Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The end of a chapter: Farewell to Awana

In my first year as Commander, I poke to the preschool Cubbies as

It is the end of a chapter in my life.

For nearly a decade, Awana has been a significant part of my life. Awana is a non-denominational children's ministry that focuses on discipleship and evangelism, and reaches over two million students around the world every week. I have been the Commander for the Awana Club in Dripping Springs for six years, and prior to that I volunteered in the Sparks and Truth & Training clubs for Kindergarten to second grade, and third to sixth grade children, respectively.

Why did I pour so much of myself into this ministry? 

My faith in Christ is secure – but it is my faith. Just as I will have to give an account for my decision regarding Jesus, my children, and the kids I teach in Awana, will have to give their own account. My faith will not save them. The kids I taught are the future of the Church (“Big C” church, not necessarily my local congregation). Philippians 2:10 says that one day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Our option is to either do so now, when it is our choice, or to do it later, when we have no choice. My passion through all of this has been to get as much of God’s word as I could, as deep as I could, into the hearts of as many children as I could - so they could have the knowledge to make it their faith.

The last decade has been a roller coaster of ministry. When I first volunteered, my oldest twins were just starting kindergarten; they are now about to be sophomores in high school. I watched the club grow from about 15 children (a third of which were mine!) and five volunteers in a single church, to a club with nearly 100 regular attendees and 20 volunteers from a half dozen churches of different denominations, all with a laser focus on the children of greater Dripping Springs, Texas.

I watched a church burn to the ground, then rebuild stronger than before.

I experienced God orchestrating things exactly as He saw fit, when a wet, frigid morning threatened to derail a planned snowball and snowcone event, only to have the afternoon turn absolutely pristine at the exact time club started.

I saw a child comforted by friends and leaders when her dad and my friend was killed in an early morning car wreck. I saw that same child turn around a few years later and comfort another child who lost his father (a police officer on his way to work) to a car crash on a slick highway. This child knew better than anyone what her friend was going through. I grieved for the family, but was amazed at how God uses children to minister in ways we simply are not equipped for.

I delighted in the pure joy of a child discovering that the verses she was learning in Awana are the very same verses written in the Bible, and the very words spoken by Christ.

I felt the discouragement of families (as well as one-time Awana volunteers) choosing sports practice over faith-building.

I saw God at work yet again: one week the beloved dog of a T&Ter was struck and killed by a car. The child was heartbroken, and her mother asked if I’d talk with her about it. I had every intention of doing so, but an unexpected crisis arose and kept me from keeping my word. When I contacted her mother to apologize, I found out another T&Ter had comforted her that day. Leave it to God to use a terrible situation to distract an adult, so He can teach a 4th grader to minister to a classmate!

I got to wash my hair at least three times after letting kids turn me into a human ice cream sundae.

My day was made when an Awana parent came up to me in mock disgust, to report that her son would rather go to pirate night at Awana, than to a Maroon 5 concert he had been looking forward to all summer long. Kids choosing church over a wildly popular pop band? That's why I love this program so much!

I wrestled with the never-ending need to recruit and train adult volunteers to support a growing club, all the while maintaining my own vision.

My heart broke when I child I had taught years earlier died in a freak 4-wheeler accident on his family's ranch.

I had the privilege of meeting a young man that is now a firefighter and strong believer in Christ, whom I had taught in 5th grade.

My faith was shaken when a long-time friend and trusted Awana leader was arrested for armed robbery, leaving his children fatherless and his wife husbandless for the next 15 years.

My heart burst with joy to see many children make their own decision to put their trust in Christ, and to make that decision public through baptism.

Most recently I have watched a terrible natural disaster unfold in the community, only to see the amazing generosity of Texans as the community rallies to support families in need. At the same time, my heart hurts to know that one of the lives lost was the husband of a local kindergarten teacher.

I have had the privilege of knowing some of these kids from the time they were in preschool to the time they started high school. Others I only knew for a few months. Regardless, each child holds a special place in my heart, and I will miss teaching them.

The time has come for me to retire (some have said graduate) from being an Awana Commander. I do not feel that my time serving in children's ministry is over, but do know it is time to let someone new take up this particular mantel. This summer will be a time of prayer and soul searching. In the meantime, I leave you with some highlights from the past decade:



Texas Awana Missionary Doug Rolando visited the club many times over the years, always with a captivating story to tell. Two of my favorites were a faith lesson from his years in the United States Air Force, and a silly attempt to get to heaven with wings, a pogo stick, and a ladder, all made from balloons.
Texas Awana Missionary Doug Rolando visited the club many times over the years, always with a captivating story to tell. Two of my favorites were a faith lesson from his years in the United States Air Force, and a silly attempt to get to heaven with wings, a pogo stick, and a ladder, all made from balloons.
In my first year as Commander, I poke to the preschool Cubbies as
In my first year as Commander, I poke to the preschool Cubbies as "Inspector Dorito Chip," an elite spy looking for the treasures in God's word. One summer I played "Davidhotep" (rhymes with Imhotep) in an Egyptian-themed VBS; the kids immediately changed that to "Dorito Chip" and the name stuck!
One year, I promised the kids they could turn me into an ice cream sundae if enough clubbers completed their workbook during the year. They met the challenge, so I held up my end of the bargain!
One year, I promised the kids they could turn me into an ice cream sundae if enough clubbers completed their workbook during the year. They met the challenge, so I held up my end of the bargain!
Blackout Night (aka glow in the dark night) is always a favorite with the kids.
Blackout Night (aka glow in the dark night) is always a favorite with the kids.
Watching the club grow from just a handful to filling the sanctuary was a huge blessing.
Watching the club grow from just a handful to filling the sanctuary was a huge blessing.
I love seeing happy (sometimes silly) children learning God's Word!
I love seeing happy (sometimes silly) children learning God's Word!
On September 5, 2007, First Baptist Church burnt to the ground. The church was without a sanctuary for a couple of years, and did not host an Awana club for a long while (the club was hosted at another church in Dripping Springs for that period). 5 years later to the day, Awana returned to FBC. God's hand at work!
On September 5, 2007, First Baptist Church burnt to the ground. The church was without a sanctuary for a couple of years, and did not host an Awana club for a long while (the club was hosted at another church in Dripping Springs for that period). 5 years later to the day, Awana returned to FBC. God's hand at work!
Another clubber (and leader) favorite was snow night. Central Texas rarely gets snow, so the chance to build snowmen and have a snowball fight was a rare treat. A huge than you to Tammy Myers and The Big Drip ice cream parlor for donating shaved ice (home-made snow) each year!
Another clubber (and leader) favorite was snow night. Central Texas rarely gets snow, so the chance to build snowmen and have a snowball fight was a rare treat. A huge than you to Tammy Myers and The Big Drip ice cream parlor for donating shaved ice (home-made snow) each year!
Pastor Craig Curry challenged the kids to “Stump the Pastor” with their questions, and they tried with gusto.  Then some of them caught an idea and turned the tables.  They started quizzing him on verses they had already memorized in Awana! Imagine their delight to stump the pastor from Scripture (even a pastor doesn’t usually have the entire Bible committed to memory).
Pastor Craig Curry challenged the kids to “Stump the Pastor” with their questions, and they tried with gusto. Then some of them caught an idea and turned the tables. They started quizzing him on verses they had already memorized in Awana! Imagine their delight to stump the pastor from Scripture (even a pastor doesn’t usually have the entire Bible committed to memory).
Seeing a child I have watched grow up in Awana get baptized is without a doubt the highlight of children's ministry.
Seeing a child I have watched grow up in Awana get baptized is without a doubt the highlight of children's ministry.
Mess Fest! Best friends having a blast at our Halloween alternative.
Mess Fest! Best friends having a blast at our Halloween alternative.
Exploding snowballs on a warm sunny day in Central Texas!
Exploding snowballs on a warm sunny day in Central Texas!
Kona Ice and the local radio station Spirit 105.9 traveled throughout the Austin area, doing a remote broadcast from many different VBS events. Though this was not strictly speaking an Awana event, it involved the same kids and the same volunteers, so why not? :-)
Kona Ice and the local radio station Spirit 105.9 traveled throughout the Austin area, doing a remote broadcast from many different VBS events. Though this was not strictly speaking an Awana event, it involved the same kids and the same volunteers, so why not? :-)
Thank you to Mark Lee for the tutorial I used to make this slide show.

Do you have something to add? A question you'd like answered? Think I'm out of my mind? Join the conversation below, reach out by email at david (at) securityforrealpeople.com, or hit me up on Twitter at @dnlongen

Whois David?

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I have spent the better part of two decades in information technology and security, with roots in application developer support, system administration, and network security. My specialty is cyber threat intelligence - software vulnerabilities and patching, malware, social networking risks, etc. In particular, I strive to write about complex cyber topics in a way that can be understood by those outside the infosec industry.

Why do I do this? A common comment I get from friends and family is that complex security topics give them headaches. They want to know in simple terms how to stay safe in a connected world. Folks like me and my peers have chosen to make a profession out of hacking and defending. I've been doing this for the better part of two decades, and so have a high degree of knowledge in the field. Others have chosen different paths - paths where I would be lost. This is my effort to share my knowledge with those that are experts in something else.

When not in front of a digital screen, I spend my time raising five rambunctious teens and pre-teens - including two sets of twins. Our family enjoys archery, raising show and meat rabbits, and simply enjoying life in the Texas hill country.

For a decade I served as either Commander or a division leader for the Awana Club in Dripping Springs, Texas; while I have retired from that role I continue to have a passion for children's ministry. At the moment I teach 1st through 3rd grade Sunday School. Follow FBC Dripping Springs Kids to see what is going on in our children's ministries.