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Royal Ambassadors reaches 100-yr. mark

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–For 100 years, an estimated 2.5 million boys have voiced the Royal Ambassador pledge:

“As a Royal Ambassador, I will do my best to become a well-informed, responsible follower of Christ, to have a Christ-like concern for all people, to learn how to carry the message of Christ around the world, to work with others in sharing Christ, and to keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body.”

Founded in 1908, the biblically based, hands-on missions program now encompasses RA chapters in 8,000 churches and 14 countries.

“And we’re seeing a bit of a resurgence — lots of folks coming back to this heritage,” said Rob Carr, national RA coordinator at the North American Mission Board.

In mentoring boys for the cause of Christ, Royal Ambassadors teaches missions and evangelism and such virtues as loyalty, courage, responsibility, compassion and teamwork, akin to the missional life reflected in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are ambassadors for Christ.”

The RA curriculum includes Lad magazine for grades 1-3 and Crusader magazine for grades 4-6, along with leader versions of the magazines for planning RA meetings. Age-graded personal growth plans lead boys to earn patches or pins as they progress through the levels of Lad, Page, Squire and Knight. RA activities include Scripture memory, evangelism, missions learning and missions projects, while campcraft workbooks help boys earn their Discoverer, Hiker, Camper and Woodsman patches.

At Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in metro Atlanta, tent camping helps keep 120 boys engaged in RAs. Sheryl Beck, the church’s minister to children, reports that father/son RA campouts are limited to 100 and there’s always a waiting list. RAs at the church also look forward to the annual Racer Derby, held by RA chapters nationwide with small handmade race cars, and RA summer camp.

Beck expressed regret that churches sometimes abandon missions education organizations like RAs and Girls in Action (GAs) in favor of children’s resources that rely more on games and require less commitment and preparation by leaders.

“The kids want to come to play the games and not necessarily to learn, and the church is satisfied because they get the numbers,” Beck said. “Society has become so fast-paced, nobody takes the time to do the curriculum. Churches today are not willing to put in the effort it takes to make the program a success. All it takes is a person with a passion for it who will set it up in a way that leaders can come in and do it. There is a lot of value in RAs and GAs.”

Bob Coates was that person with passion who had started the church’s RA ministry before Beck’s arrival in 1998. “He grew up in RAs and was very rigid in doing it by the book. I had come from a traditional church and did it by the book,” Beck said. “If you do it by the book, it works.”

The church has two RA classes for each grade, with a total of 24 men in leadership roles. “They love each other and are very loyal to the program, and it’s like a fraternity,” Beck said.

The Johnson Ferry RAs earn patches all year. At a dinner each May, the boys are individually recognized for what they have accomplished during the year. “I give out a lot of Bible verse medals — bronze for 25 verses, silver for 50 verses and gold for 75 verses recited to their leader in that year,” Beck said.

“RA of the Year” winners, one per class, also are named based on conduct, participation, achievements, attendance and demonstrating Christ-likeness. “That is something they are aware of all year, and they want it,” Beck said.

The boys take part in several mission projects throughout the year. They hike to raise money for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, they have made birdhouses to sell for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, painted a deck for a family whose father is deployed in Iraq, tackled yard work for the elderly and collected eye glasses to send on mission trips.

“That is our goal and our purpose with our RA program — to teach about missions and how to do missions,” Beck said.

At Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif., where about 35 boys meet each week to learn about and do missions, as they have there for almost 50 years, Allen Pennington has been the RA director for the past six years. Pennington was an RA for a couple of years as a child and credits the program for helping develop his own heart for missions.

Each year Magnolia Avenue’s RAs and its GA group participate in the annual state, home and international mission studies. Pennington remembers some of the questions the boys asked the international missionaries they were able to meet: “One missionary was from Nigeria, and one was from South America. One question the boys asked was, ‘Do boys there get to have a Game Boy?’ Another was, ‘How do the kids get to school?’ They were surprised to learn that children run, not walk, but run three to four miles to get to school.”

Pam Boucher, the church’s minister of childhood development, said the boys have tackled numerous missions projects in recent years such as taking blankets to the homeless in Riverside, decorating and delivering cookies to firehouses and police stations to thank the public servants for their work, gathering food baskets for the needy and visiting the elderly.

“One year we had a coat drive for the homeless and went to a local park and handed out the coats,” Pennington recounted. “The boys saw another side of life; boys from nice homes saw people living in bushes. It was a real eye-opener for them.”

He added, “One of the biggest benefits we have seen in our program is the father and son interaction. We’ve stressed that in our program. The last three years we’ve had tremendous success going to the desert — taking our boys out riding quads and motorcycles.” Magnolia RAs and their dads also look forward to the annual RA Racer Derby.

“Most people who go into ministry had some kind of real influence in their lives,” Pennington noted. “I would encourage churches to develop a missions program. And RAs is one of the best ways to do it in my experience.”

To celebrate RA’s centennial of nurturing ambassadors for Christ, the first-ever National Royal Ambassador Racecar Race will be held June 7 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, along with other festivities, prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 10-11 annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The race will be open to the public for a donation of $5 for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. The RA centennial celebration also will include a walk for world hunger, missions booths and displays by RAs of the organization’s history in their respective states. RA chapters also are encouraged to participate in that day’s Crossover evangelistic outreach across the Indianapolis area.
Kay Adkins is a writer based in Mountain View, Ark. For more information on the RA centennial celebration race and events in Indianapolis, go to www.royalracers.com/NATIONALRACE.htm. For more information on Royal Ambassadors, or to download a free copy of the RA Planbook, a guide for organizing an RA chapter in your church, visit www.royalambassadors.org. For additional information about Crossover’08 in Indianapolis, visit www.crossover08.com.

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  • Kay Adkins