‘We make it our aim … to be well pleasing to Him’
By: David Ibata
Corps and commands around The Salvation Army are discovering a character-building tool that’s so much fun, children are rushing to sign up: archery.
The sport teaches valuable life lessons, like focus and perseverance; it’s available to anyone of any age, size and skill level; and it’s naturally adaptable to gospel lessons.
Consider the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Middle River, Maryland, which introduced archery in February.
“We had seven to eight children who signed up initially and after that first Tuesday, when kids actually saw others starting to learn to shoot, we quickly maxed out our class at 12,” said Captain Anita Howell, associate youth secretary for the Maryland and West Virginia Division. A waiting list was started for a second class at Middle River. The Boys & Girls Club in Glen Burnie, Maryland, is next to get the program.
The Salvation Army corps in Danville, Kentucky, began offering archery in March. Fourteen new families came into the corps after their children signed up, said Dan Duncan, Christian education director for the Kentucky and Tennessee Division.
Archery as a youth outreach “started in the Central Territory, was developed by them, and has grown into a really great outdoor education/conservation-type program,” said Wanda Newton, territorial director for character building programs, camps and community centers.
“We are expanding it in the Southern Territory and looking to start the program at all our divisional camps,” Newton said. “Eventually, it will trickle down to corps, community centers, Kroc Centers, things of that nature.”
Salvation Army archery for young people is modeled after the National Archery in the Schools Program. NASP’s website describes itself as “an in-school program aimed at improving educational performance among students in grades 4-12,” teaching youngsters “focus, self-control, discipline, patience, and the life lessons required to be successful in the classroom and in life.”
Why archery? “NASP archery is the second-safest sport internationally, behind table tennis,” Duncan said. “Part of that is the structure of the program. There’s always a line you’re behind, a place you’re supposed to be. Safety is drilled into kids so much, they’re always aware of their surroundings.”
“Archery is very popular right now,” Duncan said. “Movies like ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘The Avengers’ have a female or male protagonist engaged in archery. It’s especially popular in rural settings, where it has applications for hunting; often, it’s something Dad does, or Uncle, or Grandpa. We have a lot of outdoorsmen who are very interested in seeing participation in the sport increase, and are willing to donate funds and equipment.”
The Southern Territory is working with the Colony Group, a consultant who has also worked with the Central Territory, to find sponsors and partners and develop The Salvation Army Outdoors. Major supporters include NASP and the Safari Club International Foundation and its Sables and Hunter Legacy Fund. The Archery Trade Association is also a partner with The Salvation Army Outdoors in providing equipment.
“We have a national agreement with the Safari Club that allows us to work with them,” Newton said. “They provide funds through grants to purchase equipment or connect us to local chapters to develop local relationships for mentoring, training and equipment.”
Archery came to the Maryland and West Virginia Division this year after the divisional headquarters allocated $3,200 in start-up costs, Captain Howell said. These included buying a NASP starter kit: Five targets, 10 bows and 60 arrows, plus a backdrop and five quivers to hold the arrows.
At Baltimore-area Boys & Girls Clubs, 12 children ages 7 to 12 meet for an hour Tuesdays for six weeks.
“These kids going through the program also will be coming to Camp Tomahawk this summer, and their focus will be archery,” Captain Howell said. Their guiding Bible verse is 2 Corinthians 5:9: Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him (NKJV).
“I’m really excited about this,” the captain said. “It’s something I’ve become very passionate about. Archery has proved to be something kids are interested in. It exposes them to something that’s not part of everyday city life. And it teaches them biblical principles as it builds their character – staying focused and on-task, and learning how to build each other up and encourage each other.”
The Kentucky and Tennessee Division has had a NASP program at Camp Paradise Valley for a couple of years, Duncan said. Last year, he said, individual corps were approached “not only to drum up interest in summer camp, but to drum up interest in implementing archery in their existing activities.”
The division uses a gospel-oriented program developed by Centershot Ministries, an archery-based outreach.
“Finding your point on your target – and finding the patience and the calm you need to reach that point – is explained through Scripture,” Duncan said. “Perseverance may come from Paul’s writings, for example.
“The idea is, you don’t just achieve something; you must practice, you must continue to approach it, you must be deliberate and intentional, focusing on the movements of the body – where is my arm? Am I balanced in my stance? All these intentional points that lead to success in archery are used as an example of holiness, about being intentional in the actions we take in our lives as Christians.”
Camp Paradise Valley shows how archery dovetails with a growing emphasis on outdoor education in character development, Newton said.
“Right now, kids are outdoors deprived – they’re all on video games, cell phones and social media,” she said. “There are some children, in particular children from inner cities, who don’t see something as simple as trees or an open field of grass. Some of them, because of all the city lights, don’t really ever see the stars.”
“I really feel we are instilling in them a new appreciation for nature and drawing them closer to the Lord. We help them go outside their comfort zones and explore, open up their energy, get creative and physically active. We’re trying to find different ways to make them excited to be outdoors again.”