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Offering Hope Amidst Hardship
Awana Game Time plays a key role in reaching kids in inner-city Chicago
Sunshine Gospel Ministries is located in a low-income urban section of the south side of Chicago. Gangs are prevalent. Many kids come from poor single-parent homes. Hope is hard to find, and so is good, clean fun.
That’s where Awana Game Director Dave Clark comes in.
“I want to help create an environment that feels like family—a place they belong,” says Dave, who also serves on staff at Sunshine. “I believe that discipleship happens best in the context of family and community. Too many kids are finding that sense of belonging, in a twisted way, through gangs. We try to provide a positive community and give kids what they’re searching for through Awana, after-school programs and technology training.”
We interviewed Dave to learn more about his role in Awana.
Awana: How did you get involved in Awana?
Dave: I attended Awana from first through fifth grade at a church in Michigan. I loved it! I went to Moody Bible Institute’s graduate school and earned my master’s in urban ministry. I got plugged into Sunshine Gospel Ministries during this time and came on staff full time in 2004. Awana is a big component of our youth outreach strategy in the community.
Awana: Why do you serve in Awana?
Dave: I have a passion for discipleship, especially discipling young men. I have a high-school guy leading our Sparks Game Time. He is my assistant game director. I want to empower him as a leader and paint a vision for high-school students to come back to Awana and serve. As much as I seek to pour into young men, they bless me.
Awana: Why is Game Time an important part of Awana?
Dave: I grew up with recess in school. The kids in our community do not have recess. Many don’t even have gym class. They need physical exercise. Game Time is a chance for them to be active.
Game Time also helps with structure and discipline. The kids know if they act up during Handbook Time, it will affect Game Time.
We use many Awana games in our after-school programs, too, and it’s an important element.
Awana: What have you learned about how to run an effective Game Time?
Dave: It’s important to set the tone when kids come into the room. I set expectations at the beginning. I keep my energy level high so the kids are excited. I like to have a different theme each week, like relays or bean bags or food game night.
For food night, these are my three favorite games:
- Sub eating relay
I place a six-inch or footlong sub (depending on the age of the kids) at the opposite side of the room, with a coach sitting behind the food table facing the kids. The kids run the length of the room to their team table. When they arrive at the table, the coach breaks off a piece of the sub for them to eat. They eat the whole thing (opening their mouth wide for proof) before running back and tagging the next person. The first team to eat the whole sub wins.
- Snack item relay
Each team table contains six or seven different snacks depending on how many kids are on each team. These items include granola bars, cheese and cracker packs, juice boxes and mini apple sauces. The students run to their table, eat one food item, open their mouths for proof and then run back and tag the next person.
- Steal the bacon
Instead of using a bean bag as the “bacon,” we use real bacon as the item in the middle of the game square. I place the bacon on a plate in the middle of the floor.
I try to emphasize competing hard while maintaining a good attitude. I encourage good sportsmanship and the importance of both winning and losing with graciousness. These are not easy lessons for those who are competitive, but slowly some of these character traits are sinking in.
I thoroughly enjoy the various ‘perks’ of being the game director:
- wearing and using a whistle
- utilizing a “five-count” to keep the kids on point
- pretending to view an instant replay of controversial calls
- being humored by both the leaders and kids as they compete
Awana: What advice would you give to a new Awana game director?
Dave: It's really important to overplan and have a few extra games scheduled just in case.