(EDITOR'S NOTE: Home-Grown Missions profiles missionaries, both full- and part-time, who grew up in area churches. As part of an on-going series, letters home from those serving on the mission field occasionally also will be published.)
Bill Kennedy had no idea he would spend summers and school years teaching others how to teach the word of God.
Yet he was working as a salesman, driving with the radio playing, when he turned it off to pray.
Bill and Mary Ann Kennedy stand behind their children, from left, Rebecca, Billy and Rachel.
"God called me to ministry and I was willing to go wherever," Kennedy said. "I never felt a call to ministry (before)."
The call turned him to Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), a worldwide organization that teaches children Bible lessons. He trains teenagers and young adults on how to convey those messages to younger children.
"I couldn't have pictured myself working with kids," he said. "I love working with teens. God told me in my heart 'CEF' and here I am."
NAME: Mary Ann and Bill Kennedy
AGES: Mary Ann 53; Bill 46
HOME CHURCH: Fairlawn Community Church
HOMETOWN: Mary Ann is from Williamsport and grew up in Memorial Baptist Church; Bill
is from Centre Hall
HIGH SCHOOL: Mary Ann went to Williamsport High School, Bill went to Penns Valley
COLLEGE: Mary Ann went to Practical Bible College and Faith Baptist Bible and Bill went to Pennsylvania College of Technology
SENDING ORGANIZATION:Child Evangelism Fellowship
MISSION FIELD: Lycoming County
START DATE: February 2000
BLOG SITES: www.lycomingcef.com and www.cefonline.com
One of the best parts about the job is watching the youth he helps grow.
"We're raising up the next generation to go out and make a difference for Christ," Kennedy said. "I'm sitting down with them and praying with them and watching them grow in Christ."
The ultimate goal for him is that every child will hear God's word, will know that God loves them and will adopt Christ as their savior.
For Mary Ann, his wife, becoming a part of Child Evangelism Fellowship was not such a surprise.
Her mother hosted a 5-Day Club one summer when Mary Ann was in grade school. She went to a Bible college and majored in missions. She worked as a field worker for CEF for five years, finding teachers for winter clubs and hosts for the summer clubs. She asked to come back to the area and became the director in Lycoming County for seven years.
She took a few years off, but never stopped helping the organization as she volunteered, advised and helped as a community member before coming back full-time.
Working with CEF is something the whole family has done, including Bill and Mary Ann's children, Rachel, Billy and Rebecca.
The three served as summer missionaries. Rebecca and Rachel taught at the After School Clubs at Hepburn-Lycoming and Round Hills elementary schools.
They help out at fairs and retreats and speak at the churches the family visits. Rebecca sometimes sings in churches.
Rebecca grew up in the organization, going to the camps with her parents when she was a baby. When she was old enough, she attended the camps and clubs.
"She became very interested in teaching the lessons at a young age," Bill said.
Rebecca worked as a summer missionary for five summers full-time. During those years, she taught clubs, vacation Bible schools and camps, painted faces at fairs, and promoted the ministry at the Kids Day at the Little League Museum. She now attends Lancaster Bible College where she is majoring in family and marriage counseling.
Billy worked as a summer missionary for four summers. He taught in clubs, Vacation Bible School and camps, where he also leads recreations. He does balloon art at the fairs and carnivals.
Rachel has been a summer missionary for three years. She also teaches in the summer ministries. She does face painting at the fairs and leads the singing at the camps with some of our other missionaries.
The two ministries Bill and Mary Ann focus on in Child Evangelism Fellowship are 5-Day Club and Good News Club.
The 5-Day Club takes place during the summer and children can go to one of the clubs, which always are held at different sites. Various people host the groups in their homes or they can meet in parks.
During the week, the lessons take place for 1 1/2 hours.
The Good News Club teaches children Bible lessons in their schools. The elementary schools that participated this spring are Ferrell, Jersey Shore, Myers, Round Hills, Salladasburg, Avis and Hepburn-Lycoming.
In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that Good News Clubs can meet in public schools after hours on the same terms as community groups, as long as the parents agree.
The organization will celebrate its 75th anniversary this year.
Summer camp training
To become teachers, or as they are called, summer missionaries, youths go through a vigorous week of training, similar to a college class.
During the first week of the 5-Day Club in the summer, they continue learning through on-job training.
Josh Paulhamus, of Linden, went through the training to become a summer missionary last year after hearing about the program.
"The best thing is being able to reach out to the kids," he said. "I go to religious school. I reach people. I like the fact I can reach out farther for the ministry for a different cause."
Keeping children interested in the Bible on sticky, hot days when they could be out swimming is made easier with interaction, Paulhamus has noticed.
"There's a lot of interaction so I know they're paying attention," he said. "They react to being involved, not lectured."
In addition to keeping the children involved, it is important to relating lessons to them, Mary Ann said, such as with obeying parents and teachers.
Still, Paulhamus said he does not have teaching down perfectly yet. He said there always is room for improvement.
"The goal is to present kids with the Gospel," he said. "Show them God loves them, (and is not) someone who sits in a chair and looks at the world without a hand in it."
The program is targeted to kids ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.
Over the years, Bill and Mary Ann, have noticed changes.
"Not the message," Mary Ann said, "but the method getting the message out."
Keeping children interested is one big change.
"(It takes) more energy to keep children's attention," she said.
It also is harder to keep them focused on a lesson as long as they used to.
"If you're teaching more than 10 to 13 minutes, you don't have their attention," Bill said. "Fifteen years ago, you had 20 minutes."
He also has noticed a lack in respect from children. Yet the camps seem to improve the children. Mary Ann said parents have called in reporting the change in their children for the better.
Doing background checks on everyone involved with the organization was not always done, nor were the procedures for sharing the Bible. Previously, people could walk into parks and start sharing lessons. Now they have to call the police in advance, they have to wear name tags and they need permission from the park.
Some of the lessons taught in the training class are discipline, but also involve lessons about handling children. If a child goes to hug a summer missionary, the person must turn to the side to receive the hug.
Children also know less about the Bible than ever before.
Mary Ann starts classes by explaining she's going to teach them about the Bible and one girl asked what it was. Previously, even if children did not attend Sunday School, they still knew who Jesus is.
"Every generation is more watered down," she said.
Each year, Bill gives the children a 10-question test that asks questions such as 'Who is the man with the big boat?' "
A quarter of the children come from church. It is usual for some to not get a single question right. It is unusual for a child to get half of the questions right.
What shocked Jeremy Geisler, summer coordinator, the most was the diversity of children he sees.
"I was surprised so many kids are from broken homes," he said. "I couldn't fathom. It was a huge shock to me."
While the job was an eye-opener for Geisler, he said he cannot believe what he does is considered a job.
"I get paid to hang out with kids," he said. "Kids are so transparent and unedited. It's so priceless for a job like that."
Like Bill, he was unexperienced with children and when he was going through the training portion, he thought he was making the biggest mistake of his life.
"Through the Lord's help, I found out I love it," he said.
It is not just the volunteers who enjoy it - children do, too.
"They enjoy it so much," Mary Ann said. "These children get used to praying. A couple of years ago, none of them wanted to pray. Now they want to pray for each other. One little girl said when her friend comes to visit, she will have prayer time together."