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A missional wave has been gaining momentum at First Baptist Pensacola, Florida.

It’s not something we strategically planned, but a trend we noticed emerging. Over the past five years, as our folks have deepened their involvement in missions and ministry, a majority of our initiatives are focusing on the needs of children, in our community and around the world.

A few months ago as we were evaluating our ministries in our weekly staff meeting, I think all of us were surprised by how many of our initiatives are addressing the needs of kids.

Historically and demographically, FBC Pensacola has been described as a large downtown church with a rich heritage of mission support.

In recent years, we have gradually transitioned from financial support to missional engagement, locally and globally.

Twelve years ago, we began sending teams to Russia to lead sports ministries for kids. Now our current projects include the following:

â— Partnership with Weis Elementary School in Pensacola

â— Construction of an orphanage in Haiti

â— Mission work at an orphanage in Sudan

â— Mission work at an orphanage in India

â— Formation of an adoption/foster care ministry team

â— Offering DivorceCare for Kids, a divorce recovery support group for young children

â— Hosting our first Royal Kids Camp for foster children in our area.

These projects are all in addition to our ongoing children’s ministry, which provides faith formation and recreation opportunities for children in our church and community.

To illustrate how members of our congregation are investing in the lives of children, let me provide a brief description of two of these projects.

About five years ago, we initiated a partnership with Weis Elementary School, an underperforming school in our community, for the purpose of providing support and encouragement to teachers and students.

Our goal is to strengthen morale, address basic needs and enhance academic performance. Our partnership now focuses on three areas: food, clothing and values.

About 100 volunteers provide food for qualifying students through Backpack Buddies. Volunteers meet on Wednesday nights to fill backpacks for 350 students with nonperishable food items.

Backpacks are delivered to the school on Friday and distributed to students, providing an adequate supply of food for the weekend.

Empty backpacks are returned to the school on Monday, where volunteers pick them up and restock them on the following Wednesday night.

Our members have invested countless hours and approximately $32,000 through Backpack Buddies this school year.

A large number of Weis students get few if any gifts at Christmas, so we decided to provide Christmas gifts for every student at the school.

This past Christmas, for example, we provided shoes, three pairs of socks and a school logo shirt for all 650 students, and provided logo shirts for every teacher.

Due to the generosity of area department stores, we were able to provide these gifts for $15,184.

The third dimension of our school partnership involves sponsoring “Good News Weis” on Monday afternoons.

With parental permission, students can remain after school on Mondays to participate in sessions, which provide life lessons through Bible stories, interactive recreation and presentations from guest speakers.

Currently, around 80 students participate weekly in this ministry facilitated by 36 rotating adult volunteers.

Teachers at Weis report that their students socialize better, perform better academically and smile more.

Test scores have affirmed the value of our partnership. For many years, Weis was a “D” school but they were recently rated an “A” school.

The second ministry I want to highlight is the development of Hope Village Orphanage near Port Au Prince, Haiti.

Following the devastating earthquake in 2010, our mission teams who were providing assistance with construction and medical care, discovered firsthand the large number of children who were displaced by this disaster.

A dream emerged to construct an orphanage that could serve as home to some of the children on the street.

As we joined forces with neighboring Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola to continue sending medical and construction teams to Haiti, that dream emerged into a vision.

After land was donated by “But God Ministries,” a networking partner based in Jackson, Mississippi, construction began on Hope Village in October 2011 and work was completed in the fall of 2013.

Hope Village is now home to 13 children and has a residential capacity for 32. Between First Baptist and Hillcrest, we invested approximately $110,000 in construction costs.

For management and staffing, we are currently in the process of setting up an advisory board and inviting college students to serve at Hope Village for one to two years.

Rather than duplicating the ministries of others, it is incumbent on each congregation to discover its missional niche.

As we have interpreted the context of our community and employed the skill sets of our members, it seems the Spirit continues to lead us to invest in the lives of children, providing hope and opportunity for a better future.

Barry Howard serves as the senior minister at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. He blogs at Barry’s Notes, and you can follow him on Twitter: @BarrysNotes.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles on local churches bringing social capital to their communities. An article by Mark Reece, pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, will appear on Monday.

Previous articles in this series are:

Social Capital: Congregations Investing in Their Communities

Social Capital: Medical Apartment Ministries

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