Love Them First: Documentary Inspires As God Works Through Brokenness

At an elementary school in North Minneapolis God is bringing hope and transformation through the lives of two godly principals and their teaching staff into the lives of some of Minneapolis’ poorest and most traumatized students. That story is being told through a new documentary film called Love Them First that shows a year in the life of Lucy Laney Elementary School.

“Love them first” is the rally call of Principal Mauri Friestleben to see the dignity of God in each of these children

Transform Minnesota hosted a screening of the film at the Music Box Theater on August 16 for church leaders and school teachers, followed by a special panel discussion with Principals Mauri Friestleben and Lisa Pawalek and KARE11 reporter Lindsey Seavert.

Filmed during the 2017-18 school year, the documentary follows the leaders and staff of Lucy Laney as they invest their lives to rescue students beset by homelessness, domestic violence, unstable family life and even the loss of parents due to alcohol, drug use and imprisonment. “Love them first” is the rally call of Principal Mauri Friestleben to see the dignity of God in each of these children, which compels her and the teachers to intervene in their students’ lives to chart a new trajectory for their future.

The film reveals some of the spiritual backstory to the amazing transformation that we see. Mauri grew up just blocks away from this school building and suffered horrific abuse as a young child living there. As an adult God has brought her out of that trauma to a place of healing and given her a resilient spirit that has the strength to turn around one the state’s most underperforming schools.

After the film each of the panelists shared how their faith in God and the work of the Holy Spirit sustains them through the incredible difficulties they face each day. For Christians who watch this film it is an encouragement and a reminder that godly people are placed in some of the most strategic and vital places to impact the lives of children in our society.

godly people are placed in some of the most strategic and vital places to impact the lives of children in our society

The update since Love Them First was released is that Mauri Friestleben was selected to be the Principal and Minneapolis North High School, and her Assistant Principal, Lisa Pawalek was named to lead Lucy Laney Elementary School. Together they and their families prayed and fasted about whether to accept these new leadership roles.

Love Them First was produced by KARE11 and will be broadcast on their station, Thursday, September 12 at 8:00 pm. In October it will be released on streaming platforms, where Executive Producer Janeen Vogelaar hopes it will become a teaching tool to help churches, neighborhoods and educators to support students who face the greatest obstacles in life.

Transform Minnesota is grateful to Wooddale Church – Loring Park Campus for hosting the screening at the Music Box Theater, and to Thrivent for their sponsorship and key partnership in this event.


September 4, 2019
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