Activities for children & youth help make SBC a family adventure

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Preschool childcare, a children's conference and a youth Centrifuge helped make the journey to Nashville enjoyable for families attending the Southern Baptist Convention's June 19-22 annual meeting.

Some moms echoed the sentiment of Christine Gaskill of Ashton, Ill.: "If there wasn't anything for the kids, I would have stayed home. We have six children so we couldn't have made arrangements for all of them."

Three of the Gaskills' children, ages 10, 9 and 8, are attending the children's conference, while their oldest son, 12, is attending Centrifuge.

The Gaskill family came with a group of about 20 from their church. Several teens in their group attended Centrifuge at the 2004 convention in Indianapolis -- the first time the student program of Bible study, fellowship and worship was offered at an SBC annual meeting.

"They really liked it -- they wished it was a week long," Christine Gaskill said. "They said it was really nice to hang out with kids who had the same views they did."

Troy Wilson, director of the SBC Centrifuge, said the agenda for this year's event includes studies on the topic of honor; a video scavenger hunt in downtown Nashville; and indoor adventure team-building recreation. The teens also attended outdoor concerts by the popular groups Out of Eden, Tree 63 and Jump 5. Centrifuge registration totaled 165.

Macil and Judy Duncan of Charlotte, N.C., had checked out Centrifuge at the 2004 convention. "We were impressed with what we saw last year," Macil said, so they brought their three teenage daughters this year.

Macil said he appreciates the opportunity for lots of preachers' kids to be together and said the environment seems sensitive to their interests. "And it's nice, because we can all go back and share about our day."

The children's event for ages 6-12 was already full in mid-May with 250 registrations. Children's Conferences International (CCI), one of the nation's largest children's event providers, is staging the SBC conference for a third straight year. In this year's "Frontiers of Faith" event, kids are visiting the town of "Lawless Gulch" to learn how they may "spur one another on toward love and good deeds."

Kevin Purcell, pastor of Long Creek Baptist in Dallas, N.C., said his children, ages 11 and 7, are attending the children's conference for the first time. "When the convention was in Atlanta, we didn't do childcare, and it was a miserable experience," Purcell said. This year, he said, the boys came out of their first session awed by a juggler who had juggled knives and other objects.

In large group sessions, kids learned from on-stage skits, music and movement and were entertained by the juggler along with an acrobat and lots of physical comedy. In small groups, children play games at the Lawless Gulch County Fair, work their way through an obstacle course, and do some hands-on crafts.

CCI director Stephen Leckenby said he works hard to balance fun with serious teaching but believes the relationships children develop with leaders can make the greater impact. He gives his workers a 100 percent guarantee they will impact a life and encourages them to correspond with kids after the conference.

Steve Quarles, pastor of College Hill Heights in Oxford, Miss., remembered how his oldest son came home from the 2003 Phoenix convention with addresses to correspond with some of the kids he met. The Quarles family was among those disappointed that space filled up this year. While their oldest was able to attend Centrifuge, two of their boys were on standby for the children's conference.

"They're good kids and they sit with us and do just fine, but it's tiring for them," Quarles said.

When asked what having preschool care and children's activities meant to his family, Timothy Kraynak from Conowingo Baptist Church in Maryland joked, "It means everybody in the family can have a good time instead of nobody!"

Eliza Kraynak said, "We know we can trust the people, and they'll have a good time."

Security policies are strictly enforced in both the preschool and children's areas. Security personnel make sure no unauthorized persons get in or out of the children's areas.

"They do a really good job of signing the kids in and out and making sure they are safe," Christine Gaskill said.

Jennifer Enzor, director of preschool ministries at Bellevue Baptist Church in Nashville, coordinated the 2005 preschool care, assisted by Edith Brown of Indianapolis who coordinated last year's care. Preschoolers stay busy playing and learning from the "Beach Blast" Vacation Bible School program. The preschool area provides care for 125 infants through 5-year-olds each day.


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