“I've never worked out as hard, and part of this is because we're constantly reminded that we're doing it for Jesus,” she says.
Based out of Kitchener Community Church, Ont., Kung Fu for Christ is an outreach ministry that uses martial arts to connect with members of the community who may be unfamiliar with the church or the Christian faith. Each hour-long class has a devotion time that looks at a Scripture passage or biblical value and how this teaching relates to martial arts and the students' daily lives.
“If you combine values of kung fu—such as respect, discipline, self-control and perseverance—with Christian values, it gives you a solid foundation on which to introduce students to the Christian faith,” says Morgan Braganza, who co-ordinates the program with her husband, Alan, a black belt in kung fu.
The program is divided into two classes: one for children aged seven to 15 and the other for adults 16 and up. More than 70 children and 30 adults are currently involved with the program. The program has been so popular that the children's group has had a waiting list on and off throughout the past year.
Part of the attraction of the program is its cost: students can make a donation, but the classes are offered free of charge.
“My son went to a karate camp last summer, but when we were deciding whether to sign him up for a formal program, the cost was a huge factor—it's about a thousand dollars a year per child,” says Ristau. Having the option to make a donation has made it possible for Ristau, a single mother, to put her nine-year-old twins, Rachel and Christian van Schaik, in kung fu.
“It's really nice that our whole family has joined,” says Rachel. “It's fun because now we can practise together and it becomes a whole family thing.”
Ristau and her children have also started reading the Bible every day, thanks to the program.
“We award chevron badges to students for reading the Bible,” explains Braganza, noting that 27 children and eight adults have received a “dove and fist” chevron for reading one Gospel, and five children have received wooden broadswords for reading the entire Bible. “If our goal is to get students excited about reading the Bible, then I think those numbers show that our goal is becoming reality.”
Kung Fu for Christ also gives students chevrons for other achievements, such as academics. For Ristau's family, the program has provided awards for activities such as piano practising, giving the children added incentive to develop their talents beyond the gym.
Putting on a program of this size requires a strong base of support, one the corps is happy to provide. In addition to the Braganzas, the classes are led by a team of 15 “laoshis” (Chinese for “teacher”), one of whom is Major Deborah Coles, corps officer.
“The whole corps is involved one way or another,” says Major Coles. Corps members hand out Bibles and help with registration, refreshments and childcare during the adults' class. “They're also trying to connect with whoever comes in from the community, so there's been good conversations and opportunities for prayer.”
This welcoming environment has been an important part of helping participants engage with the program and stick with it.
“It's hard work practising and training, but it's really worth it,” says Rachel. “I want to be a black belt someday.”