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• An Awana alumnus, Debbie Yarrow-Kemper serves the next generation of Awana kids at her Florida church.
• The Yarrow family has benefited from a long history of faithful service to Awana.
• Debbie and her husband train their daughter to walk with Christ in part through participation in Awana.
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‘Awana Has Always Been a Part of Our Family’s Lives’
God used Awana in Debbie Yarrow-Kemper’s life to teach her about His love. But she found even more love along the way.
Debbie Yarrow-Kemper had no idea that her 12-year-old niece Melissa was such a matchmaker. After watching her Aunt Debbie talk with Jim Kemper at Awana one night, Melissa knew just what she had to do.
“Melissa went up to Jim at Awana and said, ‘My aunt wants to go out with you’ and walked away,” Debbie recalled. “Jim was puzzled and asked her, ‘Who is your aunt?’”
Melissa was adopted from Haiti by Debbie’s sister and brother-in-law, so Jim didn’t quite put it all together.
Embarrassed, Debbie tried to explain Melissa’s antics to Jim. Jim decided to take action and asked Debbie to go out at the end of January.
“Within two weeks of dating, I knew he was the one for me,” Debbie said. “By July of that year, we were engaged and married in November.”
How did Melissa know it would turn into marriage?
“She just said we’d be great together because we both love kids,” Debbie said.
Debbie and Jim have been married for 10 years and have a daughter, Savannah, 9. They live in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and attend Grace Baptist Church in Pompano Beach.
Awana: more than a love connection
Debbie grew up in a Christian home and started attending Awana in sixth grade at Harvard Avenue Bible Church in Villa Park, Illinois. Her mom was one of the first Sparks directors at their church, and her dad worked at Awana headquarters for almost 30 years as an editor and writer. Awana was a big part of their family’s weekly life.
“All three of my sisters and I went through Awana and earned awards,” said Debbie, whose parents are deceased. “I understand the importance of learning God’s Word and hiding it in my heart because it’s always with me.”
Debbie’s parents took the lead role in spiritually training their children. Joining with their local church and Awana, the Yarrows provided a lasting spiritual foundation for their four daughters. Debbie’s dad and mom regularly taught God’s Word to their children, modeled a faithful walk with Christ and helped their kids learn and apply biblical truth to their daily lives.
Debbie and her sisters all live within 10 miles of each other in south Florida. All are actively involved in their church and Awana. Jim serves as the T&T third- to sixth-grade boys director and works on the maintenance crew at church. Debbie’s daughter Savannah is in T&T and loves Awana.
“Savannah started in Cubbies, went through Sparks and now is enjoying T&T,” Debbie said. “Savannah often asks me, ‘Is it time, Mommy? I can’t wait. My favorite day is Wednesday.’
“I’m so thankful to have grown up in a Christian family and for that example. Jim’s family life was very difficult, but he has chosen to not let his past determine his future. He lives for the Lord and is an amazing person. God helped direct him to a different path.”
A heart for Haiti
Debbie traveled to Haiti about 20 years ago to visit her sister and brother-in-law, who lived in Haiti. Her brother-in-law served as a missionary pilot with Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). They adopted Melissa while living in Haiti.
“I know a lot of people impacted by the earthquake in Haiti,” Debbie said. “My company works in Haiti, and some of our workers were killed. It’s been devastating to watch TV, and I actually had to stop watching. But I believe that God will allow this to be used for good.”
Debbie is amazed that somehow in the midst of this tragedy, many people in Haiti are praising God and thanking Him for even a bite of food and a drop of water.
“I don’t know if I could do that,” Debbie said. “This tragedy will hopefully awaken the world to the needs of Haiti. The people are not just physically needy but spiritually, too.”
By the way, niece Melissa is now engaged, but Debbie had no part in choosing her future mate.
“But I’m thankful that she sure picked out a great guy for me,” Debbie said.