by Breanna Beers
Rather than “going into all the nations,” some Cedarville students are making disciples as the nations come to them.
King’s Kids, an outreach of Christ the King Anglican Church led primarily by Cedarville students, offers games, snacks, activities and Bible studies for refugee children near the Dayton area.
Since its beginning in 2012, King’s Kids has grown from a few neighborhood families to nearly 60 children between the ages of 5 and 18 who attend the program on Sunday evenings. Janelle Thompson, a senior nursing major who has been helping lead King’s Kids since her freshman year, said that the ministry has several different components.
“On Sundays we’ll bring all the kids to the church, and there are games and stuff at the church that they can play,” Thompson said. “If it’s warm, then they will play outside. Then we’ll divide into our groups and do more Bible study. That looks different for each group, depending on their age. The older girls do more discussion, [but with]the younger kids it’s more like teaching.”
According to the Dayton Daily News, over 70 refugees have settled in Dayton in the last six months, more than three-quarters of whom are coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo fleeing widespread political and ethnic violence. Pam Laughlin, the volunteer head of Christ the King’s refugee ministry, explained why refugee children are a particularly vulnerable demographic.
“Right now we feel really led and compelled to work with young kids, because they really are the future,” Laughlin said. “Their parents are out working really hard, and we support them […] but we were noticing that the kids are kind of losing out. Sometimes they’re home alone, they’re far behind in school, and then when they get into middle school and high school, you just kind of lose them spiritually. You see them making really poor decisions. We feel that’s such an important age, and we want to get them linked in. We want them to feel like they’re part of a group, a larger support.”
In addition to the Sunday program, King’s Kids also provides tutoring opportunities during Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Thompson described some of the challenges students new to the country often face.
“If they were in refugee camps, they may not have had the opportunity to go to school,” Thompson said. “When they come to the United States, a lot of the kids don’t speak English, or at least not very well. Then if they get put in fourth grade because they’re 9, but they’re still at a first grade reading level, they need a lot of help with their homework. So it can be frustrating for them, because they’re doing this homework, but it’s not actually helping them learn.”
This year, Cedarville University’s science education department started an additional, more individualized program on Thursdays, in addition to the regular Monday and Wednesday tutoring sessions. According to Laughlin, this smaller setting allows attendees to develop deeper relationships with the Cedarville students who lead the program.
“It’s more one-on-one, and so they’re really building relationships,” Laughlin said. “And my kids just love that. It’s hard to get high school kids involved and committed, but this group that’s coming for the tutoring, they seem more committed. They’re not with a different person every week, so I think they feel more comfortable and are more committed to it.”
Laughlin pointed out that while many children come for fun games and for homework help, they are also receiving something at King’s Kids that they can’t find anywhere else.
“It’s because it’s a safe environment,” Laughlin said. “I don’t think they know why that is, but it’s because the Spirit of the Lord is there, and it creates this atmosphere. It’s creating opportunities for them that they wouldn’t have elsewhere. And I think because we’ve built those relationships with them, with the parents also, that they trust us. There’s a safe, secure, loving environment for them.”
In addition to the regular weekly programming, King’s Kids also invites children to participate in special events.
In the fall, a few Cedarville students drove several teenage girls out to Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania for the Confidence Conference — an event organized by high school girls to encourage their peers toward deeper union with and security in Christ. According to Laughlin, this event was hugely significant in the lives of several of the girls, because it brought them from the familiar in Dayton and their family to a new environment where people are passionate about the Lord.
King’s Kids is one branch of a larger refugee ministry called No Longer Strangers, a name Laughlin said was chosen based on Leviticus 19:34, in which God commands, “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“We call our ministry No Longer Strangers because we want to bring them into our neighborhoods,” Laughlin said. “We want them to be a part of our country, our churches, our families. I think that’s how we look at the world around us, whether that’s refugees or the family next door who’s not Christian. My ministry is to whoever the Lord is bringing in to me.”
This, Thompson said, is why King’s Kids focuses as much on building genuine relationships with the children as on homework help, activities and even Bible lessons.
“The best part is building the friendships,” she said, “and getting to know the kids and spending time with them.”
Breanna Beers is a freshman Molecular Biology major and an off-campus news writer for Cedars. She loves exercising curiosity, hiking new trails, and quoting The Princess Bride whether it’s relevant or not.