Fire destroyed this church’s building. But it sparked the launch of a Christian school in central Illinois

A dream in April 2023 caused Ed Herald to believe God was calling him to start a Christian school – even though his church’s building had been destroyed by fire the year before. 


A dream in April 2023 caused Ed Herald to believe God was calling him to start a Christian school – even though his church’s building had been destroyed by fire the year before. 

“My first thought was, ‘We don’t even have the money to build the church. How can we build a Christian school?’” recalled the senior pastor of Victory Church in Bloomington, Illinois, in a video released by the church. “But God will never tell us something we can do. He’ll always tell us something only He can do.” 

That dream is becoming reality this year as the church prepares to launch its school, Foundation Christian Academy (FCA), in August. 

“There’s a need to change the lives of our children because the world is intentionally trying to indoctrinate them,” Herald said. “The church needs to be just as aggressive, just as intentional.” 

‘A challenging year’ 

On the morning of Jan. 10, 2022, Herald received a fire alert on his cell phone concerning the church. During a phone conversation with the local fire chief, he saw the church’s security cameras shut off and the fire chief hung up to deal with the situation. 

“Well, God, the building is yours,” Herald recalled saying at the time. “It’s always been yours, and it always will be yours. You do whatever you want to do.” 

About 8-10 hours later, the family realized the building was lost. 

“It was a challenging year,” Herald said. “God was doing something in all of us. He was refining us. He was pruning us. We didn’t know what was to come.” 

As church members worked through the loss, they found support and help from their local community. 

“Since the day of the fire, we have been blessed to be able to share the story, from losing the building to demolition and reconstruction,” executive pastor Jarrod Herald told The Lion. “The media – newspaper, radio and TV – have been following us the entire time. And so, we’ve been able to share even the school and what the Lord is doing through FCA.” 

‘No-fail’ policy  

Church officials believe their school will help reach many children who are struggling in Illinois public schools.  

The state has a “no-fail” policy for students under one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders issued in 2022 after the COVID-19 pandemic, explains Jarrod, who is also Ed’s son and head of school for FCA. The governor’s order mandates students continue from one grade to the next regardless of their academic performance. 

As a result, many children aren’t meeting basic educational standards for their grade levels, Jarrod says. 

“We’ve got 4th- and 5th-graders who don’t know how to read,” he told The Lion. “We have teachers in our own congregation at Victory and from the community who have confirmed that children are literally just being pushed through a system.” 

The state has made national headlines over its lackluster student performance. In one example, the Illinois Report Card in October showed average reading proficiency still rating below pre-pandemic levels. 

“That’s saying something when its own government system grades itself an F,” Jarrod said of the state’s public schools. “It just gives the church opportunity to be the light and love of Jesus Christ with the good news, and to get involved in the education and discipleship of our children.” 

Christian parents also have expressed concerns about political ideologies in state classrooms, which former schoolteacher John Stamper experienced during his time in Chicago Public Schools. 

“I could not implement the ideologies that my employer was asking me to implement,” Stamper writes in his book Conflicted: Pulling Back the Curtain on Public Education. “I could not, in good conscience, teach my students what I felt to be lies, nor could I participate in something that I felt to be in direct contradiction to my Christian faith.” 

These anti-Christian ideologies don’t belong in elementary classrooms, says Chantel Edwards, a parent at Victory Church: “At the public school, my kids are being questioned if God is real or not. That hurts me. My 7-year-old shouldn’t have to deal with that.” 

School as a ministry opportunity 

An estimated 250,000 children have been withdrawn from Illinois’ public school system over the past decade. Meanwhile, area private schools have waitlists of families hoping to enroll, Jarrod said. 

“We have a number of parents whose students are in public school, and they’re literally crying out for help,” he told The Lion. 

The school, still under construction, will have capacity for about 60-70 students in its first year. Church leaders hope to increase that to 150 students by the end of construction. 

“We will have hired staff who will be approved to teach our children, but we want the parents to participate,” Jarrod said, noting plans to train students in gardening, beekeeping and other life skills. 

Tuition rates are listed on the school’s website, including pre-K through 12th grade. Fees range from $3,300 for part-time pre-K to $5,500 for grades 9-12. 

The church is implementing ways to fund scholarships for those who may not be able to afford tuition. 

“We’re not interested in creating a money-maker out of this. We’re interested in changing the lives of these young children,” Jarrod said. “We’re walking by faith to raise the scholarships and work out any tuition discounts that we need to help these families engage in our new school.” 

While the school is working on its full-time options, Jarrod hopes the school can one day provide opportunities for homeschool families, such as weekly extracurricular activities or tutoring in specific subjects. 

“My wife and I have six kids, and we homeschool them,” he said. “But not every family has the opportunity for homeschooling because of the dynamic of their family, whatever that might be.” 

All families will be required to volunteer 15 hours a year for each child enrolled, up to 30 hours per family. Volunteering activities can include administrative tasks, helping with social media and marketing, or substitute teaching for a day. 

“We want parent participation,” Jarrod explained. “We want to put education and discipleship back in the hands of the parents, where it belongs.” 

More information on the school and its capital campaign fund can be found at