Beyond Beaches and Palm Trees
San Diego resident and Awana commander Jackie Parfet is touching the lives of hurting kids from broken homes ‘who have never heard the story of Christ or held a Bible in their hands.’
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When most people think of San Diego, they envision palm trees, beaches and a perfect year-round climate. When San Diego resident and local-church Awana commander Jackie Parfet thinks about her city, she sees kids who desperately need Jesus Christ in their lives.
“Most of the kids who attend Awana at our church come from broken homes and are being raised by grandparents,” said Jackie, who oversees Awana at Spring Valley Community Church with her husband, Don. “We serve in an economically depressed area and work with street kids who have never heard the story of Christ or ever held a Bible in their hands.”
The church offers Cubbies (preschool) through Journey (high school). Attendance has grown each of the three years Spring Valley has used Awana. The Awana programs are bilingual. Kids can choose to study their handbooks in English or Spanish. During games, instructions are given in both languages. Jackie speaks Spanish and knows it makes a difference in kids’ lives.
“When a child who speaks Spanish has to function in a language environment he or she is not as comfortable speaking, it creates some discomfort,” Jackie explained. “When I start speaking Spanish to these kids, I can see the relief on their faces. They talk more, open up and feel more comfortable that someone can talk with them in their own language.”
‘We see lots of different issues’
Jackie’s heart beats fast for kids. She has a particular passion for junior-high students. She’s encountered a variety of questions from kids and witnessed many difficult situations.
“Many of the kids don’t understand the very basics of faith, like Christmas and what it’s all about,” Jackie said. “Last year, when I was explaining Easter, one boy raised his hand and asked, ‘So, where does the Easter Bunny come in?’ So many of them are really trying hard to get it all figured out.”
One time when Jackie asked kids for their favorite Bible verse, a boy raised his hand and read Psalm 27:10: Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
“It comforted him to know that God will never leave him,” Jackie said.
Several of the kids in Awana often inform Jackie when they are “on the couch tour.” This means that they are sleeping on the couch at an aunt’s house one week and then an uncle’s couch the next week and moving from home to home. Some of the youth have dads in jail or facing restraining orders.
“One of our boys in Awana was struggling because his dad wanted him to be in his wedding and he was getting married for the third time,” Jackie explained.
Despite all the challenges and difficult circumstances that many of the kids encounter, Jackie knows that every Wednesday night the children can count on her and the leadership team to be there, sharing God’s love and caring for them. Consistency is important because it’s often lacking in other areas of their lives.
“We are seeing kids’ lives change,” Jackie said. “Some have come to faith in Christ. But many kids feel it’s too good to be true. A mom recently told me that Awana is making a difference in her son’s life and she can see positive changes.”
Reaching out to kids and parents who don't know Christ
Jackie and her church’s primary passion are for evangelism, which is the central mission of Awana.
“When we first began Awana, we went door to door asking people how we could pray for them,” Jackie said. “We left them information about our church and Awana. We also started an after-school Sonshine Club at the nearby elementary school. We have found a few of our clubbers through this program. The pastor is involved in both the Sonshine Club and Awana. He sees the way Awana has brought the neighborhood into our church.
“We also hold a Bible study for parents on Wednesday nights while we have club. That brings in more kids. We make an effort to get out and visit the kids and their families from time to time. We also have double-buck months where we give them double Awana bucks for bringing friends to Awana. It is our goal to fill our church with kids from the neighborhood.”
The church’s Awana leaders are equally dedicated to evangelism.
“My leaders have a passion for the lost,” Jackie said. “They have been so excited about building relationships with kids who have never heard the gospel. What an opportunity! We get to sit down and chat with spiritually lost children and tell the good news every week! Our pastor calls it his favorite time of the week.”
Leading by example
When Jackie and Don’s three daughters were young, they participated in Awana at a different church in San Diego. Jackie jumped in right away, first as a listener and then as a leader for 10 years. All three girls earned their Citation Award, the highest achievement in Awana.
“Awana was a great place for our girls to build solid friendships at church and camp,” Jackie said. “Our oldest daughter met her husband through Awana and currently serves on the Awana ministry team in San Diego. Our youngest daughter is the T&T (third- through sixth-grade) club director.”
Knowing the benefits of learning and memorizing Scripture and wanting to be an example to the kids in Awana, Jackie began her efforts toward a Citation Award.
“I decided to work on the books, too, with the kids and got hooked on it,” Jackie described. “I started with the junior-high and high-school books and then went back to T&T. It took a long time, but it was so worth it.
“I wanted to finish the Citation so I could tell the kids that it’s possible and to have some idea of the work and challenges that they have to face in their lives.”
Jackie struggled with breast cancer and had to take a year off but earned her Citation Award in May 2008.
Not only does Jackie set an example for the kids, she also is intentional about building her own leadership skills. Last month, she graduated from the first gold-certified Commander College 301, a training conference conducted by Awana for local-church commanders.