(Photo: Awana / John Walton)
Do you remember attending Awana at your church growing up? Weekly club meetings filled with singing, Bible studies and games along with your fellow friends at church. Over 12,000 churches in America have an Awana club, so chances are good your church has a weekly club meeting.
Most people know the club name stands for “Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed,” and for over 60 years it has helped churches and parents develop spiritually strong children.
But what you might not know about the organization is that it has a big international outreach, reporting 10,000 programs in over 90 countries. And Nepal is one country where the organization is making huge strides.
Earlier this year, Jon Gauger, a producer at Moody Radio, visited Nepal in partnership with Awana. He visited slums where many of the children that attend the club live. He documented his experience in a blog entry: “We took a short walk down muddy paths so narrow, we had to walk single file. Turning a corner, we heard the voices. Young voices. MANY voices. And all of them singing.”
Gauger said the building where they met was made of bamboo timbers with “walls” of bamboo mats. “Inside, 90 Nepalese children (20 of whom are orphans) were singing Christian choruses with gusto. It’s not the Awana club you might know, but it’s one you should know.”
Awana is growing quickly in the country of Nepal. With an update on Twitter this week saying churches there want to start 60 more clubs this year.
For many years in Nepal, the Gospel wasn’t always welcome. Ruled by a monarchy for most of its history, it is only in the past decade the country saw a weakening of the militant Hindu kingdom. In 2008, Gyanendra Shah, the Nepali monarch, was abdicated and a multi-party representative democratic republic was established.
Since the fall of the monarchy, the door for churches and ministries has opened, and Christianity has spread at an astronomical rate. President and CEO of Awana Jack Eggar told The Christian Post, if you had gone to Nepal 25 to 50 years ago, “you would have been hard pressed to find one church, churches were in hiding.”
As a new government came into power, Christians were able to openly practice in the country. Awana saw the changes and decided to send Gajendra Tamang, who was working for them in India at the time, to see if Nepal would be a good fit for the organization. In 1999, Tamang and his wife Manju, moved to Nepal and began setting up Awana clubs, partnering with churches in the country.
Eggar explained to The Christian Post how Awana begins its Leader-Based model of ministry when it first lands in a country. He says leaders from the organization, in this case Tamang, go in and begin meeting with pastors and denominational leaders. They explain to them the importance of ministering to the children of their church.
“This is very novel for them,” Eggar said, because in most countries youth ministries aren’t emphasized. But he said the enthusiasm is huge. The message is simple: “Do you want your church to grow? Then you can’t keep neglecting your children.”
At the end of the one- to two-day meeting with the pastors, Awana asks them to return to their home church and find two delegates that feel called to take on children and youth ministry for the church. These two delegates from each church meet together for a five day Seed Planters conference. During the conference they receive intensive training for youth, children and family ministry.
At the end of the five days the delegates receive a box of resources filled with what they need to engage volunteers and parents when they return back to their church and begin implementing the Awana program.
Awana also has volunteers in Nepal that work with the delegates in the different churches in a process of continued training. The area volunteer is in charge of anywhere from five to 25 churches. They help to connect the churches in what Eggar calls, a “cross denominational Christian community.”
To date, Awana has over 1,000 clubs reaching more than 33,000 children across Nepal.
This year Awana began a new club in the Balkhu slums of Katmandu in partnership with the Jagaran Church. Since the club’s inception they have seen a big impact on children from this impoverished area. Tamang wrote a blog post about his experience attending a club meeting there.
“Their club meeting starts at seven in the morning and ends by 9 a.m. I went there by 6:45 in the morning, he said. “There were already 25-30 clubbers at the church singing some songs. More clubbers kept on coming in and there were around 70 clubbers by 7a.m. The uniqueness of this club is all the Awana leaders are below the age of 17.”
Awana leaders in Nepal continue to grow the clubs and reach out to more areas of the country, with some volunteers traveling great distances to reach remote villages in the Himalayas. The club hopes to keep expanding to yet unreached places as donors and leaders come forward. Tamang sees the work there as vitally important because, he says, it’s the children that are “the true worshipers,” leading us all.