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Sep28ThuAt Oshawa Temple, making junior soldiers is a corps commitment. September 28, 2017 by Kristin Ostensen
"Now that I’m a junior soldier, I feel proud and responsible,” says eight-year-old Isaac Thompson. “I’m responsible for teaching little kids about Jesus. And I feel proud because now I’m a part of The Salvation Army.”
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Isaac was one of six children enrolled at Oshawa Temple, Ont., in March, adding another member to the corps’ growing junior soldier roll.
Oshawa Temple offers a range of children’s programs, providing multiple entry points for families such as Isaac’s. During the school year, he is actively involved with band, timbrels and singing company. Last summer, he attended day camp and junior music camp.
But for Shona Burditt, director of youth and young adults ministries, the key to a successful children’s ministry goes beyond simply offering programs. “It’s about relationships—that’s how you keep families in church,” she says.
Keep Them Coming Back
Building relationships doesn’t happen overnight, but it starts the first time a family walks through Oshawa Temple’s doors.
“It’s our job to make sure that they feel welcome,” says Burditt. “If I see a new family on a Sunday morning, I’ll introduce myself and get to know them a bit. I’ll give them information about the programs we have, get their contact information and then do follow up.”
Along with weekly programs such as band and timbrels, the corps draws community families in with special programs such as the March break and summer day camps and an annual Easter egg hunt, which has brought as many as 1,500 people to the corps.
“I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen whole families of kids go through the camps,” says Burditt, who has been in her role at Oshawa Temple since 2007. “They might not attend our Sunday services, but we’re still building relationships with them.
“When they come to Oshawa Temple, people know that we care about their kids. That’s why they keep coming back.”
For Meridith Thompson, Isaac’s mother, the children’s programs are a significant part of why she has stayed at the corps. Meridith has attended Oshawa Temple all her life, becoming a junior soldier and then a senior soldier as she grew up.
“I enjoyed the youth programs myself when I was a kid,” she says. “When you’re at church, you’re learning about your faith, helping others, learning a skill like playing an instrument, and it’s all social. I still have friends that I made growing up at Oshawa Temple.”
“The children’s programs are run well,” says Julie McIntyre, whose eightyear-old daughter, Alyssa, was also enrolled as a junior soldier in March. “I have two girls and they both love them.”
When asked what she likes best about going to Oshawa Temple, Alyssa says, “My friends, the music and the people.” She is involved with band, singing company, timbrels and the monthly junior youth group. Her mother runs the corps’ Sunday school program.
After Alyssa turned seven, Burditt spoke to Julie about the possibility of Alyssa taking the six-week junior soldier preparation classes.
“We approach the parents but we don’t push because it’s not about numbers,” says Burditt. “It’s about whether the child is ready to make that promise.”
Having been a junior soldier herself, Julie was excited when Burditt approached her about Alyssa, and appreciated how the leadership involved parents throughout the preparation process.
“Every week, we were given sheets with information, and Charlie Ball, who teaches the classes, would phone to check in,” Julie says. “And when they signed their Junior Soldier Promises, it was a time for all the families—the children signed them at the mercy seat and the families prayed over them, along with the corps officer. It was a nice time.”
Becoming a junior soldier was a natural step for Alyssa, who asked Jesus into her heart when she was four or five. “I wanted to become a junior soldier because I love God,” she says. “I’m excited to tell everyone about Jesus.”
In the months since his enrolment, Isaac’s mother has been able to see how the classes have had an impact on him. “I think he understands faith more,” says Meridith. “Before, his concept of God was very general. You’re supposed to do what God says and you pray before you eat and before you go to bed. Now he has much more of an understanding of how our faith is a way of life, and it’s not just going to church every week.”
“I learned that Jesus will always be with you in your heart,” says Isaac. “We’re supposed to help other people and help them follow Jesus.”
The preparation classes may be finished and the Junior Soldier Promises signed, but for Alyssa, Isaac and their corps family, the journey is just beginning. As Julie notes, junior soldiership is not just a commitment on the part of the child. “It’s also a commitment from the congregation to uphold these children in prayer and help them along their journey of faith.”
After 17 years in youth ministry, Burditt says there is no magic formula— just love and discipleship.
“Whether you’ve got a hundred people coming or just 10, the most vital part of any youth ministry is spending time with the kids that you have, investing in them and letting them see your walk with the Lord,” she says.
“When you’re vulnerable with them— when you show them how much you love God and how much God loves them— that’s how you’ll reach them.”