Army celebrates youth

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by Lisa Smith, Captain – 

General John Larsson has called the International Salvation Army to make 2005 a Year for Children and Youth. The Western Territory is rising to the challenge as we strive to meet the needs of children and develop young people into life-long followers of Jesus Christ as soldiers in The Salvation Army.

Our Founder William Booth described our mission for working with children and youth at the launch of the Junior Soldier War on January 5, 1888:

“Now you have a threefold work before you: you want to save the children; you want to keep them saved; and third, you want to train them so that they shall grow up, not only consecrated to the work of saving others, but also skillful in the war.”

The questions facing us are: What are we doing to save the children? What are we doing to keep them saved? What are we doing to train them?

As an Army engaged in battle for the hearts and souls of children it is essential that our leaders and soldiers are not just willing, not just passionate, but are trained and skilled in the art of ministry to children and youth.
To that end, the Western Territory has strategically chosen to start 2005 with a youth leaders’ BOOT CAMP which will take place at Camp Redwood Glen January 26-30. Because this type of training is so important, territorial headquarters has offered a full scholarship to every corps in the territory, to send one youth leader to be trained both in youth ministry theory and in practical, “hands on” aspects of executing an excellent youth program.

To further support the training of youth leaders across the territory, Salvation Army youth ministry specialists are now creating a series of “train the trainer” seminars for Salvation Army Youth Ministry which will be a part of our ongoing territorial TEAM leadership training program.

Saving the Children

The Salvation Army provides for the needs of the whole person, and our ministry with children it is no different. We are working not only to save children’s souls, but to also save them from the effects of poverty and ignorance in the long term.

Since the inception of the eQuip for Success program in late 2003, the Western Territory has rolled out over 60 state of the art computer labs in corps across the West. Many of these programs are on the cutting edge of using technology in ministry. In Hollywood, Calif., children are learning the basics of web design to create their own websites. At our after school programs, such as at the Modesto Red Shield, kids are using computers to get a head start on their homework.

In today’s society, under-served populations often don’t have the access to technology which is needed for success in the workplace. With eQuip for success, we can give youth the educational boost that will help keep them on track, developing important technological skills that can help pave the way for an economically sound future for them and their families.

Many programs designed to link the youth in our social service and community programs with our corps programs are already in place, and more are sprouting up throughout the territory.

Some corps choose to offer traditional Salvation Army outreach programs, such as Sunbeams, Girl Guards and Adventure Corps as part of their after school outreach programs.

The Guarding program is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, and while the program has been expanded and updated since its inception, it is still proving to be an effective means of reaching children and sharing the love of Christ with kids. Boys’ and girls’ troop registrations and enrollments are up this year throughout the territory and we look forward to seeing God’s Kingdom grow as these programs teach life skills and reach new kids for Christ.

Other corps have started using new outreach programs like HopeShare’s SONday’SCOOL in order to reach new children with the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the intention of assimilating them into the corps body. The Escondido, Calif., corps started their own SONday’S COOL Supper Club this past summer and it’s still going strong, with 50 children gathering each week for a Bible story, some related activities and a meal—all geared to build relationships that will lead them to faith in Christ.

Keeping them saved

Sunday school, junior soldiers, and corps cadets are the Army programs specifically designed for the spiritual formation of our children. These are still the foundation for youth discipleship on the corps level. Divisional and territorial programs such as camp staff mentoring programs, Youth Councils, retreats and the Western Music and Youth Institutes further support the growth and development of young Salvationists.

One corps, Phoenix Citadel, Ariz., has reported some of their plans for enhancing their own youth discipleship efforts as part of their observance of this special 2005 emphasis on youth. They are now launching a new mentoring program called “Shepherds and Lambs” in which youth worker Chris Aird has paired up a young person in the corps with an adult who has committed to helping the young person grow in their walk with the Lord. This program was officially launched on Sunday, January 2, 2005, at a dedication ceremony for the people involved. “Phoenix Citadel is committed to making 2005 the Year of the Child, and we anticipate great things happening in the lives of our youth,” states Corps Officer Major Harry Lacey.

Over the past few years, many divisions have resurrected the Bible Bowl Scripture quizzing program and the results have been exciting as Divisional Youth Councils congregations have watched young teens reciting large passages of Scripture and witnessing to growth in their own personal relationships with Christ through their intensive study of his word. This year the territory will reinstate the Bible Bowl program on a territorial level, with territorial championship matches for the first time in over 10 years being held in conjunction with the Commissioning weekend events in June 2005.

Training them for Ministry

This year’s emphasis isn’t only about ministry to children and youth, but also about ministry of children and youth. As an Army we must never forget that our young soldiers aren’t helpless. They are young warriors with their own spiritual gifts, fighting along side the adults in the salvation war. “They may be small,” says Territorial Youth Secretary Captain Kyle Smith, “but the God within them is not! We must constantly look for opportunities to engage our children and teens in the mission of the Army through ministry opportunities at our corps and service centers.”

Children participate in Army ministry in many ways, such as Junior Community Care service activities and through our junior music sections—Singing Company, Junior Band, and now even in Junior Praise Teams. This year we will be expanding our Territorial Singing Company competition to include other forms of children’s music and creative worship arts at our Territorial Children’s Music Festival, “Kids Live ’05”, which will also take place during the Commissioning Weekend events in June.

Programs and Relational Ministry

Whether a corps is using traditional Army programs or finding and developing their own customized approach to serve children and youth, what counts in ministry effectiveness are the relationships a child forms while in the program. Statistics show that most people who decide to follow Christ for the long haul aren’t brought to him by a stranger, but rather by a family member or friend. Therefore, relationships are the key—loving, positive relationships with adults and other young people are the path that leads a child into a relationship with Christ. A youth program is so much more than a place for education and training—it is a means to create relationships, to form a community of faith—a place for a child to belong.

Experienced youth leaders understand that success in youth ministry is not equal to choosing the snazziest curriculum or completing a lesson plan without staining the carpet. Rather, success means building a relationship where love, trust and mutual understanding lead to a child’s spiritual growth and health as they find a place they feel they belong.

This year we celebrate all forms of Salvation Army youth ministry which have as their foundation the mission to save young souls, grow young saints and serve suffering children and youth and their families. We applaud and honor those who give sacrificially and consistently of their time and effort to do this important task.
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, so our Founder’s challenge goes out to all Salvationists to engage our hearts, minds and energies and prayerfully consider what we can do individually in our local battle for the hearts and souls of children and youth.

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