RA race marks 100th anniversary

by Shannon Baker, posted Monday, June 09, 2008 (11 years ago)

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--More than 300 people celebrated the 100th anniversary of Royal Ambassadors, a mission education organization for boys in grades 1-6, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds June 7.

The highlight was the first-ever National RA Racer Event for World Hunger, which pitted 55 winners from 18 state competitions in a pinewood car derby. The racers raised $2,900 for world hunger relief.

The top winners of the national race were Jesse Dollar of Conyers, Ga., in the Lad (grades 1-3) category and Chandler Begle of Mooresville, N.C., in the Crusader (grades 4-6) category. Begle also won the newly revived RA National SpeakOut competition.

Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board, and Kerry Bybe of La Mesa, Texas, won the pace car competition.

First place winners in the show and shine competition were Zachary Caudell of Eastanallee, Ga., in the Crusader category; Luke Sherman of Columbia, Mo., in the Lad category; Jared Law of Perry, Ga., in the Challenger (youth) category; and Matt Sherman of Columbia, Mo., in the adult category.

Luke Freyder, 9, traveled from First Baptist Church in Juneau, Alaska, to compete. He said his favorite activity was the practice races, where he ran his car 15 times down the wooden racecar track before competing in the top race.

Other activities included a Walk for Hunger Relief and multiple state convention sponsored displays, highlighting local RA activities, history and ministry ideas. Some booths had smaller scale line-glider and water races.

Rob Carr, national RA director with NAMB, said he was excited "just seeing the boys and families wide-eyed about all the activities."

The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions offered several soapbox derby cars for children to ride. Eight-year-old Ethan Englehart of Merriman Road Baptist Church in Garden City, Mich., explained the appeal.

"It's fun because you get people to push you," he said. "They choose how fast you go, and they tell you which way to steer."

Steve Stephens, an associate for the Alabama State Board of Missions, said leaders stress teamwork at RA events. His convention sponsors an annual soapbox derby in Montgomery, Ala. The only restriction for the gravity-propelled cars is that they can't cost more than $350.

At another display, Mel Kenyon, who formerly completed eight Indianapolis 500 races with four top five finishes, brought a full-sized race car for the kids -- and adults -- to explore.

Inducted in 2003 into both the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and the International Motorsports Halls of Fame, Kenyon accepted Christ after nearly dying in a serious race crash.

Now the racecar driver tells others, "Have lots of patience. Don't get in a big hurry. Find the Lord before you get into trouble, instead of when you get in trouble."

This year's event also showcased service opportunities from the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.

In fact, the RA organization grew out of a need for Southern Baptist boys to learn that they are "commissioned as Christ's ambassadors to go into the world and tell the story of Jesus Christ," Jim Burton, the mission education team leader at NAMB, said.

According to the RAs website, more than 2 million boys have participated in RAs since its inception in 1908. In the past 10 years alone, a 125,000 boys have learned to live out the RA pledge to become well-informed, responsible followers of Christ; to have Christ-like concern for all people; to learn how to carry the message of Christ around the world; to work with others in sharing Christ; and to keep themselves clean and healthy in mind and body.

WMU members, at the 20th annual meeting of Woman's Missionary Union in 1908, in Hot Springs, Ark., voted to sponsor the missions organization for boys, naming it the "Order of Royal Ambassadors."

Later, many Baptist leaders believed the work should be promoted by the men's organization, so it became the responsibility of the Brotherhood Commission in 1957. In 1997, the Brotherhood Commission became part of the North American Mission Board, which assumed responsibility for RA work.

"Once an RA, always an RA ... because you will always be an ambassador for Christ," Carr said.

Shannon Baker is a writer for BaptistLIFE, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

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