Teaching Kids Church
Felipe Concha and Annabel do Santos are often asked about becoming Salvation Army officers. “Maybe in the future,” says Felipe. “Not right now,” says Annabel.
Raised in The Salvation Army, the married couple is currently called to pour their lives into the New Jersey Division and particularly into the lives of young people at the Red Bank, N.J., Corps.
“There’s a greater reward for us individually and spiritually to work with children and be able to teach them at such a young age,” Annabel says. “There’s just something rewarding in teaching about Jesus.
“The kids are enthralled. They’re intrigued with what I’m talking about. They’ll ask, ‘Did that really happen? Is God real? Is Jesus real?’ That just keeps us coming back. Seeing them develop and grow and have a relationship with the Lord is so rewarding.”
Sold out for Christ
Felipe, 33, and Annabel, 31, have been at the Red Bank Corps for a year, after working with youth in White Plains, N.Y.
Annabel is the corps ministry assistant in Red Bank and in charge of a popular after school program. She also teaches various youth programs and helps with most corps activities.
Felipe, the assistant music director in the New Jersey Division, instructs children at the corps in playing brass instruments. He also teaches Sunday school and leads the corps band, praise and worship, and Singing Company.
The New Jersey Division recently made Felipe the coordinator for Young Adult Ministries and Mission at Divisional Headquarters (DHQ).
“We’re just called to youth ministries,” Annabel says. “It’s not like we made a spreadsheet on what career path we should take. The Lord put into place all of the steps that needed to happen so we could be here, working with children.”
Bridging the gap
Felipe, who grew up in Chile and Bolivia, came to the United States 10 years ago and was in the first graduating class of the former Railton School for Youth Worker Training.
As a divisional and corps youth leader, Felipe loves the Young Adult Empowerment aspect of “Strikepoint.”
“We have seen the gap that exists in the local church,” he said. “We want to help the church empower its people and its children so they can grow. We want them to understand that this is their place and their congregation. From a young age, this is where they encounter family, friends, God, and the Holy Spirit.”
Annabel said young adults can be game-changers in a corps.
“Young adults are in the middle,” she said. “You empower these young adults and they are relatable to both the children and to older adults. That’s powerful. That will get a lot of work done for God.”
Felipe also sees an importance in empowering adult lay leaders, who maybe have a 9-5 job.
“We want to empower those people to let them know there is also a place for them at the church,” he said. “The one or two hours a week they can give to the church will be used by God.”
Annabel, whose family came to the United States from Argentina, grew up in the Hempstead, N.Y., Corps on Long Island. Like her husband, she would like to see more young adults empowered with leadership.
“I think sometimes there is a separation because of age,” she said. “There’s this thought, I’m not seasoned enough or experienced enough to be a good leader. But it just comes to your heart for the Lord.
“Just love the kids and love whatever it is you’re doing. As long as you’re focused on doing it for God, then that will come together the way it’s supposed to come together.”
Annabel shows that love to the 20 kids between the ages of 6-12 who attend the afterschool program from Monday to Thursday. They learn music, creative arts, drama, and more.
“Those kids are coming to church on Sundays too,” she said. “When they come during the week, regardless of the event, we call that ‘church.’ We tell them, ‘This is your church. This is your home away from home. You’re welcomed here, you’re loved here, and this is where you come to find God.’”
Annabel still remembers her Sunday school teachers and music instructors and is well aware of the legacy she and Felipe are creating.
“When I see the kids doing brass and learning how to play a note for the first time, I remember what that was like,” she said. “I know they’re also going to remember.”
Annabel said the best part of teaching lessons from the Bible to children is seeing the lesson idea “click in their head.”
“We get to see spiritual development,” she said. “We see them understand their spiritual gifts and build their faith. That’s what keeps it fresh all the time.”
The faith of a child
Felipe said he enjoys “the freshness” of a child realizing he or she is loved by God.
“They truly believe it—with no boundaries,” he said. “There are no predisposed thoughts or ideas. They just know someone loves them and it makes their day.”
Felipe also enjoys listening to the children’s prayers and helping them develop their own style of communicating with God.
“I have been blessed by the simplicity and the deepness that comes with the prayer of a child,” he said. “It becomes contagious. They pray for everybody. It is a blessing to see the purity of their faith.”
Annabel and Felipe both have strong and intentional devotional lives to prepare for teaching. Felipe counts the holiness apostle Samuel Logan Brengle among his favorite authors. Annabel, who also maintains a varied reading list, said she is serious about “being prepared.”
“I take preparation seriously. I take my time with it. I actually think about it before putting pen to paper,” she said.
“Worship music plays a big part in helping me focus on God and in strengthening my faith.”
Annabel said as her young charges learn more about the Bible and grow in Christ, she envisions “building an army.”
“We’re training these soldiers. They may be small, but when spiritual darkness comes against us, I know these kids are going to fight for God,” she said.
“That’s my part in the Kingdom of God—training up young soldiers. Whether they remember me or not, they’ll know that Bible story, and they’ll know that prayer, and they’ll have faith.”
by Robert Mitchell