When Louisa County Public Schools reopened for the 2020-21 school year, they did so with students attending two days per week. Louisa Baptist Church opened a day camp to accommodate families needing childcare on the days their children did not attend in-person classes. The Alma Hunt Offering for Virginia Missions grant made it possible to offer scholarships to families whose budgets could not afford childcare, buy supplies, and pay expenses incurred to conduct the day camp.
One of our greatest hopes was that Louisa Baptist Church’s Day Camp would not only help children learn, help them be fed, stay safe, and feel loved, but that it would be an opportunity for children who don’t go to church anywhere to hear about Jesus. The fact that two thirds of our children don’t regularly go to church anywhere has proven to be both a great opportunity and a challenge.
Three days a week, I have the opportunity to tell the kids a Bible story, pray with them, teach them about how to find things in the Bible and help them memorize scripture. Some kids have taken to it surprisingly quickly. By the end of the first week every kid in camp could say Matthew 19:14 without any help.
One day I encouraged the kids to memorize the order of all of the books of the New Testament with the offer of six prizes from the treasure chest to anyone who could. One boy responded “six prizes if I worked on that all afternoon–I could do that today!”… and he did.
Other kids have not been quite as easy to motivate. Two boys in particular have been, shall I say, “less than enthusiastic.” They don’t want to sing, find Bible books, memorize verses, or talk about Jesus. They don’t seem to be motivated by games, prizes, or competition. That is, until today. I went to Wal-mart and got some Hot Wheel cars as prizes for any kids who could say Matthew through Colossians in order. When I pulled out the cars, the boys’ eyes lit up.
All afternoon in between school blocks, they practiced Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. If we said it once, we said it a hundred times. I told them to stick it on their brain like peanut butter and jelly. They tried and messed up and tried and messed up. I told them “keep at it,” “you can do it,” “you are so close,” “I believe in you.” And finally… they did. Each one said it perfectly and when they did, we all erupted in cheers.
At that moment something happened. Their faces lit up and their hands went in the air. It was like these boys had just won the Super Bowl. It took all my self-control to give them a fist bump instead of a hug, and I saw something in their eyes that I hadn’t seen before. What started out as a chore to win a Hot Wheels car turned into something more.
Ten years from now, I doubt that any of these kids will still have or care about the car they earned, but I do think that some will remember that Christians played with them, laughed with them, were proud of them, celebrated their successes, and cared. We still have a long way to go, but spiritual breakthroughs happen one small victory at time. And this is only week two. We should never underestimate what a little attention and love can do.
Richard Sandberg is the Senior Pastor of Louisa Baptist Church in Louisa, VA.