LaPlace church youth program prepares members for life of faith

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 22, 2014


LAPLACE – Every Sunday night, volunteers from a LaPlace church pool their time, efforts, and talents to minister to local children through interactive Bible stories and games in hopes that it will offer not only a fun time, but a chance for the children to grow spiritually.

Awana is one of the children’s ministries of First Baptist Church of LaPlace.  Awana is an acronym for Approved Workmen Are Not As   hamed, which is based off of text found in 2 Timothy 2:15 which says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Paul Naylor, pastor at First Baptist, explained that Awana “is like having vacation Bible school once a week.”

Awana is a national organization started more than 60 years ago. According to its website, Awana “helps churches and parents work together to develop spiritually strong children and youth who faithfully follow Jesus Christ.”

First Baptist Church of LaPlace runs an Awana program that it started in August 2010. Naylor became pastor of the church in May 2010 and having seen the program succeed at other churches he had worked at, decided to start a group in LaPlace. Naylor said he has seen the benefits of the program firsthand through his own two children participating in it.

When starting Awana in 2010, Naylor enlisted the help of LaPlace resident Patty Cortez. Cortez is the leader, or in Awana lingo, the commander of Awana at First Baptist.

Cortez said she thinks Awana is so important because what kids learn now they’ll take with them into adulthood.

“They’re learning scriptures to use all throughout their lives,” Cortez said.

Gayle Varsel, who has been volunteering at Awana for three years, said two of the kids in her group made a profession of Christian faith and got baptized this year and things like that made volunteering all worth it.

Each Awana meeting is organized into three parts: large group, small group and game time.

Large group features a volunteer telling the kids a Bible story. Naylor said that the story is often illustrated with a song, or further explained through a video. The goal is to get the kids actively involved in the story being told.

Small group occurs when the kids are broken up into age groups. During small groups, the kids have the opportunity to recite memorized scripture verses or work on their handbook. Small group time is more of a one-on-one time that participants have with the volunteers.

Game time consists of the kids playing some sort of physically active game. Cortez said that the time is designed to feature non-competitive games, and is intended to focus on the kids developing listening skills, learning how to work in group, and having the chance to encourage each other.

First Baptist of LaPlace is the only church in St. John the Baptist Parish to run an Awana program and one of only two churches in the entire River Parishes area to do so.

Naylor said the unique thing about Awana is that it is not tied to any specific denomination. According to its website, Awana works with churches from more than 100 different denominations. This means any child could attend a meeting without being confused about religious traditions.  

First Baptist’s annual Vacation Bible School each summer is vastly popular throughout the parish, and Naylor said he would love to see Awana experience that same level of popularity.

Jodi Laiche, a member of First Baptist whose three children have been participating in Awana since its beginning, said she appreciates that the meetings help with her children’s Christian growth.

The Awana program runs in conjunction with the school year, with the program starting in August and ending in May. Naylor said that any child could start the program at any time however.

Each week, kids can earn points for meeting attendance and church attendance, no matter what church it is. Points can also be learned for memorizing Bible verses, bringing a friend to an Awana meeting or other specified tasks. The points translate into Awana Bucks, which can be used at the Awana store to purchase small toys and treats.

Check-in for the meetings start at 4:45 p.m. and the meeting runs from 5 p.m.  until 6:30 p.m. The program is an outreach for ages starting at 2 years old and spanning through sixth grade.

Cortez explained that after a student graduates from the program, they can volunteer at Awana meetings as a student worker. One of the current student volunteers is Samuel Naylor, Pastor Paul’s son.

“They don’t want to leave Awana when they graduate,” said Cortez, “Being a student worker gives them an opportunity to learn about service.”

The cost for membership to Awana is $25 a year. Covered in that cost is each child’s workbook and uniform. Naylor stressed that no one would be turned away because of financial hardships, and Cortez reiterated that scholarships were available to children interested in attending but not able to pay.

Naylor said the program does not financially profit the church at all, but that he felt it was important to offer the club to the youth of the parish.

During the meeting time, parents are welcome to stay and watch their child participate, or children can be dropped off and picked up. Parents can also serve as volunteers. Naylor pointed out that all volunteers at the church have background checks run to ensure the safety of each and every child.

Anyone interested in joining Awana is welcome to call church office for more information, or they can simply show up to a meeting.