Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

“Be strong and of good courage; for you shall cause this people to inherit the land, which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you.” —Joshua 1:6-7

In the Bible book Joshua 1, following the death of Moses, God calls upon Joshua to become the new leader of the Israelites and to lead God’s people into the promised land.

This Bible story was the basis for the Sparks group at the weekly Awana session Nov. 14 at Frontier Chapel.

Founded in 1950, Awana is an international non-profit organization “focused on providing Bible-based evangelism and discipleship solutions for ages 2-18. As the global leader in child and youth discipleship, Awana gives children the opportunity to know, love and serve Jesus no matter their background,” according to the official Awana website.

The name Awana — Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed — derives from 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

For more than 10 years, the Fort Leavenworth chapel community has been hosting the Awana program for children pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. This year, more than 140 children are signed up.

“(Awana) is to help kids learn scripture and then help them to share the gospel with others, but also for us to share the Gospel with the kids, too, in learning their verses and helping them gain a better understanding of our faith and God and a lot of Bible stories,” said Beth Woodward, Awana director.

“When you memorize those verses, they may not mean that much to you in pre-K, but as you get older, you can start putting context to that stuff and then those memory verses come back to you. Our goal is to give them the foundation of having the scripture memorized and give them the foundation of faith.”

Awana volunteer Chaplain (Maj.) Carson Jump, a Command and General Staff Officer Course student, agreed saying he went through Awana when he was a child.

“Those verses I memorized as a kid, I remember as a 30-year-old. They stick with you,” he said. “That’s why I want my kids involved and also why I volunteered.”

Each night begins with an opening ceremony where the children, volunteers and directors gather for the Pledge of Allegiance, the Pledge to the Awana flag, a song and a prayer. Then they divide into groups for handbook time, game time and lesson time.

The Awana program is broken up into three groups — Cubbies for pre-kindergarten; Sparks, for kindergarten through second grade; and T and T, or Truth and Training for third through sixth grade.

In their groups, they are given age-appropriate instruction from basic lessons of who God is to more advanced lessons that focus on the Bible being the inspired word of God.

“It is about imprinting the word of God in children’s hearts,” said Lt. Col. Jim Harbridge, Department of Army Tactics instructor, Command and General Staff College, and Sparks group volunteer.

For each new set of verses a child learns, they earn patches, badges and jewels to add to their Awana vest.

“It is like a Church scouting-type group,” Woodward said.

One of the most popular verses the children memorize is John 3:16, a proclaimed favorite for 7-year-old Abigail White, Sparks group, and 8-year-old Elizabeth Beckett, T and T group.

“I like how (the verse) says some really good things that we will all live if we believe in God and Jesus,” White said.

“I’ve learned that Jesus loves me and that he will always help me in bad times,” Beckett said. “It can help you for your whole life.”

Woodward said the program has been going smoothly because of the number of volunteers.

“We have about 35 volunteers and it makes it go much smoother,” she said. “We try to keep it at a ratio of a certain number of kids to a certain number of volunteers. Handbook time is really a time to build those one-on-one mentoring relationships with your small group leader. It is more like a Bible study where you build that relationship with them and you’re not just talking about your verse that week or your lesson.

“Sometimes kids don’t have somebody in the home that they feel comfortable telling them things that went on during the week,” she said. “So, it gives them somebody to talk to and friends that will support them in their faith.”

Harbridge said this is the reason he enjoys volunteering the most.

“We have so many volunteers this year that we get to bond with (the children) because we get the same small groups each week,” he said. “You get to develop a relationship with them and help them grow and then at the same time you’re learning, too.”

Harbridge’s wife, Christina Harbridge, Sparks director, said she enjoys the teaching aspect.

“I like the church. I like to organize and I’m helping the children and I enjoy being with others and teaching them about Christ,” she said. “I’m teaching my children that coming to church is important, that learning the Gospel of Christ and how we’re supposed to be more like Christ is important.”

Woodward said that being involved in the Awana program has not only allowed her to help the children build their foundation of faith, but it has helped hers grow as well.

“We lose the fact that kids are a mission field,” she said. “We sometimes lose sight of our own church or our own children being a mission field. So, that is somewhere where it has helped me view them as somebody to witness to and help them grow in their faith as I grow in mine.”

For more information about the Awana program, call Frontier Chapel at 684-2210 or visit www.awana.org.