By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
SULPHUR – Volunteers with an after-school outreach are finding Jesus saves in the halls of Sulphur’s E.K. Key Elementary School.
Since 2016, members of the Houston River Baptist Church in Sulphur have spent their Thursday afternoons serving up snacks, leading small group spiritual discussions and participating in games with 100 third to fifth graders at KiDs Beach Club.
Every student who attends receives a Bible and t-shirt, and some even place their trust in Jesus. Four children have accepted Christ since the start of the school year last fall.
“It’s very moving to see a child come to trust Jesus,” said Houston River Baptist Pastor Lonnie Gothrup. “We just want children to have an opportunity to see the Gospel lived out and presented. All of our volunteers are laypeople who see an opportunity to love the kids,” he continued. “We are not just going in there with a prayer. We are going to present them with the Gospel.
“This is an example of a church investing in the school children spiritually,” he said. “Many parents see that and appreciate it. While we may not see every child come to Christ, we are doing all we can to show His love to kids who may not have any other opportunity to hear about Jesus.”
Beach Club is “an innovative ministry established to mobilize the church to go outside its walls in order to take the message of Christ into the heart of its community,” according to the organization’s website.
Since 2003, more than 96,000 kids have been impacted by clubs, which include locations in Louisiana (Caddo, Calcasieu and East Baton Rouge parishes) and 10 other states. At least 8,576 of these students have professed Christ as Savior, including 280 this school year.
Beach Club provides a way to reach families in the neighborhood who otherwise would not come to the church campus, Gothrup said. Before, none of the students in the housing authority complex came to Houston River Baptist, only 2.5 miles away. But now that parents know the joy their children are experiencing in Beach Club, they allow a church van to pick up their children for Wednesday evening activities. Moreover, on Sunday mornings, 30-40 students from the development can be counted among the 300 worshipers.
Gothrup’s dream is to plant a church in the housing project, and he sees the relationships that are being formed now will help lead to the manifestation of this goal one day.
“Most of them won’t come to Houston River, so, we go to them,” Gothrup said. “They need Jesus and many housing authorities are a place Satan has his ways. In Louisiana, schools are the front door to the families. If we can reach the children, we then will reach the parents and branch into the neighborhood to see change there.”
Margaret Schreve, director of children’s ministry at Houston River Baptist, has seen a 60 percent increase in children’s ministry participation since the church began reaching out to the kids in the housing authority, growing from 15 to as high as 55 some Wednesday evenings.
“We’ve seen a broadening of acceptance among our members of those who are not like them,” Schreve said. “I’m brought to tears when I see how they are praying for and loving on them. Our hearts are warmed to see an increase in compassion to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these kids.”
Beach Club volunteer Tim Marcantel said he is thankful for the school’s willingness to allow Houston River Baptist this opportunity.
“I know some of these kids don’t go to church, and we are blessed to now give them the chance to make the most important decision in their lives. Christ gives them hope, no matter which situation they are in.”
Volunteer Cathie Basden comes away energized after each session.
“To watch one little boy who was so bitter and angry and troubled come in here and then to be there when he makes Jesus his forever friend is a moment I never will forget,” Basden said. “He brings his Bible in and feels love in this room. It’s exciting to plant a seed and then see him and others accept Christ.”
“I love loving on these kids that have very little,” she continued. “It doesn’t take much to make them smile and build a bond with them. It’s a way to let them know we love them and that Jesus loves them and there is hope.”
For information about starting a Beach Club, visit kidsbeachclub.org or contact Gothrup at 337.527.5725.