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‘I Learned More Scripture in Awana Than Most in a Lifetime’
Growing up, Awana made a lasting spiritual impact on Brian Hartsell’s life. Now he’s leaving his own mark on kids in his church, community and throughout Ohio and on his work colleagues.
Brian Hartsell made the most important decision of his life at the tender age of 4 while sitting on the couch with his mom at his family’s home in Edwardsburg, Michigan.
“I was asking about heaven and hell. My mom sat down with me and walked through the Romans Road (a method for presenting God’s plan of salvation) with me,” Brian recalled. “I received Christ and remember it clearly to this day.”
A biblical foundation for young faith
Brian’s parents and his participation in Awana prepared him to place his trust in Christ for forgiveness and eternal life and then sent his young faith soaring. Brian’s involvement with Awana began at age 3 in the Cubbies preschool program at Community Baptist Church. It continued through the high-school ministry, Varsity, now known as Journey. He completed each book from Cubbies through Journey and earned his Citation Award, the highest achievement in Awana, in 1999.
“Earning the Citation Award was really fun for me,” Brian explained. “I have my Citation plaque hanging on my wall as a reminder of the impact Awana and Bible memory has had on my life.”
Brian also competed in Awana Bible Quizzing each year from fourth through 12th grade, including two appearances in National Bible Quizzing.
“I love Awana and desire to be involved with it in some way for the rest of my life,” said Brian, now 27. “I would really like to be on the Awana Board of Directors some day. I’m a firm believer in Scripture memorization. I may have been motivated by candy bars and arrowheads back then, but it has totally stuck with me. Bible Quizzing really solidified God’s Word in my heart.
“I learned more Scripture in my years in Awana than most people will learn in their lifetime.”
Brian has served as an Awana leader for 13 years and is currently a Truth & Training (third- to sixth-grade) leader at Washington Heights Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio. He also serves on the Ohio Awana ministry team and helps run Bible Quizzing and AwanaGames™ events. On occasion, he teaches workshops at Awana Ministry Conferences.
The blessing of lifelong friends
Brian spent his years in Awana literally growing up with a group of friends who remain important in his life today.
“Some of my best friends in the whole world are from Awana,” said Brian, who now serves with several of his childhood Awana friends at his church in Dayton. “I still keep in touch with almost every one of them. Growing up together in church and having those common experiences in Awana just drew us closer together.
“It was the absolute thrill of my heart when last year, six of my closest Awana friends ran the largest Ohio Bible Quiz by ourselves, all twenty-somethings with no Awana missionary in attendance. We had so much fun! It was great to give back like that.
“I feel like we’re the first generation to come all the way up through the Awana program. Now we’re getting involved as leaders, organizers and donors. It’s been wonderful to champion such an amazing program. I know the difference it has made in my own life, and that’s why I get so excited to be a part of it.”
A leader’s influence
Brian remembers many of his Awana leaders through the years but fondly recalls one in particular.
“I always remember Mr. VanderWerf,” Brian said. “No one wanted to say sections to him because he made you get it word perfect, know the definitions to the terms and made sure you understood what the verse meant.
“Now I give my T&T guys a hard time, too. Looking back, he was challenging those who had the ability to go deeper, understand more and memorize more accurately. That’s what I try to challenge my guys to do today.”
A daily witness in the marketplace
Brian earned a degree in finance and accounting with minors in Spanish and Bible from Cedarville (Ohio) University in 2003 and later an MBA from the University of Cincinnati. After graduating from Cedarville, he moved to Dayton and found a local church to join. The next step was looking for a job.
“I saw God provide for me when I was on my own for the first time,” Brian said. “One week during Sunday school at church, I asked for prayer in my job search. A man in my class told me to give him my résumé. Two weeks later, I got a call from the Air Force. I accepted a position at Wright Patterson Air Force Base as a financial management specialist. It’s humbling to depend on God and amazing at how He provides.
“The Lord has really placed on my heart to be a businessman of integrity in the secular world. I want to make an impact for the Lord.”
No matter where he goes or what he does, Brian is sure that Awana will be part of his life.
“I’m thrilled that I can use my gifts in Awana by helping teach and mentor kids as well as helping them understand and memorize God’s Word,” Brian said. “I’m not sure you could find anyone more enthusiastic about Awana.”