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Missions for girls continues strong tradition

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–“Make it real and make it relevant, and the best way to do that is ‘hands-on’!” Susan Cashion, Girls in Action director at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, said of the missions education program that has influenced girls there for 50-plus years.

Children’s missions organizations in Southern Baptist life first began in 1886 when Anna Louise Elsom, a mother at a church in Nelson County, Va., taught a class of 4- through 13-year-olds. She called the class “Sunbeams” because of the sunlight that warmed and lit up the corner of the church where she taught.

Elsom had a dream to begin a missionary group for children. Her pastor, George Taylor, whose parents were missionaries to Italy, helped her start the first “Sunbeam Band.” Taylor wrote curriculum and Elsom taught the class. Membership in the class required a one cent initiation fee, plus a one cent per month offering, all of which went to support missions work. Most children earned the money they gave by selling eggs. Some children even named their chickens after missionaries.

Interest quickly grew. By 1887, the then-Foreign Mission Board granted its endorsement and in two years 284 Sunbeam Bands had been organized, encompassing more than 8,000 children from Virginia to Texas. In 1896, Woman’s Missionary Union took on the Sunbeams leadership and the focus transitioned from fundraising to missions education.

In the early 1900s, separate boys and girls organizations, Royal Ambassadors and Girl’s Auxiliary (now Girls in Action and Acteens), were developed to meet the needs of the school-aged children, and Sunbeams (now Mission Friends) focused on preschoolers. Like Immanuel Baptist, many Southern Baptist churches make it a priority to teach children a missions lifestyle. And many use these enduring organizations, as well as the WMU’s newer co-ed program, Children in Action, to carry forth that missions heritage.

A quote from George Taylor in an 1887 issue of the Religious Herald reflects the heart of children’s missions education both then and now: “Not only can children receive, they can also give. They can do their part in sending far and wide the story of Jesus. They do not need to wait until they are men and women to know the romance of modern missions.”

At Immanuel Baptist, both Cashion and the church’s director of children’s ministries, Traci Hogue, agree that even today young hearts can be nurtured for missions.

Christmas caroling and distributing Christmas cards to strangers, collecting items for community and international charities, conducting a Lottie Moon post office to raise funds for missions and interacting with “real-live missionaries” are among the hands-on missions opportunities that engage Immanuel’s GAs and RAs.

Hogue told of a letter the children received from a gentleman who heard them caroling at a local Kroger. The four-page letter was addressed “To the young boys and girls who sang the beautiful Christmas carols at Kroger on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 6:00 p.m.”

In the letter the man told the children he was notified the next morning that he would soon undergo an unexpected surgery. “Thank you girls and boys,” he wrote, “and every time you sing, for the rest of your lives, remember this special day when you did God’s work and made someone so very, very happy. This night was a special night when God was teaching you the joy of giving. You are precious in His sight.”

The GAs subsequently made get well cards for the man, with Cashion telling the group, “Just think how many people you could have made an impact on who didn’t write a letter!”


Nationwide, nearly 100,000 girls currently participate in missions education through Girls in Action. Since the early 1900s through Junior Young Women’s Auxiliary, Girl’s Auxiliary and now Girls in Action and Acteens, girls have been learning about missionaries, writing letters to them, praying for them, and doing missions both locally and globally.

While the labeling and materials have changed to remain appealing to each generation, WMU’s purpose of challenging girls “to become involved in the mission of God” remains.

The GA curriculum follows a precise method, noted Mitzi Eaker, WMU children’s ministry consultant. “The first week of the month they will learn a Scripture story that will provide a biblical basis…. The second week they will learn about an area and about the spiritual and physical needs there. In week three, they learn how missionaries and ministries meet those needs — the real gravity of what a particular missionary is doing. The fourth week they apply what they’ve learned by doing a project. We make it a priority that they progress throughout the month from Scripture learning to application.”

WorldVentures offers girls an individual age-graded achievement plan with projects and Scripture memory revolving around missions giving, missions learning and witnessing.

GAWorld, the monthly magazine provided to each participant, is “not just a curriculum piece, it’s a magazine,” Eaker said. “A girl can get a subscription delivered to her home. We looked at other popular national publications for girls and thought, ‘How can we have that same excitement and look?’ The redesign of GAWorld has been amazing.”

Noting the relevance of the curriculum, Hogue recounted, “One of the places they talked about being a missionary was in Hollywood — a girl can’t go anywhere without seeing that plastered all over.” The GA teacher took the lesson a step farther, getting contact information for a Hollywood personality who was going through some difficulty so that the girls could write letters of prayer and encouragement.

“The material has changed with the times,” Cashion said, “but the integrity of the program is still there — praying, going, doing and giving — those are the things that have to stay.”

She added, “One thing that’s important to any program is to have core things that you do every year — the things people come to expect and know and love.” At Immanuel, girls expect each year to have a sleepover for the Annie Armstrong offering, to go caroling at Christmastime and to have a Panty Party and a Sock Hop in January or February where girls collect panties and socks to be distributed to those in need.

At Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., where 187 GAs are enrolled, such core elements include mother/daughter or father/daughter events, said Janie Guffey, minister to children. “We also do a global impact emphasis every year for the entire church. On Wednesday night of that event, children rotate from room to room to meet the missionaries and see their artifacts. As a girl, I only really knew maybe one missionary. These kids meet 10-20 new missionaries every year that they can get to know and ask questions.”


In 1996, WMU created Children in Action to meet the need of churches for co-ed missions education for children. Each month Children in Action participants learn about missions topics in a similar format to GAs. “While GA is the premier missions education resource for girls,” Eaker noted that Children in Action is an easy to use program. She estimates about 30,000 children currently are involved in the program which includes a non-age-graded individual achievement plan called Special Assignments. As in RAs and GAa, Children in Action participants earn pins, emblems and other rewards for missions projects and Scripture memory achievements.

The material, which includes a leader guide called Children in Action Leader, is flexible and can be used in churches in a variety of ways, Eaker said. “It has been used to supplement children’s church, after-school programs, and some have done it one Saturday afternoon each month for three to four hours. Others have used the material to supplement their AWANA [program for children].”

At First Baptist Church in Big Pine Key, Fla., Marsha Sexton began Children in Action about eight years ago. Being a smaller church, they have 10 to 12 children each week, but CiA group’s missions involvement has been substantive, she said, crediting the creativity of leader Tom Nellis for providing a variety of projects that keep children involved and enthusiastic.

“Anytime our adult missions team goes on trips, the children participate in some way — they make luggage tags and encouragement cards and pray for those teams,” Sexton said. They also have made cement block paintings to sell for $1 each to raise money to build a church in the Dominican Republic. The children covered two walls with their paintings reflecting the $750 raised for cement blocks for the church in the Caribbean nation.

First Baptist Church in Williston, Fla., conducts their Children in Action program on Sunday nights. Melanie Clubb began the program when her son reached the first grade three years ago and she wanted to be sure he received a missions education. About 30 children are now enrolled.

“We try to do a live action project every month, as well as covering the curriculum,” Clubb said. They have collected socks for the Page Street Baptist Center in San Francisco; made valentines for the seamen’s ministry in Jacksonville, Fla.; made Spanish/English word books for Williston preschoolers; collected non-perishable foods for the crisis pregnancy center; and participated in Operation Christmas Child each year through the Samaritan’s Purse ministry.

“Especially if you’re starting small, I highly recommend Children in Action,” Clubb said. “If I had only had my son, I’d have done Children in Action. It’s a wonderful tool. You can spend a little time on it or a lot, just depending on how much you want.”


WMU sponsored its first annual Children’s Ministry Day on Saturday, Feb. 16, to encourage churches to involve their children in a missions project on that day.

“Children’s Ministry Day was something we created to encourage children to get out of the church and into their communities,” Eaker said. “We have live action projects in our [GA and CiA] curriculum, but we thought how powerful it would be if children did missions all in the same day across North America, the potential impact in every community if every church got on board.”

More than 1,200 Children’s Ministry Day promotional packs were ordered by churches. The packet included posters and materials reflecting the inaugural year’s theme, “Hope for the Hungry.” It also included a press release, a skit, and numerous ideas and planning tips for leaders. CMD-related items such as T-shirts and badges can be purchased.

But, Eaker noted, churches “don’t have to get the kit to participate.”

The 2009 date will be Saturday, Feb. 14, with “Loving Hearts” as the theme, focusing on health care. Numerous resources are available at www.childrensmissions.com.

Reflecting on the need to educate children in missions, Janie Guffey, minister to children at Bell Shoals Baptist Church, said, “My prayer was that the Lord would use our RA and GA programs in ministry in His church. We are seeing God really bless and seeing a number of our kids go into the mission field. God is calling out kids because we are giving them a missions heart as they are young.”
Kay Adkins is a writer based in Mountain View, Ark. For information on beginning a GA program, visit www.GApassport.com. For more information about Children in Action and Children’s Ministry Day, go to www.childrensmissions.com.

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  • Kay Adkins