Child Evangelism Fellowship Ministry Imparts Gospel Message to Youth

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Bob and Susette Smith attended a Child Evangelism Fellowship conference a few years ago to mark the 80th anniversary of CEF, as well as Susette’s 40-year involvement in the ministry. (Courtesy photo) 

By Gaye Bunderson 

Robert “Bob” Smith of Nampa committed himself to the cause of childhood evangelism 41 years ago, a decision he made while mowing lawns for pay as a young man. “I realized I wanted to do work that amounted to something and that had value,” he said. 

He made an easy connection to an international organization called the Child Evangelism Fellowship, and the connection came through his wife. “I met my wife at Bible college and she was involved in CEF – in fact, she was involved before she was born because her mom was a Good News Club teacher and taught the Good News Club in her home.” 

(Good News Club is one of CEF’s primary ministries, but more on that later.) 

Smith serves as state director of the Idaho chapter of Child Evangelism Fellowship. Asked how CEF has changed over four decades, Smith answered: “The kids have changed; the message hasn’t. It used to be that kids had some biblical concept of who God is. Today, there is very little of that. We have to go back to the basics of the Bible. Surveys show that 80 percent of kids today do not attend church in America. When I first started, even kids who didn’t go to church had a biblical foundation, and that isn’t there today.” 

CEF was founded in 1937 by Rev. J. Irvin Overholtzer, a man with a vision to reach boys and girls in need of the Savior. 

“He was in his 60s at the time,” Smith said. 

Though he has passed away, his God-ordained global ministry is still vital. According to Smith, and citing information at www.cefonline.com and www.cefofidaho.com, last year 25 million children around the world heard the gospel message. There is universality in it, and in the way CEF teaches it as well. 

“From Oregon to Kenya, bibically it is the same,” Smith said. “They even sing the same songs in a different language.” 

Some of the ministries featured in CEF include a summertime 5-Day Club, an opportunity for children to interact with teenagers who receive training in CEF’s Christian Youth in Action program; and the aforementioned Good News Club, a club for grade school-age children that meets for 90 minutes a week during the school year. 

CEF-Idaho has 3 divisions: the Treasure Valley division, which currently has 9 clubs; Eastern Idaho division, with 12 clubs; and the Top Ten County Chapter, which has 4 clubs. The Treasure Valley clubs are spread out across the local area in different communities. 

When the clubs meet, the first 15 minutes is non-structured. The kids gather in small groups and have a snack. 

“They’re always hungry,” Smith said. 

The rest of the meeting is structured, but in a way that appeals to youngsters. “Children have short attention spans, things are changing and moving; we have them sit and focus on an activity – they’re involved in the learning,” Smith said. 

He explained there is something labeled a God Can on a table when the kids gather. “We have a can that says ‘God Can’ on it. It’s not about trying to put God in a box {or a can}. It stands for ‘God can answer prayers.’” 

The young club members are invited to insert prayer requests in the can. All kinds of requests make their way into the container, all written in childhood scrawl. They range from “I need help with homework” to “I stubbed my toe.” One serious request from a first grader threw Smith for a loop one time. It read: “Please pray that my dad will stop dating other women not my mom.” 

Smith stressed that the Good News Club is not a social club. “Our ministry is to take the message of the gospel to the children,” he said. 

That’s not to say that club meetings aren’t fun. “A typical Good News Club meeting will have songs throughout it – high-energy songs – and a Bible study, learning of a memory verse, and a review game at the end.” 

CEF and the Good News Club generally partner with churches and frequently hold the weekly meetings at the church, with parental permission. “When we partner with a local church, it’s strengthened that way,” said Smith. The adults who lead the GNC meetings are church-involved and are in agreement with the CEF-GNC Statement of Faith. 

Said the state director, “We stay out of church doctrine, but the Statement of Faith is in line with what the Bible teaches.” The Statement of Faith is the same in every country that CEF is involved in. 

Some churches have “adopted” schools here in the valley. One such faith institution is Good News Community Church in Nampa. Pastor Dan Mangeac said his church adopted Snake River Elementary as a way to “bless the neighborhood” that surrounds the church’s location. 

“The Nampa School District has identified Snake River Elementary as a Family Community Resource Center, which means they (the children and their families) are in need of clothing, food, and special services. We’ve adopted them as a school to help out.” 

Mangeac said that three years ago, the church started a Good News Club there. “It sounds like we’re co-branding.” But, he acknowledged, the Good News Club has been around a lot longer than the Good News Church. 

“Every year, our Good News Club reaches more than 100 kids with the gospel message,” Mangeac said, explaining his church’s efforts with the students of Snake River Elementary have all been undertaken with the overwhelming support of teachers and administrators. “They tell us it changes the culture of the school, and they tell us how much of a blessing we are.” 

Smith said some of the good things that have happened in other schools adopted by churches include: 

  • A pastor would go into his church’s adopted school and pray with the schoolteachers first thing in the morning.
  • A church helped with the purchase of playground equipment for its adopted school.
  • A church helped with tutoring the kids, as well as pitching in in the classroom. “They did anything they could do to help,”said Smith.
  • When COVID-19 hit, a church in Meridian asked a school if there were any families that needed help, and the school provided them with a list of about 10 families.

Regarding the pandemic, Smith said during an interview this past summer that he was uncertain how the new school year would look. “Only God knows. If the schools are open, are the districts going to let us go into schools? It all depends on what things look like in September, but we’re making plans to keep having Good News Clubs.” 

Technology has played its part. “In April, when the COVID started up, Good News Clubs went to Zoom clubs,” Smith said, admitting it wasn’t quite as good as being together in a space, but it was still face-to-face, in a high-tech sort of way. 

Child Evangelism Fellowship is guided by the words of Matthew 18:14, ESV: “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Its motto is, “Every Child, Every Nation, Every Day.” 

It’s a big challenge but one the ministry has taken on for more than 80 years, with no plans to stop. 

 

For more information, contact CEF Idaho State Director Bob Smith at (208) 465-9842 or email him at bob@cefofidaho.com. 

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