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From Russia to Texas, youth enjoy SBC annual meeting

EDITORS’ NOTE: Baptist Press interns spent a day with leaders and participants at the children and youth ministries during the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 12-13 annual meeting in San Antonio. Following is a series of vignettes highlighting some of unsung volunteer heroes and young participants who enjoyed the laughter, skits, games and Bible study. The vignettes are written by John J. Wagner, a journalism student at The King’s College in Manhattan, N.Y., and Sara McCarthy, a sophomore journalism major at Campbell University in North Carolina.

Daycare a blessing to
Russian adoptees

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Just a couple of months ago, 3-year-old Michael Brown made his home in an Arkhangelsk orphanage, 750 miles from Moscow. This day, he is in the preschool childcare at the Southern Baptist Convention, a lifetime away from certain destitution as a gypsy outcast.

More than 100 children, newborns through 3-year-olds, experienced a Vacation Bible School-style environment as part of the childcare. Sally Schaal, children’s minister at Castle Hills Baptist Church in Texas, served as director of the childcare. A children’s minister for nearly 25 years, Schaal said, “We’re trying to show God’s love and grace with the children. We want to be a blessing to the pastors, particularly, who have come a long way.”

Brian Brown, in training to become a pastor, traveled to the SBC with his wife Edith and the two boys they adopted from Russia in late March.

With others from Fall Creek Baptist Church hundreds of miles away in Indianapolis, the couple said they relied on SBC’s childcare so they could help staff the exhibit hall booth promoting next year’s Crossover evangelistic outreach preceding the SBC annual meeting there.

Edith Brown said Michael is of gypsy descent and likely would have been rejected and left to make his way on his own on the streets.

At the daycare, 2-year-old Joshua, who is not related to Michael, and from a different region of Russia than his brother, mugged for the camera with his brother and spontaneously hugged and kissed their new mom.

At one point Michael returned to working with Play-Doh and Joshua found and dropped his pacifier while the other children continued to play in the toy kitchen, jumped on an inflatable playground and rolled around on the carpet.

The Browns said they spent six years waiting for children of their own and finally chose an 11-month adoption process and nearly $50,000 in adoption costs for the shaggy-headed Michael and affectionate Joshua.

Saying that the boys were thriving at the convention’s childcare, Edith said, “Michael brought home a picture made from sticks and a full packet of things he made that day.”

Acteen continues
family tradition

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Not too many college-bound teenagers plan to spend the early days of summer break sitting on the floor of a cavernous convention hall listening to a Bible lesson.

For incoming Union University freshman Juliana Robbins, growing in her faith is exactly where she wants to be.

Robbins was among 100-plus young adults, ages 13 through college sophomores, who took place in the Centrifuge program sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources that stresses Bible study and discipleship.

The group, sprawled out in teams of 30, listened patiently to leaders tell them about Jesus’ miracle of feeding of the 5,000. At the SBC annual meeting in San Antonio, Centrifuge participants came from literally around the country so that other members of their families could attend the various sessions of the June 12-13 meeting.

Robbins, 18, is from rural West Point, Tenn., where her family operates a modest chicken and beef farm. Her father is the bivocational pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waynesboro and a prison chaplain. Her family is ministry-minded and Robbins is missionary-focused.

“I feel to some extent that every Christian should be involved in missions,” said Robbins, who said she would like to use her giftedness in ballet in missionary service someday.

“My favorite verse says, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?'” she said, quoting Isaiah 6:8.

Robbins serves as one of eight Acteen Panelists with Woman’s Missionary Union; she addressed WMU’s Annual Missions Celebration prior to the SBC annual meeting.

“I told them that WMU isn’t just for older women,” she said. “It’s for my age, too.”

Fuge: More than

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Some teenagers just can’t get enough of the SBC’s Centrifuge program. Just ask Joshua Santiago, 17, of Jacksonville, Fla.

Joshua has spent the last four SBC annual meetings as a pastor’s son in Centrifuge, better known to Baptists as “Fuge,” a program for young adults, ages 13 through college sophomores.

This year’s theme was the “Underground,” a reference to life’s downtrodden, symbolized by the needy often seen in the shadows of subway stations.

A senior at Mandarin High School, Santiago has stayed in touch with friends and the leaders of Centrifuge online and said his favorite part of going to the SBC is meeting up with his old friends.

This year, Joshua and his father, a pastor at Filipino International Baptist Church in Jacksonville, drove 17 hours to attend the convention.

“It was a rough and tiring ride,” said Joshua, quick with an easy smile and a soft laugh.

“This is not just recreation time,” he said of Fuge. “It’s not just a babysitting place where parents drop off their kids. We learn a lot from the messages and from the group discussion times.”

Fuge also is helping Santiago prepare for ministry.

“I like to work with kids and I just see that great differences can be made through youth groups,” he said.

Despite the serious business of spiritual growth, Santiago praised Fuge for its games and small group interaction.

“The discussion is really good especially when it comes down to a personal level and when we talk about our spiritual life and struggles,” he said. “It’s good to know that there are other people going through the same things as me.”

Children find
sanctuary at SBC

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–The preschool childcare program at the Southern Baptist Convention may not be the largest in the country, but its youngest participants are from more than 20 states.

Among the children under the careful watch of the volunteer staff at the June 12-13 SBC annual meeting in San Antonio was talkative Ann Marie, the 3-year-old daughter of Jon and Leigh Anne Kittrell of Hattiesburg, Miss., who loved to announce her home state.

“I traveled a long way,” she told childcare director Sally Schaal. For $5 per session, which may last up to four hours, parents have safe childcare for their children at the SBC, Schaal said.

Natalia Hiliker, 2, trekked with her parents from Ohio where her father, Jason Hiliker, is the youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Lancaster.

Natalia’s mother, Holly, said her daughter enjoyed dancing and crafts, two of the several rotating stations the volunteers run to entertain and teach the children throughout each session. Natalia spent one morning under a leader who uses music to teach values, playing with a toy car and pretending to make chocolate milk for others.

While at the SBC, the Hilikers said they were hoping to meet other families involved in the ministry.

All caretakers are trained and certified, Schaal said, and many of the volunteers are with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams from Indiana, Illinois and Texas.

Schaal said the curriculum for the program, Lifeway’s Vacation Bible School Jungle Jaunt, places a strong emphasis on biblical lessons.

“We want to focus on God’s love and grace,” she said. “It’s important that the children really understand God’s love.”

No plans to quit
as a volunteer

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Keeping track of about a dozen children during the chaos of play time isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. For Courtney Cowley, however, it’s the “joie de vivre,” joy of life.

“To me, it’s a way to give back,” she said, holding a boy on her hip, describing the motivation for volunteering with Children’s Conference International, the ministry to children 4-12 at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, June 12-13 in San Antonio.

For years Cowley, 18, of Galax, Va., accompanied her family to the SBC. When she outgrew the children’s program, she opted to volunteer for the same ministry that had served her. Now in her sixth year as a volunteer, she plans to continue even after she enters Liberty University in the fall to study nursing on a full scholarship.

“The praise music is my favorite part,” Cowley said. “It’s really awesome to see all those young kids worshipping God.”

This year Cowley recruited a friend, 19-year-old Richard Mallinson, to become a volunteer. Program director Stephen Leckenby called Mallinson, the child of a pastor and a student at the King College in Bristol, Tenn., the octopus for the way he blithely manages to have a child clinging to each limb, smiling all the while.

Cowley also wears a bright smile and says a sense of selflessness has its root in Jeremiah 29: 11–13, which reminds the believing remnant that God has a plan to prosper those who seek Him.

“It’s a reminder that God is always there even when you think He’s not,” she said.

Pre-teen ministry leaders
calm in sea of joyful noise

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Gleeful laughter, high-pitch squeals and the push-pull of kinetic children at play can spark a sea of panic for some, but not for 21-year-old Amanda Brill from Hazelwood, Ind.

As children shouted in delight, Brill stood as a lighthouse above the incoming waves of boys and girls in a modified game of tag.

All the excitement was part of “Mission: Unconditional,” a program put on by Children’s Conferences International for 4- to 12-year-olds, with the 1 Corinthians 13 love chapter as its theme: “Secret Agents for God’s Love.”

This year’s venue is a bit of a family affair for Brill who left Indiana to drive to Texas with her 18-year-old sister Ashley, just after another sister’s wedding. The drive to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in San Antonio took 18 hours.

A senior at Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tenn., Amanda Brill said she finds fulfillment in her service.

“It’s always been one of my favorite things to see the light bulbs pop on in the kid’s heads when they finally realize what Jesus is all about,” Brill said.

She recalled first hearing about the opportunity to volunteer with CCI, based in Graham, Texas, through an advertisement in a homeschool newsletter.

The San Antonio SBC isn’t the first time she has worked with children during the convention, Brill said. She first began working with kids during the SBC in Indianapolis in 2004 and has been happy to help ever since, volunteering to assist in about 15 CCI conferences over the past three years in various venues.

“I’ve always worked with kids my whole life, but I was immediately put in charge of nearly 200 kids,” Brill said of the 2004 meeting.

At the 2007 SBC, Brill and others ministered to more than 350 children.

The best part of her ministry?

“Getting to know the kids and actually spending time and talking,” she said.

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