I grew up in a small Midwest town and moved to Nashville for college. While I was there I met the woman who would become my wife and after we married, we continued to live in Nashville, eventually building our house there that would become home not only to us, but our two sons as well. While we have since moved away from the Nashville area, every time I am able to get back there I feel like I’m home. I can walk the street where our sons learned to walk. I can go to the places where my families made special memories and spent so many days with family and friends. I can enter the church where our sons came to know Jesus and see the friendly faces of a community of people who love them.
For refugees and displaced people what I described above is more fantasy than reality. The ability to be known and call a place home isn’t always possible when you’re forced to leave all you’ve known as your home. For the millions of refugee children, belonging to a place might be nothing more than a fleeting moment of connection to a temporary dwelling or camp.
This summer, some team members and I were able to see churches use the Awana ministry as a form of outreach and discipleship among refugee children. The photo above shows an Awana game square in the foreground and a rusty gate. Beyond the gate is a dusty, dirt road and on the other side of the road is a field where potatoes are grown. In the distance are mountains that separate this community from the neighboring country where many of the children are from and have had to flee.
This may not look like much more than paint on dirt, but this cracked earth provides those girls and boys who are far from home three important elements of discipleship.
- Belonging – For all of us, the need to belong is core to our being, and yet for refugees, no matter the age, the ability to belong can feel elusive at best. At Awana, children can belong before they believe. We’re about kids, all kids everywhere! Whatever their story or past, Awana kids are part of God’s global movement. Children are not an afterthought, they are central to our mission and close to the heart of God. For refugee children, Awana provides a place to laugh, sing, play games and learn God’s Word all while feeling a sense of community and home, even in a new and foreign land.
- Believing – The central purpose of the Awana ministry is to create lifelong disciples. We focus on children and youth coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus and walking faithfully in His truth. Through the agency of the local church and alongside the presence of a caring adult, Awana provides opportunities for kids to put their trust in Jesus Christ and learn to faithfully follow Him. For all of us who follow Christ, believing is an act of changing our identity. But especially for displaced children, the act of believing is an amazing change in their identity from stranger, alien and foreigner to Beloved and Child of the King!
- Becoming – As a child feels a sense of Belonging and begins to embrace Belief, they launch into a lifelong journey of Becoming a disciple. This is the active, lifelong pursuit of following Jesus. This aspect of Awana is just one way that Christ is building His church around the world! Imagine for a moment the way the Church will look because local churches began loving and serving the children of refugees who entered their communities. As these children move throughout the world, these young disciples of Jesus will bring the truth of God’s Word with them and spread it to others! What an honor to be part of a world-wide movement of God!
God is using the ministry of Awana to accomplish more than we could ever dream. Through equipped local church leaders, children and youth from all walks of life are coming into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They are learning to follow Him and are receiving a foundation of lifelong discipleship through Awana! These churches aren’t only ministering to the children of their village, country or region, but in some areas of the world, the church is using Awana to reach the children beyond their gates. Local leaders are connecting with refugee children, living in the midst of instability, and bringing the unchanging Truth of the Bible, and we’re seeing lasting impact.
This Christmas, I want to invite you to be a part of this global movement of God. Partner with Awana and bring hope to children living in hard places. Even in the US, girls and boys need Jesus and though they may not be living as refugees, they are still in need of Truth. Because of your partnership, children who were once invisible, overlooked and forgotten can be seen, known and loved. Help make hope happen by visiting awana.org/hope and clicking the “donate” button in the upper righthand corner.