Contact: Melody Bentley, 571-274-6058
WARRENTON, Mo., Oct. 21, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- This past summer, across the United States, Child Evangelism Fellowship ran over 6500 evangelistic clubs, called 5-Day Clubs. More than 141,000 children attended. Over 23,500 children professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The success of these clubs had a great deal to do with the committed and well-trained volunteers who lead them. What is remarkable is that most of them were teenagers.
Photo: Dyland Adams, a seventh-year summer missionary from Virginia Beach, VA, demonstrates teaching a Bible lesson at the Virginia Christian Youth in Action Camp, in July 2011.
More than 3600 teenagers were involved in running these 5-Day clubs, many leading multiple clubs. These clubs are similar to the traditional vacation bible school, meeting on a Monday through Friday for 90 minutes each day. The curriculum, developed by educators at CEF headquarters, in Warrenton, Missouri, is well-designed, engaging and thoughtful. It is also demanding of those who teach it. "Those 90 minutes are packed," said Ms. Rachel Hamel, a veteran 5-Day Club leader. "It starts off with 15 minutes of games designed to build relationships among the children and with the leaders, followed by a song to get them focused. We teach them the rules of the club and then talk about a short phrase for the day such as 'Do what's right.' We spend about 10 minutes working on a Bible memory verse with the children. After another song or two we teach them a 15-20 minute Bible lesson which includes the gospel message, how this lesson applies to life and an invitation to receive Christ as their personal Savior. Then there is a mission time when we tell them a missionary story. At the end, we have 15 minutes to have a snack and get to know the children better."
Leading these clubs certainly requires spiritual maturity, an interest in children and a concern for their souls, but the reason teenagers are particularly effective in this role, according to Rebecca, 16, of Maryland, is because children look up to teens and want to emulate them. Excellent preparation is also crucial to success. At the beginning of each summer, CEF runs a Christian Youth in Action (CYIA) Training School in almost every state for one to two weeks, to prepare teenage volunteers to lead the 5-Day Clubs. Teenagers as young as 14, who are interested in attending, must provide in their application a testimony of their Christian faith and spiritual growth, as well as references. "It is important for people to know that this is not a place to fix teens. It is meant for mature teens who take evangelizing children seriously," said Amy Haines, a Training Coordinator for the Virginia CYIA. Accordingly, participants are called "summer missionaries," and must commit to significant memory work in preparation for the school. This includes mastering a presentation of the signature Wordless Book, an explanation of the Christian gospel through colors.
The training schools provide the summer missionaries with a jam-packed time of instruction on teaching, counseling and lovingly maintaining order, as well as providing spiritual discipleship to the missionaries and some great fun. The instructors are highly experienced and model every aspect of the club, answering questions and mentoring the missionaries. Many of the demonstrations are done by experienced summer missionaries. During the practicums which follow the summer missionaries receive detailed evaluations from the instructors.
While at the school the summer missionaries must learn public speaking skills: how to organize and outline material to create a coherent presentation, how to deliver a 15-20 minute Bible lesson presentation without notes, how to project one's voice and think on one's feet when dealing with the unexpected. "These are skills that carry over into the rest of life," remarked Ms. Hamel.
They also learn a great deal about children. For example, this past July, in Virginia where CEF runs an overnight CYIA camp, Ms. Carra Bunner, a full-time elementary school teacher and CYIA instructor, provided a remarkable demonstration on how to engage children. The summer missionaries learned about eye contact, hand motions, voice modulation, the importance of repetition and finishing stories on a suspenseful note to encourage the children to return to the club the next day. Asked about mastering all of these skills, Robert, a first-year missionary responded, "It's hard but it's fun." Andrew, a fifth-year missionary remarked, "The more you come the easier it gets."
Leading children in a 5-Day club involves other skills besides teaching. Maintaining order and encouraging good behavior in a loving way is crucial. The summer missionaries learn practical methods such as using songs to calm the children down after games to prepare them to hear a Bible lesson. Emphasis is placed on thinking carefully about how to say things. "Instead of saying, 'Don't take anymore candy!!!' say 'Let's make sure there is enough candy for everyone," offered one instructor at the Virginia camp.
One of the most important skills the summer missionary must learn is how to counsel a child for salvation. "We do not want to use leading questions to manipulate a child into saying 'yes' for the sake of bragging about numbers. God calls us to share the gospel. He does not require us to make people believe," explained Ms. Hamel. In 5-Day Clubs, children are never forced or manipulated into making a salvation decision. Summer missionaries are taught how to use thought-provoking questions to assess a child's understanding of the gospel and readiness to receive Christ as Savior. CEF workers believe that the Holy Spirit must bring conviction of sin to a child's heart and draw that child to Himself. "Apart from the work of the Spirit in bringing a child to a point of repentance and faith in Christ, there is no salvation," explained Ms. Lynda Pongracz, Executive Director of Education for CEF. The missionaries are taught to recognize when God is working in the child’s heart and how to guide that child in responding to God. If a child does make a salvation decision, the missionaries then encourage the child to begin to grow spiritually through prayer, Bible reading, church attendance and witnessing.
The Christian Youth in Action training schools are indeed demanding. "You have to get outside your comfort zone." was almost an adage at the Virginia training camp. "Most first year students have heard it's a wonderful program but they really don't realize what they are getting into," said Mrs. Haines. "But we challenge them to believe they can do this," said Leila Martin, also a Training Coordinator for the Virginia CYIA. What they are getting into, according to many summer missionaries, draws them back year after year. "It's a great learning experience. Every year you learn more and more. And it's great to hang out with godly friends who you can talk freely with. You make friends you know you will have for the rest of your life," said Andrew, a fifth-year missionary. Alexander, in his second year, emphasized that "coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ gives us a passion to share the gospel with kids." Richard, another fifth-year missionary, mentioned how much he valued working as a team, learning to trust and support one another, and relying on God to see them through.
Rebecca, 16, of Maryland, was a third-year missionary this past summer and like many of the summer missionaries exhibited a maturity and boldness beyond her years. She loves to work with kids and be a part of all the crazy things that go with it. For the past three summers she has gone into the rougher sections of Washington, D.C., to parks and community centers to hold 5-Day Clubs. She said it is easier to hold the clubs inside because the drunken men in the parks can be a distraction for the children. While the violence and crime would repel many, it makes Rebecca want to go back. "I want to be there for the children who are going through this," she said. She is grateful for the training at the camp which she calls a home away from home.
Mr. Tom Boor, Ministry Coordinator for the Peninsula Area of Virginia, has seen many teenagers go through the Virginia Christian Youth in Action training camps. Every year, he says, he sees lives transformed. "The teenagers who attend emerge more confident, more sure of themselves. They have a closer walk with God and a heart for service that continues the rest of their lives." This maturity coupled with the skills they acquire at the camp make these teenagers effective at evangelizing children. Youth Pastor Adam Colson, of the Lake of the Woods Church in Locust Grove, Virginia, has been so impressed with the camp that he requires all of the teens at his church who want to participate in any missions endeavor to attend the CYIA training camp first. This year 27 teenagers from his church attended the Virginia camp. "Teenagers have abilities and can do great things now," explained Pastor Colson. "They are not the future of the church. They are the church."
Christian teenagers interested in finding out more about the 2012 Christian Youth in Action Training Schools should go to www.cefonline.com/cyia.