More than just fun and games
by Sherrie Norris
That's the purpose behind the annual Living By Faith Youth Challenge Day, occurring in mid-August for the last three years and hosted by the Rev. David Ward, along with his church at Westside Baptist in the Cove Creek community, a large group of family members, friends and several other supporting churches.
Not to be confused with the David Ward of Son's Light Ministries of Boone, who also hosts a large annual youth gathering, The High Country Praise Festival happening this weekend, Westside's pastor Ward has taken his Living By Faith Ministry to a new level with the addition of this event.
Drawing more than 300 young people and adult volunteers to the Mabel Elementary School grounds recently, where Ward said he is "blessed" to be able to hold the growing event, the 2013 Youth Challenge Day was everything he hoped it would be -- and more.
"To see young people come together in this atmosphere, and to let them see that they can have fun while serving the Lord, is a wonderful thing," Ward said. "It's a great way to get children and teenagers involved in the church. Some who might not come to a Sunday morning service will come out on a Saturday to play games or to a youth meeting at night, if a friend invites them."
But, it's more than just playing games, Ward said.
"Many people, at first, do not even realize that the games we play are all about team-building and the fact that you can accomplish a lot more with a little help than you can on your own," he said.It's not the Olympic games, he said, "But it proves that we can work together for God and have fun doing it."
Breaks during the day for a message from God's word and skits provided by participating churches round out the daylong outing, complete with lunch, snacks and T-shirts.
The event has grown quickly in a short time, Ward said. "This year, we had 193 children from ages 2 to 18, and 130-plus adult volunteers," he said.
Whether it's through the "Lemonade Race," "Tug-of-War," or "Spider Basketball," Ward said, "There are lessons to be learned for all of us. When you put a lemon in your mouth, it tastes pretty sour, but when you add water and sugar, it starts to taste a lot better. That's just one example of many I could give to show that things work better together with a little help."
Ward said he has no idea "where this is going" and he's not "putting a limit on what God can do," but he believes it's a way to open doors for the area's young people and keep them involved in church.
Ward's church also hosts a youth meeting on the third Saturday night of each month, which includes a talent showcase, of sorts. "Again, this is something that a young person might attend if their friend invites them, when they might not come to church on Sunday."
The Lord put it on Ward's heart, he said, to do something for area young people to show them that a Christian life is not boring -- and to help build teamwork between local churches.
"We want them to have fellowship with other church's youth groups and to let them see that God's people do care for their future," Ward said. "We do it most of all for to share the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all that comes, to let them know there is hope, love, and peace through salvation, which is by Grace and through faith in Jesus Christ."
Ward is quick to say that the concept for Youth Challenge Day was not his original idea, but rather inspired through local missionaries associated with Rock of Ages Ministry from Cleveland, Tenn., which focuses on prisons and schools.
"We support some of those missionaries in our church, like Jeff Bellamy, who goes into schools, teaching character building skills," he said.
Ward is perhaps best known for his Living By Faith Ministries, which started as a local radio ministry and continues to grow through its outreach efforts.
Ward "answered the called to preach in 2002," he said, and began his first pastorate at Westside a year later.
His radio ministry "miraculously began," he said, a few short years later and continues today with a 30-minute live program from 8:30-9 a.m. every Sunday on WATA 1450.
As his circle of support widened, Ward said, he was able "to do more" and to focus on the county's young people, to which he has distributed countless Bibles through the years.
Another arm of his ministry includes monthly visits to the local jail, where his interaction with inmates have resulted in positive outcomes for many.
Ward is a dedicated school volunteer and also serves with the Ebeneezer Children's Home Wilkesboro."It's unreal how the Lord has put it all together," Ward said, noting that in the early days, especially, his faith was weak and he had no idea what God had planned for him.
"When we first started talking about my radio ministry, I told my wife, Libby, that we couldn't afford the $85 it would take to go on the air," he said. "Our first offering was $95. I've never had to take a dime out of my pocket for anything God has allowed us to do."
Funded by monthly support from several local churches, Ward is grateful for the confidence shown in him through his sponsors, as well as the support he receives from his family.
Widowed since 2010, Ward said his four sisters and two adult children have "really stepped up to help me in my ministry."
Keisha Ward Hicks said her father is a blessing and an inspiration, not only to her, but also to many other people. "He has such a heart for people and especially the youth and their future," she said. 'The Youth Challenge Day is such a great event. It's truly amazing to see so many young people gather together for this day and enjoy every second of it."
Ward's ministry would not be possible without the support of more than a dozen churches in the region, he said. "I can't thank them enough for believing in us and helping us with our work."
"We really appreciate Mr. (Mark) Hagaman, too, who has been so kind to work with us at Mable School for our game day, and others who want no public recognition for what they do for us," he added.
For more information about Ward, Westside Baptist Church, or Living By Faith Radio Ministry, call (828) 297-4690, write to P.O. Box 142 Sugar Grove, NC 28679, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.