It is fifty years ago this year that in Victoria I made a special trip from Dandenong to Geelong. The reason for the trip was that the Geelong Reformed Church was presenting to the other Reformed Churches in Victoria a new program for children and young people. A minister and his wife (George and Harriet Van Groningen), who had come to us from the Christian Reformed Churches of North America, had introduced the Geelong congregation to the American Cadet and Calvinette programs. It was a church activity geared to boys and girls from age nine to fifteen. This year Cadets and Calvinettes (now GEMS) are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary.
These two programs have served our churches well. Not only have they played an important role in the spiritual formation of our church children but they have also served to lead many from outside the church into the Christian faith.
In the early years of my ministry I knew a young lad who had started to attend Cadets when he was invited to do so by his Scripture Class teacher at the local State-school. When he graduated from Cadets he very naturally joined the church’s youth-group. After some years away from the area I returned on one occasion to preach there and I was pleasantly surprised to see that this, now much older young man, was serving as an office-bearer in the church. It’s a wonderful thing that this young man began his spiritual journey through a Scripture-class teacher from our church and his subsequent participation in our Cadet program.
I know that he is only one of many men and women today who owes a debt of gratitude to these children’s ministries of our churches. Some of these young folk later found their marriage partner from within the circle of the church community.
The memory of one of the most poignant of such stories was triggered for me last Saturday. I was at our state-wide Classis meeting. As part of our opening devotions we sang the Cadet Hymn, “Living for Jesus”. I cannot sing that song without recalling the story of a troubled young man who ended up in jail. The prison chaplain got talking to him one day and he mentioned that the words of a song were replaying themselves in his head. Those words both challenged him and encouraged him. When the chaplain asked where he had learnt those words he mentioned that he had attended a church youth group for some time and had learnt them there. The chaplain wasn’t content to leave it there but asked for the name of the church and when it turned out he was familiar with the church he asked him the names of the leaders. It turned out that he also knew one of those leaders. The upshot was that the prison chaplain took up contact with the leader who was able to then come and minster to that young man in prison.
Today many of our churches still run Cadets and GEMS. Other churches have replaced them with similar programs. However, the point I want to make is that we should never underestimate the effectiveness of children’s ministry in the church. While the initial purpose of Cadets and GEMS was especially the nurture of covenant kids there is no doubt that these programs have also become an effect outreach program of our churches. In the case of the Cadets this ministry of the church has also serves an additional function. We live in a culture where we have an increasing number of boys who are growing up without a Dad in the home. It’s great that within the Cadets these boys are able to relate to adult males figures who are also good Christian role-models.
Please don’t leave the children’s ministry of the church only for the leaders – at the very least uphold them in your prayers.