Old program has strong local roots

Published 9:23 am Friday, August 26, 2011

With the beginning of another school year, a long-standing ministry program in Austin kicks off, too.

It’s known as AWANA, and it helps kids, parents and religious leaders. Taken from Timothy 2:15, it stands for “approved workmen are not ashamed.” Though the program hasn’t always been in Austin, as it is an international program that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, several area churches have used it with success.

Grace Baptist Church is one of those churches. For decades, Grace Church has used the non-denominational program to offer kids activities after school. According to Laura Waksdahl, AWANA commander at Grace Church, about 40 or more kids attend the after-school events at her church. Waksdahl grew up learning in AWANA, helped lead AWANA activities at her previous church for about 15 years and has been using its programs at Grace Church for more than two years.

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Recently, however, AWANA has been growing, and Waksdahl has seen the changes over the years. She said an influx of kids started going to her previous church after school, which drew the attention of other parents. In fact, AWANA has grown to serve more than 1.5 million kids and 12,000 churches in the U.S., according to its website.

“It’s certainly changed a great deal since I was in it,” Waksdahl said.

Instead of holding bible study directly from the book, the AWANA program now breaks children into different age groups where they can learn by using games, memorization and competitions.

“They’ve added a lot of programs so leaders and parents can get material to work with kids at home,” Waksdahl said.

But aside from keeping kids spiritually engaged after school, AWANA offers opportunities to kids who can’t be in sports or other hobbies. Though the program, like after-school sports, charges a registration fee, Waksdahl said it is reasonable. And at Grace Baptist, this year is more than reasonable.

“This year, we’ve been really lucky with our church; and we don’t have to charge the kids for their books or uniforms,” Waksdahl said.

At Crane Community Chapel, AWANA has been a staple, as well. Paulette Lewis, director of Awana at Crane, said the program offers an avenue for children or families looking for faith as well. People don’t have to attend Grace Baptist or Crane Community Chapel to enter the program because AWANA is non-denominational.

“It kind of fills that void for some of these families,” Lewis said.

And with AWANA’s notoriety, churches have stepped up and accommodated other church’s needs. When Crane Community Chapel had a fire several years ago, First Baptist Church hosted Crane’s AWANA program for two years. By opening its doors to Crane Community Chapel, First Baptist Church actually served one of AWANA’s main purposes: strengthening communities.

­Among Grace Baptist and Crane Community Chapel, Faith Evangelical in Austin hosts AWANA, as well. AWANA runs once a week at participating churches, usually Wednesdays, for the entire school year.