Pastor Warren Boatwright spent a lot of time praying for a
way to reach the families in his community. Through the compassion of another
church, and because of his unyielding desire to reach the children, his prayers
have been answered in a mighty way.
Boatwright planted Journey With God Ministries Church in
Shelby in July 2010. He was born and raised in the same neighborhood as the
church and knew the needs of the community firsthand. “There are churches in
every other neighborhood in Shelby, but there was never a church in that
neighborhood,” Boatwright said.
Boatwright began preaching in 1996 after a life-altering
encounter with the gospel. “I was an alcoholic and a homeless vagabond in
Atlanta when I met my wife. She was ministering to the homeless when we met,”
Boatwright said. “She never gave up on me.”
Likewise, Boatwright never gave up on his hometown. He
returned to Shelby in 2004, and after a few years felt confident God was
leading him to plant a church near his childhood home.
Despite limited resources, he never strayed from his goal of
reaching the families in his neighborhood with the gospel. With that desire
planted firmly in his heart, Boatwright set out to reach his community by
offering Vacation Bible School (VBS) this summer. There was just one problem.
The church did not have the resources to purchase curriculum.
Boatwright knew VBS would be a great opportunity to meet the
families in his neighborhood. So, undeterred, he asked the director of missions
in his association if any churches were willing to lend his church a used
curriculum. One church responded by giving him the curriculum they purchased
this year: The Big Apple Adventure.
That one gift has made a lasting impact in the community.
“We needed something that would have a powerful impact,” Boatwright said. “We
needed something that would set in motion a domino effect, and the Vacation
Bible School did just that.”
So many children came on the first day of Vacation Bible
School that it overwhelmed the 20-member congregation. “The first day was
powerful,” Boatwright said. “We were not prepared for the number of children
that came, and we quickly realized that we needed to improvise; so we let the
kids do karaoke while we decided how to put the kids into groups.”
As it turns out, the children had a gift for singing. As
soon as the children began to sing the pastor knew he had the makings of a
children’s choir. So, Boatwright incorporated more music into the curriculum,
and the children worked all week on a program to perform on family night. They
did not disappoint.
“These children never sang in public before, but by the time
we had family night on Friday, they sang a full service, with me
preaching, in front of a full house and got a standing ovation,”
In just a matter of days the church went from having no
children to having a full children’s choir of 11 children. “They started
singing and have not stopped yet,” Boatwright said.
Not too bad for a church that did not have any children
attending before VBS began. The small church averaged 25 children every day
that week, including all the children who live on the same street as the
church. “Because of (VBS), these children’s parents came in numbers,”
Boatwright said. “We immediately got four families through the success of The
Big Apple Adventure. Our work in our church has doubled.”
Of course, he does not mind the extra work. Boatwright is
excited to see God working in his community and seeing the power of the gospel
change people from the inside out.
“I am baptizing one mother (soon),” he said. “A father of
one of the children is now our sound man, and one mother has become the
director of our Second Harvest outreach. The whole street has become involved
with our church because of (VBS). That’s just the truth of the matter.”
Boatwright knows The Big Apple Adventure is a big reason his
church is growing. But he also knows that what has happened in his church could
not happen apart from prayer and without the power of God.
“God has made a lot of things that seemed impossible,
possible,” he said.
Gail Ledbetter, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
Vacation Bible School specialist, said the kind of help Boatwright received is
“Almost one-third of the churches that have done Vacation
Bible School have also participated in a link-up,” she said.
A link-up occurs when one church helps another church do VBS
by sharing its resources. Most often a link-up will consist of a church coming
to do the Vacation Bible School at another church, while other times a church
will give its curriculum to another church.
“It’s that kind of sharing that makes it possible for other
churches to reach their neighborhoods for Christ through the amazing work of
Vacation Bible School,” Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter said preliminary statistics for 2011 indicated
that 684 N.C. Baptist churches participated in Vacation Bible School, with a
statewide enrollment of 87,538 children and 1,868 decisions to receive Jesus
Christ as personal Lord and Savior.