an initial conference with school officials in late fall, it didn’t take long for a women’s group at the church to get started.

“They felt hooked,” Soule said. “They did all kinds of stuff and loved it. They loved being there and meeting with the kids and the teachers.”

And the church showed its love.

“We felt the best way to love the school as a whole was doing something encouraging for the teachers. Not just the teachers but the whole staff — the custodial staff, the cafeteria workers, the teacher assistants in the classroom, the office workers — anyone that was on the campus that was an adult caring for students.”

And in a subtle way, the church showed the love of Christ.

“We know who we are in Christ, so we want to share his love with others, so it’s a privilege and a blessing to have the opportunity to do that,” Soule said.

Soule, 32, said the church’s task wasn’t about evangelizing or proselytizing.

“We’re just loving people and trying to love people well and hope they ask us why we do what we do and that they’ll see Christ in it and in us,” she said. “(Jesus) doesn’t need us to tell people about him. He can do it by himself, so we just try to love well.”

One of the biggest projects came right before Christmas when the church helped fulfill a school supplies “wish list,” thanks to donations from the Grace Life congregation. The list included printers, dictionaries, desks and whiteboards.

“We just went around the school and delivered it,” Soule said. “We had a big pile of thank-you notes handwritten from students and teachers about what a difference the supplies were making in the class. It was so fun.”

The relationship with Lasalle offered Grace Life an opportunity to encourage but also to be encouraged, Soule said.

“We were encouraged to see there were teachers and faculty that were really loving and caring for students well,” she said.

‘Where is God?’

“Why me?”

That was the one of the first thoughts Maggie Cupit had concerning her cancer diagnosis in 2010.

With the help of her grandfather, Cupit shares stories of pain, friendships, hope, perseverance and faith in the book “Why, God? Suffering Through Cancer to Faith” (Resource Publications).

The book is a joint effort of Cupit and her grandfather, Edward Henderson, ans emeritus professor of philosophy at LSU. Cupit offers journal entries from her battle with cancer, “faith questions” and other moments, while Henderson offers commentary and shares some of his email “faith conversations.”

Cupit was 19 and a freshman at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a life-threatening bone cancer. She had been selected to spend the summer doing research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The would-be researcher became a patient at the hospital.

Cupit writes: “Why me? What did I do to deserve cancer? If children and babies, the least deserving, get cancer, then where is God? Why does God let that happen? Does God cause cancer? Does everything happen for a reason? Do people die long, painful deaths after tons of miserable chemo because God wants them to, because this is God’s plan for you? Sometimes I felt like God was too far away from everything I was experiencing that God surely didn’t care about me if he’d allowed cancer to happen to me.”

Henderson tried to encourage Cupit according to his strong faith.

“Here’s what I believe. God doesn’t single you out and give you cancer as part of a plan for you and in order to test you or teach you something and certainly not to punish you,” he writes. “God does, on the other hand, create the kind of world in which cancer and all kinds of other destructive things happen … While the way faithful people understand God is important, their faithful living relationship is far more important. But God does want us to trust that no matter what happens, God cares about us and will redeem all that has happened.”

“Why, God?” is a fine read. It takes readers through a gamut of emotions in its 145 pages. It’s poignant, revealing and inspiring.

Cupit endured 11 months of “brutal” chemotherapy to replace her right leg and knee with internal titanium prostheses, according to Henderson. Cupit, who has wanted to be a doctor since she was 4, went on to graduate from Rhodes before enrolling at Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or trobinson@theadvocate.com.