Over the years, our little church in Inchelium, Washington has tried many ways to reach our Native American community. We have held health fairs, done door-to-door work and engaged in various forms of friendship evangelism. We’ve also held several evangelistic series, with very sparse results. The local people are polite, but distant. They don’t usually order us off their front porches, but neither do they respond to our invitations. We want our church to be a light in the community, but for years it has felt almost as if a great cloud hung between us and the Natives, obscuring the light we want to share.
In October 2014 we decided to do yet another evangelistic series, this time in a large tent on the edge of town. We hoped the tent meetings would create some buzz—and that maybe people would attend out of curiosity, if for no other reason. Near the large tent for the adults, we put up a smaller tent for the children. To our surprise, more Native American children than adults attended—and they seemed to love the nightly meetings. As we went through the Truth 4 Youth program together, the children joined wholeheartedly in the singing, the gospel presentations and the crafts.
All too soon, our 2-week series ended. We had presented many of the Truth 4 Youth topics, but there hadn’t been time to go through them all. The pastor had invited the adults who attended the meetings to continue Bible studies every Tuesday night at our church. Why couldn’t we continue the kids’ meetings also? We decided to try it. But would they come? Our church is several miles out of town.
They came! In fact, 10–12 children faithfully attended. Each Tuesday evening when they arrived at the church, we offered healthful snacks and then moved into the program, ending with a craft. Following the completion of the Truth 4 Youth program, we created a set of programs based on Psalm 23, with lots of interactive elements. The kids loved it. By the end of the series, most of the kids could recite all or part of the 23rd Psalm, and all had a much deeper understanding of what God could do for them and in them.
After a summer break, a community parent insisted that we start up the weekly program again—and she offered to pick up the children and bring them to the church herself. With this encouragement, how could we refuse? This time we gave the program a name: “Kids’ Club.” The very first week, about a dozen Native American kids ages 4–12 attended. We started with the creation account and are currently going through the Bible story by story. Whatever the topic, we use it as a springboard to acquaint the children with Jesus and help them understand what He can do for them. Most of these kids have never been taught even the basics of the plan of salvation, and they are drinking it up. We encourage them to share what they learn with their friends, and many of them are doing that. At a recent Kids’ Club meeting, a 10-year-old girl reported having spoken about God’s power with over 20 of her friends during the past week!
At the conclusion of each program, we offer a quality craft—something the children will be proud of and treasure. We also offer fun prizes and a take-home poster or tract that they can share with a friend.
Our attendance fluctuates, depending on many factors, including school activities, sports games and family issues. However, a core group of about 15 community children come on a fairly regular basis. This may seem like a small number, but to us it is huge. We know that many parents will be touched through their children. In fact, we are already seeing this happen. For example, the mother of a lively 7-year-old boy told us, “You’ve done the best thing ever for our family to have Kids’ Club for my son.” She wants him to start attending Sabbath School, as well. Several other parents have attended church services and have requested Bible studies. Although we are more interested in heart work than church attendance at this point, one mother of three young girls told me her life goes much better when she goes to church!
We realize we have to treat this group delicately. Many of these children are trying to survive with parents who are abusive, addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, incarcerated or simply absent. Many can’t count on their parents to provide even the basic care, nurturing and instruction that they need. The children are often passed from home to home, and they have learned to be wary of adults. One beautiful 12-year-old girl is a case in point. She has been very slow to warm up, turning away from even a hug. We have respected her need for space, but we haven’t quit loving her and praying for her. A few weeks ago, at the end of a program, she came up to me and shyly offered me the craft she had made that evening. On it she had written a sweet little note. Another 8-year-old Kids’ Club member told his aunt, “The Holy Spirit is going to take hold of me, and I’m not going to do drugs and alcohol like my mom and dad.”
Offering a quality children’s program every week has been a large undertaking, but church members have rallied behind the project. Assistants provide transportation for the children, serve snacks, handle registration, run equipment, lead song service and donate prize items and money for program needs. Others have signed up for our “Adopt-a-Lamb” program, in which each individual child is matched with a mentor who connects with them, shows them God’s love and prays for them.
We know there will be setbacks; the enemy will see to that. However, we have seen how great a privilege it is to minister to children. We know that if we are faithful, God will bless—and we will see precious young souls in the Kingdom. As Dwight Moody once said, “There is no greater honor than to be the instrument in God’s hands of leading one person out of the kingdom of Satan into the glorious light of Heaven.”
By Janet Evert, editor of Young Disciple magazine and children’s ministries coordinator of the Inchelium Seventh-day Adventist Church. For contact information, see www.youngdisciple.org. For information on the Truth 4 Youth children’s evangelist series, see www.t4y.org.