by marlys good
The AWANA organization celebrates its 63rd birthday this year. AWANA is short for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, from 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.)”
The area/Big Horn Basin AWANA Club is much younger; it is just turning 30 years old, and although numbers are down from “between 100-110” at its zenith, it is still thriving and providing a positive influence on children kindergarten through sixth grade.
Cheryl Baxter, “founder” of the local club, had worked with AWANA when she lived in Minnesota. When she and Dale and their family moved to Basin and joined the congregation of the CMA Church in Greybull, Cheryl said there was no program for kids, “just Sunday school.” She asked then-Pastor Jim Stumbo about starting an AWANA club, which had a curriculum already established with extensive background on running a program, uniforms, awards, etc. Stumbo suggested instead that she start a youth group patterned after AWANA. So was born CMA’s the “King’s Kids” with “charter members” Kevin Houk, Marcie Stumbo, Dan VanderPloeg and Christine Patrick (soon joined by Dan Baxter).
After two years of “King’s Kids” Stumbo suggested that Cheryl start the local AWANA Club.
Baxter emphasized that AWANA is not a CMA club although that is the way the local one started. “It’s a non-denominational, world-wide outreach,” she added. According to its website, the mission of AWANA “is to help churches and parents worldwide raise children and youth to know, love, and serve Christ.”
It has been going strong ever since, attracting young people from across the community. The average membership has dropped from its zenith figure, but still draws 50-60 per year. “The kids love it; if they don’t, they don’t come back; those that enjoy the program come back, and they bring their friends and they bring other kids.”
Meetings start with pledges to the American and AWANA flags. The attendees are separated into two groups, kindergarten through second grade called the “Sparkies,” now under the watchful eye of leader Mike Dellos, and third through sixth grade led by Gary Patrick. (All three of Mike’s children and all four of Gary’s are AWANA graduates.)
The evening is divided into different sections: music/singing, led by Ruth Henderson, ”Kids really enjoy that,” Cheryl said; AWANA handbook time, discussions/lessons on behavioral/etiquette issues, Bible stories or illustrations, memorization of Bible verses. Young people earn points for their team from these activities, and more points from game/activity time that traditionally concludes the weekly meetings.
Baxter said, “The kids seem to very much enjoy each other’s company, being together, playing games. They ask questions during Bible story time and enjoy singing songs. The kids are very well-behaved; sometimes we have a few minor discipline problems but Gary handles them very well.”
Baxter said she knows that AWANA has an impact on young people. “You can see a difference from when they come in, to the end. It has introduced Christ and His mercy to dozens of kids, and hopefully their families as well.”
AWANA has become second generational for many families. Patrick’s daughter Christine Duncan, has three children, all AWANA-age now, and all attended AWANA Club until they switched to another program offered at their church in California.
While Kevin and his family were “transitioning” from the east coast to the west, they settled in Greybull (to the delight of proud grandparents Melody and Frank Houk) and the two oldest of their four children were regular attendees of AWANA.
Samantha Hoflund Cook is a staunch supporter of AWANA. She enjoyed it as a youngster, and her sons, 6-year-old Keeton and 8-year-old Cannon, are following in her footsteps.
“I went to the CMA Church, and it was a fun activity in the evenings; we learned about the Heavenly Father and got prizes,” she said with a smile. “It was a fun thing to do.”
When her sons got AWANA age, it was natural to get them involved. “I am always wanting my kids to understand and learn about God; this is a fun way to learn. It’s (AWANA) another way to teach them Bible verses. Listening to Cannon he can recite all the books of the Bible. To me that is overwhelming; there is nothing sweeter.”