HARLINGEN - While spring break is time for teachers and students to take a vacation from classes, many parents working full-time jobs do not have resources available to find childcare for their children while they continue to work. First Baptist Church of Harlingen saw this need in their community 18 years ago and began a Spring Break sports week called Champs Camp.
This year, 215 children from first to fifth grade came to the church from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 16-20 for a week filled with fun, games, crafts, meals and a time to hear the Gospel. The campers were also able to participate in 12 different sports ranging from basketball and golf to dance and taekwondo. The city partners with the church to provide bus rides for the activities and many businesses offer free or reduced rates for the children to use their facilities.
Wade Hood, pastor of FBC Harlingen, said the week is offered at a reduced price for parents, with the church covering more than half of the cost for each child to attend the week.
"Our desire this year is to reach the kids who have never heard the Gospel," said Josie Alaniz, FBC Harlingen children's minister and Champs Camp coordinator. "For those students who already know Jesus, we want to give them tools they can use to share their faith with their families and in their schools."
The camp would not be possible without the help of numerous volunteers from the church, community partnerships and the willingness of more than 40 BSM students from Stephen F. Austin University and Texas A&M University who volunteered their spring break to come and serve.
Alaniz served on Spring Break mission trips through the BSM when she was a student at the University of Texas-Pan American and this year has experienced the receiving end of the service.
"It's a blessing to see the BSM students using their talents and skills to glorify the Lord to minister to these kids," she said. "To see college student leading and stepping up to see their skills. We couldn't do Champs Camp without their help."
Andre Juarez, a student at Texas A&M, returned to work at Champs Camp for the third year. The previous two years, he has served at the Champs Camp held at First Baptist Church in Brownwood.
"I keep coming back because of the relationships you build with the children," Juarez said. "They grow through the week and it's amazing to see the spiritual growth that happens in such a short time."
FBC Harlingen has partnered with the BSM at SFA for the past six years, with groups coming to serve at Champs Camp. Not only have the children benefitted from the Christian leaders, but the youth have also been significantly impacted.
"Our youth benefit from working with them," said Alaniz. "They are great role models for our youth, and it stirs in them a desire to come and serve at Champs Camp when they are old enough."
Four interns at the church over the past few years have also been SFA students who have returned to help the church, which had such an impact on them, with three later moving to the community.
"This week has taught me about how God wants us to learn about Him," said SFA student Passione Henry. "It's great to hear what a difference you make in a kid's life."
The work that happens during Champs Camp each year does not stop when the week ends, Alaniz said. The church continues to hear stories, sometimes years later, of the impact the week has on the school-aged children and their families."It's been great to see how Champs Camp really helps the church connect with their community and bring families into the church," said Rebecca Hernandez, assistant BSM director at Texas A&M. "Parents have decided to come to the church because of the programs for kids. It's a great opportunity to share with children who haven't had any exposure to stories about Jesus."