In 1983, 19-year-old Cheryl Rose agreed to be a volunteer for a new children’s program that was coming to her church. The then-pastor and his wife decided to bring AWANA to Zion Evangelical Church.
Nearly 40 years later, Rose continues her involvement in the program — as AWANA commander.
“I was in on it from day one. And I obviously would not be involved if it were not something that I am sold on hook, line and sinker,” she said. “It’s just an amazing children’s program.”
AWANA is an international children’s ministry that focuses on Bible-based discipleship and evangelism curriculum for children, ages two to 18. There are many area churches that provide an AWANA program. At Zion Evangelical Church, they provide programing for ages 2 through 14.
The word AWANA actually comes from a Bible verse, Rose said. It’s an acronym for “approved workmen are not ashamed,” a phrase inspired by the verse Second Timothy 2:15, which states “Do your best to present yourself to god as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
The idea is to instill the Word of God into the hearts of youth, Rose said. To do that, there are three main components to the AWANA program: a game, large group time and small group time. The game draws kids into coming, large group time provides a devotional period and then small group time is dedicated to learning the Bible, reciting verses and discussing prayer requests.
Rose said one of the main reasons she likes AWANA so much is because of the time she gets to spend with the kids, getting to know and developing relationships with them.
“Our Sunday school, specifically at our church, is only 45 minutes. So that’s half the time of what is done in AWANA,” she said. “So there’s just a longer time period to build those relationships with those kids and to extend the love of God to them, as well as their family members. And I just really appreciate that — just the time that we can get to know the kids.”
But Rose said that whether they go to AWANA or Sunday school, the importance of religious education and faith formation at an early is vital.
“Something …that just really has always stuck in my mind is that 85% of children between the ages of four and 14, that’s when they trust in Jesus as their Savior,” she said. “So that’s the urgency … that it’s so important to reach those kids at that age when they’re young.”
Rose finds the program so important for young children that she has roped in almost her whole family to helping out with it. She said she dragged her husband in for a few years, and now her daughter and son-in-law are leaders of one of the AWANA groups. Her grandson will get to start as a Puggle, the toddler age group, next year.
“That’s going to be really special to have a grandchild in the program,” she said.
Rose said the best part about teaching children about Jesus for almost 40 years is just how much it impacts her students, sometimes a lot more than she realizes in the moment. She said she’ll often invite high school students back to be student leaders or to speak to the children, and their testimonies always blow her away.
“Every once in a while one of those seniors will say, ‘You know, I was sitting right back there with so and so leader, and that’s when I trusted Christ as my Savior,’” she said. “And you know, there are times where I just don’t know that that’s even happened. And so that’s where the rewards are for me and the blessings,” she said. “We’re there to faithfully plant the seeds, but God does the harvest.”