Building Children’s Lives
While their parents train to be Salvation Army officers just a few buildings away, the children of cadets at the College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Suffern, N.Y., are strengthening their own spiritual walk.
The CFOT’s children’s ministries program involves 82 children from grades kindergarten to 12. As part of her emphasis on community, Colonel Janet Munn, CFOT principal, has asked that the children’s spiritual formation be a priority.
Said Major Inger Furman, campus ministries director, “Our campus ministries focus offers a holistic approach. We provide for the children’s physical, emotional, social, and spiritual care and development.
“Most of the spiritual development focus is on school–aged children, although we do some activity with the younger ones.”
Kristie Stoker, CFOT youth ministries coordinator for the past 12 years, said it “starts with the day to day.” Children younger than school age stay at CFOT, while grades K–12 attend local schools and then return at the end of the day for after–school activities.
“We’re not just an after–school program where the kids come and hang out,” Stoker said. “We are fully invested in building relationships every single day.”
One way CFOT does that is by offering small groups for the students, who are now studying the fruit of the Spirit. The middle and high school students meet weekly in small groups and the primary grades get together twice a month.
At Officer Kid University (OKU), which launched in January, students talk about the challenges of being children of officers. They don’t have to go far for guidance since many on the CFOT children’s ministries staff are the children of officers.
“We understand the ins and outs and the dynamics of that,” Stoker said. “We talk about some of the unrealistic and realistic expectations that are put on officers’ kids.
“We have already formed relationships with [the students]. There is an element of trust where they can express themselves, be honest about how they’re feeling, and share any anxieties or worries or excitements.”
“It’s been very deliberate that the parents are aware of what the kids are learning and discussing in the small groups and at OKU,” Fairman said. “I think that’s helped foster some discussion at home for some of them.”
Nicole Love, youth ministries specialist at CFOT, said officer training is a unique time in a family’s life because the parents and children are preparing to enter ministry life together.
“We really value and respect that,” she said. “We’re trying to be creative in how we minister to them. They’re here with us for two years and it’s an honor to minister to and to invest in them.”
Here and now
Cindy Pettiford, the assistant youth ministries coordinator at CFOT, said the staff plans spiritual formation days and “Covenant” Sundays for the children, similar to the ones experienced by their parents. There is also a prayer room for grades K–5.
“All of us feel that, in addition to building kids for the future, we’re preparing them to impact the Kingdom of God now,” saidPettiford.
“There’s this idea in youth ministry that we’re kind of warehousing them until they become adults. But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to Me.’ I love how they can actually impact the Kingdom now—at 5, 12, 15, and 18. They’re not ‘Holy Spirit Juniors.’”
Fairman said she enjoys watching the older teen students spiritually mentor the younger ones. Both age groups look forward to that time together.
“They’re always asking, ‘When are we doing the mentor groups?’” she said. “They have developed relationships with each other, thanks to these groups. It’s been powerful to see how both older and younger kids embrace this.”
Stoker said the mentoring program began last year “to further the idea of community and to allow our kids to pour into each other.” Her 4th–grade son meets with a high schooler.
“They don’t always want to talk to us, but they talk to each other,” she said. “What we needed is for all of the kids to buy in. They did and they love it.
“It just reiterates what the campus vision is—that we live together in community, and we build up one another. We’re in this together.”
Stoker said CFOT has always spiritually developed students in middle and in high school, but Munn has stressed the idea of community, which has called for an expansion.
“It’s been the Lord leading us to want to have an experience for all of our children, not just the teens,” Stoker said.
Furman said the staff’s goal is to help the students build a foundation rooted in Christ. Long after they leave CFOT, they will be equipped with the tools, spiritual formation, and discipleship to be “secure in their identity in Christ.”
“We’re not babysitters,” she says. “Our staff is invested in children, building relationships, and pouring into their lives. We want to be used by God to help kids cultivate their God-created identity.”
Furman said the words of Matthew 19:14 are central to the mission of CFOT youth ministries.
“I take that scripture seriously because it reminds us that God works in each one of us. What a wonderful opportunity we have to help these students understand how their relationship with the Lord can take root—even now.”
by Robert Mitchell