Faith by the Vanload
Every Wednesday evening, a pilgrimage takes place that starts in the parking lot behind the Texas Baptist Children’s Home administration building in Round Rock and ends at Celebration Church in Georgetown.
In between, a nondescript white van travels from place to place, stopping at apartment complexes and private homes, picking up children so they can spend time with their new favorite companion – Jesus Christ.
In October 2011, Stephanie Moon, Community Outreach Coordinator for the HOPE program at TBCH, began talking to friends who attended Celebration and who encouraged her to bring HOPE kids to the church's popular children’s programs.
“We started with a small group of about five kids,” she said. “They were really searching for the Lord. Before we knew it, the group had doubled in size and kept growing.”
HOPE ("Healthy Opportunities that Protect and Empower") provides outreach programs to children living in Round Rock apartment complexes, hosting regular after school groups.
Under the leadership of HOPE Supervisor Michael Harrison, it became routine for the children to have a Bible study, share a meal, then pile into the van and make their weekly trip to Celebration.
“It’s so beautiful to see them so excited to go to church,” Stephanie said. “They see each other at school and say things like, ‘Two more days until church.’ That’s awesome to me.”
For some kids, it has been life-changing. One evening as the van was on its way to Celebration, Stephanie noticed one of the boys known for his rebellious streak walking home with his head down.
“I felt pulled to invite him to come with us,” Stephanie remembered. “God was really working hard on me. I stopped the van and chased him for two blocks.”
After getting permission from his grandmother to go with the group, he piled onto the van, and soon became a changed kid.
“His face just brightened up,” she said. “He thanked me for inviting him along. That night, he accepted Christ.”
As Stephanie’s small group grew from five to 24, she could no longer squeeze them into one van. Celebration Church interns who had volunteered during HOPE Christmas parties at the apartments talked to the church's youth pastor, who agreed to send a Celebration van to help transport children.
“When I heard the sacrifice that HOPE leaders were making and the personal responsibility that they were taking in an effort to get these great kids to Church, I knew that we could help,” said Celebration’s Jonathan Bowles.
The best part of the ministry has been seeing children develop a relationship with Christ after never having experienced His love.
“This whole experience has allowed me to build a closer relationship with my (HOPE) kids,” she said. “I’ve had to also grow in my faith so I can give them answers to the hard questions. Experiencing this with them has just caused my love for them to grow and grow.”
Those at Celebration also have been deeply touched watching the children develop as young Christians.
“We have been greatly blessed by our involvement in the HOPE program,” said Bowles. “Stephanie Moon is a tremendous leader with a compassionate heart for those less fortunate. I am so glad that the Lord brought these two ministries together.
‘The children have found some strong life-giving relationships in the Church that have caused them to grow in confidence and security,” he added. “They have found a place where they are celebrated and not just tolerated. Celebration is always blessed by new young faces that desire to connect with what the Lord has for them.