Sowing seeds for the future

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 17, 2002

The thing about outreach is this: reaching out doesn't end.

It goes on and on and on.

Helping others can't come to a halt, because others will always need help.

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So, Pam Riley and her husband, John, and their son, Nick, keep reaching out. Carla Boe, too.

Every Thursday night. Rain or shine. By daylight or covered with darkness. Shivering cold temps or warmer. One child or many children. Most of the time, it's the latter.

It's called "Tending God's Garden" and it's a non-denominational, any age, churched and unchurched, y'all-come kind of affair.

On Thursday nights inside the pavilion at Shirley Theel Park, the Rileys and Boe reach out to the children and teenagers living at Bremerton Townhomes, Western Manor Apartments and other multi-family complexes in the area.

Riley stresses the Thursday night program is not just about one or two churches.

"Two churches did help us start it," she said, "and they helped us grow, but now there are other churches who are also helping us tell all, 'We are here because we love Jesus and want you to know him, too.'

"What we are is a group of believers pulling together."

It's been going on for four years and started as a summertime Vacation Bible School venture, became a backyard VBS program and now has returned to Shirley Theel Park.

Last May, the volunteers began focusing on the Thursday night activities.

"It's a pretty well-known fact that Thursday night is Dart Night all over town and many adults go to the bars to play in dart leagues," said Pam Riley. "They have to leave their children with a babysitter or home alone. We give them something to do."

The formula is simple: games, fun, an introduction of the gospel, but mostly fun and laughter and sharing with others.

The activities start with team games such as kick ball and soccer.

"There are many different ethnic groups out here so the traditional American games don't always work," she said.

Before the school year began, Nick Riley, 17, would assist his parents and Boe in supervising the activities.

For those who don't like sports, Boe offers instruction in making simple crafts.

After the team games, John Riley leads an informal storytelling intermixed with questions. In return for each correct answer, the children receive coupons donated by the local Taco John's Restaurant owners.

"We would like to continue to offer the activities on Thursday nights indefinitely, but with the onset of the cold weather and rain, that may not always be possible. That's why we would like to take it inside; possibly a community meeting room or empty apartment in the area," said Pam Riley.

But this outreach appears to have attracted higher attention than mere mortals on earth.

"When we got started, we prayed that God would bless us," said Pam Riley, "and wouldn't you know it? Every Thursday night there has been good weather. He's watching over us."

So is the Salvation Army Austin Corps, whose women made quilts for the group to huddle under when the weather turns cold.

Faith Evangelical Free Church and Bethlehem Free Methodist Church were the original sponsoring churches. Later, the Community Assembly of God and the Open Bible Church joined forces.

"We want them to know the word," said Pam Riley. "We give prayers for special needs and I think they enjoy that. It makes them feel good to hear us praying for them, but our prayers have brought us other gifts."

Anonymous donors have delivered boxes of clothing.

"Sometimes as soon as we gives away the clothing, the children will disappear into their apartments or a bathroom and return wearing their new clothes. They're so happy and excited about getting the clothes," said Pam Riley.

So, this outreach goes on, giving children a sanctuary filled with positive role models and self-esteem building reinforcement for whatever life holds.

It's only once a week, but Riley and Boe believe it is passing the most important test of merit.

"God knows they're there," said Pam Riley.

(Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at