ETBU student's ministry highlights heroes
By Ken Camp
Texas Baptist Communications
MARSHALL–Every child needs a hero, Michael Barron figured. And given good role models, every child has the potential to become a hero to someone else, he reasoned.
That's the philosophy behind the Hero program, an after-school ministry for low-income children Barron launched last year at East Texas Baptist University.
It started as a homework assignment. Barron was required to plan and implement a ministry project as part of a ministry foundations class, a required course for ETBU students receiving ministry tuition assistance from the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Texas Baptist churches will provide about $1.7 million this year in ministerial tuition assistance for undergraduates at eight BGCT-affiliated universities through their Cooperative Program giving.
Barron thought about his involvement with low-income children through his home church, a non-denominational congregation in Greenville. He wondered if anything comparable existed in Marshall.
“I thought about what I saw here. Once I recognized the need, God gave me a vision for it,” he recalled.
Barron envisioned an after-school program where ETBU students would “hang out” with children who would be considered “at risk.” The university students could offer tutorial sessions, play games and tell Bible stories.
“It's a struggle for kids to find good heroes. That's why so many look up to professional athletes or celebrities,” he said. “Through this program, a student can be a hero to these kids–the kind of hero who will tell them they are created by God and loved by God. And in time, they can be a hero to someone else.”
The teacher for the ministry foundations class was Dane Fowlkes, who serves as university chaplain and as pastor of Marshall's Bel Air Baptist Church. Barron shared his vision for the Hero program, and he asked Fowlkes if Bel Air Baptist Church could help.
Fowlkes, a former Southern Baptist missionary to Kenya and India, said he had been seeking ways to lead the church toward becoming “a transforming presence in the community.”
The church agreed to make its facilities available for after-school ministries and included the Hero program in its budget. Several church members also volunteered to bake cookies for the children and help with tutorials.
Barron posted fliers around the ETBU campus to recruit student volunteers. About one-third of the students who remained active in the ministry throughout the spring semester were Barron's ETBU Tigers football teammates.
“It was a start-up process last semester,” he explained. “We had just a handful of kids who stayed the whole semester. But these were children who didn't have many friends. They needed a place to fit in, and they found that in Hero.”
Recently, Barron met with the superintendent of the Marshall Independent School District, and he hopes the Hero program can move its after-school programs to several school campuses this year.
“Instead of the kids having to come to us at the church, we want to bring the program to them,” he said.
At the same time, Bel Air Baptist Church hopes to offer parenting seminars, divorce recovery groups and other ministries for the parents of children in the Hero program. The church has started moving from a “survival” mindset toward a vision of becoming an inclusive, community-centered congregation, Fowlkes said.
“The Hero program has helped us in that transition toward becoming Christians who make a difference in our community,” he said.