MAYHILL (BP) - Two ministers in different parts of the United States said that children’s responses to the Gospel have motivated them to continue sharing it with everyone.
Certainly, the landscape of every ministry has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, finding ways to get the Gospel to people is an unchanging priority, according to Matt Henslee. Henslee pastors Mayhill Baptist Church. He includes children in that priority. Inquisitive young voices still ask questions, sometimes prompted by changes they have observed in their world and their family routines.
Alongside parents and other church leaders, Henslee has sought to seize open moments to share Christ's love with children. In many ways, he said, the hardships that have come with the global pandemic are helping young minds realize their need for the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ. "A lot of it now is continual conversation," Henslee said, referring to conversations that point children to Christ.
The venue and format of those conversations and the events leading up to them have shifted, for now. Mayhill's children's ministry has transitioned primarily to remote platforms. For outreach, teachers are using personal letters, Zoom call classes with those children who can participate and a minimal-attendance, socially-distanced Vacation Bible School. "Our conversation was, 'do whatever you can in your wheelhouse, to keep some of that training going,'" Henslee said.
Amid the pandemic's challenges, the effort to keep preaching the Gospel to the children has shown fruit. Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., the five-year-old daughter of Mayhill Baptist member Katie Jones embraced the Gospel and received baptism.
Her mother recounted how she initially struggled to understand why their family could not attend church in person, travel or go to public places. One day, Katie came to her mother and said, "Now we need God most." Soon, Katie decided she was ready to "go to heaven," Jones said. After a FaceTime call with Henslee, Katie prayed to receive Christ. At that time, Mayhill was conducting drive-in services, so Hensley baptized her outside in a stock tank purchased from Tractor Supply.
Julie Johnson, another Mayhill member, said her adopted 10-year-old daughter came accepted the Gospel in recent months, as well. Johnson's daughter experiences a language barrier and blindness. She had bits and pieces of the Gospel message in her heart, but had not pulled it all together, Johnson said.
One Sunday, after Mayhill returned to in-person services, Johnson noticed her 10-year-old crying. When she asked why, her daughter responded, "Because I trust in Jesus." Following a conversation with Henslee and demonstrating an understanding of the Gospel, he baptized her, too.
Johnson said the daily influence of the church and the example and love demonstrated by families helped children realize they needed the Lord. "If it was something they only did once a week, like on Sunday, I don't think she would be there yet," she explained. "It takes that daily living it and praying as a family and talking about it in our home and her seeing me walking and serving in the church that helps them come along to that place."
Ellie Axford is a member of Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, Tennessee. She told a similar story, recounting how her eight-year-old daughter recently accepted Jesus into her heart - during the pandemic. Axford said her daughter had seen Christ represented in many ways in the lives of those around her. Her older sister had been baptized. She had participated in a family mission trip last year. And, interactions with the church family were loving.
"[Those examples] got her thinking more. And the last couple [of] years, God's been working on her heart," Axford said. "Different people being in her life, that consistency, and her seeing, 'Oh, it's not just my mom and dad that feel this way,' is what ultimately drove her to realize her own need for Jesus."
In both girls, the excitement that followed salvation stirred their desire for baptism. They also wanted the world to know what Christ had done in their lives. Henslee said glimpses of hope, like those girls, motivate continual preaching of Christ during these times.
Brad Smith said stories of new spiritual life fuel his passion for finding ways to get the Gospel into the world, despite the unprecedented rate at which options are changing. Smith serves as Brentwood's children's pastor. Children's ministers "draw energy from being with kids and their parents. And, not doing that ... weighs us down and slows us down in many ways," he explained. "So, where we've drawn our energy from is the stories like [Axford's daughter]."
Henslee said such stories were encouraging moments "where it just seems like God is smiling." "Where I might have been frustrated ... there's been these little bright spots along the way, where it's like God's smiling and saying, 'Hey, you're on the right track; you're doing the right thing; I'm blessing this; I'm in this; I've got this,'" he said. "It's been those reassuring things that keep you going."