It was five years ago this spring that our church began a relationship with an individual who has ultimately helped to change lives and enrich families.
Let me dig into the dim recesses of my memory and try and recall how it all came to be.
As I remember it, our Mission and Fellowship Center was nearing completion and our church was excited about the ministry opportunities that the new facility would help to birth. Our process of discernment was extensive as we sought to hear the church’s hopes and dreams.
One of those hopes and dreams was an after-school ministry. Our community was going to be losing a federal grant to provide care for children and youth after school and our church was concerned for the well-being of the families that we were trying to reach. A small group of us met to research, discuss and pray about what it would look like for First Baptist to become leaders in this field. But we could only go so far. We needed outside help.
Kelly Brown’s name came to me from a trusted source. Kelly was currently serving in campus ministry at WCU and might, the source told me, be a good candidate for us. I met with Kelly to discuss a very limited partnership with our church to develop an after-school ministry, and in doing so I had the kind of experience that many of us have had over the years. That is, I found Kelly to be exceptionally relatable, engaging and sincere. I also found him to be curious and intrigued by what we were trying to do here at First Baptist.
Our first experiment with providing after school care was limited. It involved a small group of sixth grade students from around our county. The parents were responsible for their child’s transportation and the scope of our program was minimal. But, it was a start.
In the coming months, our after school hopes and dreams began to bear fruit. Under Kelly’s leadership, the after school ministry grew. And grew. And grew. As confirmation of our hunch months before, parents in our community clamored to our ministry for help with care for their children after school. To assist in our growth, Kelly developed partnerships with our schools so that he could pick up children with our own church bus. Before long, the number of children interested in our ministry exceeded the number we could pick up. A waiting list emerged and our after school ministry was openly heralded in our community as the best choice for childcare to elementary and middle school children each weekday afternoon.
Still, our ministry grew. After school care was a significant concern for parents, but it had a kissing cousin in the name of summer care. Our summer explorers camp experience was birthed from the collective prayers and idea-swapping that was generated on a church-wide mission trip to a church in Washington, DC. Kelly saw what was being implemented to children there and worked with us here to provide a comprehensive camp experience to children in the summer.
The ministry that began humbly now had its own name and logo. 1st Explorers Ministry at First Baptist Church was now a mission initiative that provided care and ministry to preschoolers, to school-age children after school, and to children throughout the summer. Staffed by eager college students and young adults, our director provided creative and nimble leadership to help our church care for families in our community.
Today, our 1st Explorers Ministry enables us to minister to children 6 days out of 7. Our ministry has provided part-time employment to scores of college students. Our ministry has allowed us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ most every day of the year to children that we would not ordinarily have exposure to. Our 1st Explorers Ministry has helped to care for strung-out, cash-starved parents in our community who, without our ministry, had no other choice but to let their second grader stay home alone. And throughout our community, people know our church as the church that loves children and that allows them to play on their playground.
The fruit that our ministry has born is significant, also. Children and families have come to know Jesus and be baptized in his name because of our 1st Explorers Ministry. Children and families, as well as their neighbors, their grandparents, co-workers and friends, have come to know our church and to join us in worship, fellowship and membership. 1st Explorers is one of the many ways that we are doing justice and loving kindness. And we know that because of the gratitude, smiles and hugs that Kelly receives from children, parents and grandparents each and every day he serves alongside us.
First Baptist Church, thank you for your relentless commitment to this still-growing and ever-expanding ministry. Thank you for your patience as we have had to make course-corrections and strive to learn from our mistakes along the way. And above all, thank you for helping to bless our community by investing in our 1st Explorers Ministry Director, Kelly Brown.
On behalf of all of us, Kelly, let me convey our deep appreciation for your commitment to our church and to our community these last five years. We are proud of you, and the work that you help to lead and coordinate. Please know of our love and support for you as we continue to work together to serve, to love and to grow.
May you continue to lead us, Kelly, as we seek to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.