What do academics, sports and music have to do with building faith in young people? At the Topeka, Kan., Corps, everything. Thanks to an excellent model which integrates traditional Salvation Army programming with other activities, the corps has enrolled 20 new junior soldiers in the last year.
Captains Cristian and Brook Lopez welcome dozens of children who arrive each weekday afternoon for the afterschool program. After a snack and homework help or tutoring, they participate in sports, as well as weekly music lessons, junior soldiers and character-building programs.
“Church doesn’t always happen on Sunday,” said Captain Brook. “You can’t grow saints just on Sunday worship. You have to grow saints by living life with them, doing community with them, and not doing it as a task, but as a fellowship.”
Through community support and collaborations, the Topeka Corps is able to address the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the children. This holistic approach challenges young people to grow in an environment full of love and encouragement. From the retired principal who runs the afterschool program with school-aligned curriculum to police officers and firefighters who teach discipline, respect and citizenship through boxing, leaders design each program with intentionality. Add in a mix of youth pastors and volunteers who teach vital lessons in faith and corps officers who have a vision for integrating programs with Sunday worship, and a beautiful mosaic of worship begins to form.
Every opportunity to engage the children and their families on Sundays is embraced. Groups regularly participate in Sunday services, with beginner musicians playing the preliminary music and junior soldiers taking up the offering. Each group is celebrated as success in sports is showcased in regular award ceremonies following services.
From the extensive community programs, sports and traditional corps activities, adult programs also have formed, including a Hispanic women’s ministries group. With growing community support and building a strong volunteer base, the captains are optimistic for the future.
“The community, donors and volunteers are seeing that the programs are good for the community. People are attending regularly,” concluded Captain Cristian. “We are growing like a family.”