Area congregations use military theme to unite children

Sunday, July 21, 2002

RACIAL HARMONY

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

A commander in camouflage and shiny black boots shrilly blows a whistle. Nearby, a red-faced man called "sergeant," who sports a buzz cut, barks "I can't hear you!" to troops lined up in front of him.

In another spot, after snaking under wire and dancing through a row of tires, dutiful soldiers are ordered to run in place -- then drop to the ground -- and get back up and run some more.

There's even a field-training exercise, with armed units working toward a goal while trying to defeat a common enemy.

Of course, the weapons shot only water, the yelling was all in fun and the soldiers were between the ages of 5 and 15, all participating in Xtreme Xperience, an event orchestrated by Greater Dimension Church to teach children of all races to work together and keep in mind who their real commander in chief is.

"It's about developing a team spirit while breaking down cultural barriers and working with youngsters who may be different than them," said Greater Dimension pastor William Bird, an event organizer. "We want them to know we are one nation under God, and that we all were created equal."

Greater Dimension, while it does have white members, is traditionally thought to be a black church. The church, located on Cape Girardeau's south side, wanted to shake that image and extended an invitation for children of other churches and other denominations to come and participate.

"That's why we based it on the military," said Greater Dimensions member Brad McWhorter, a former Army sergeant, whose yelling caused the children to laugh more than tremble.

"The military is mixed, and they always told us the only color is green," McWhorter said. "They teach people to forget color and work together. That's what we're trying to do."

Despite muggy temperatures, the event drew hundreds of children, white and black. During the morning hours, more than 250 kids showed up, and organizers hoped for a few hundred more in the afternoon.

The activities included team-building games such as one called TNT, where groups had to diffuse a pretend "bomb" by using clues. Other games were the human knots, in which they held hands, twisted themselves around and tried to unwind without letting go of each other's hands.

"It's really fun," said Torian Spears, 9, of Caruthersville, Mo. "I knew it would be. But I also wanted to learn about God. It's teaching me how to work with other kids and to be polite and stuff."

Shauntel Franklin, 9, was visiting from Columbia, Mo. Her favorite part of the event was the human knot game. "But it was hard," she said. "Some people weren't using teamwork. I didn't think we'd ever get untied."

Lynn Harper, a director of youth ministry at First Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau, said she brought several of the children from her church in an attempt to break down stereotypes.

"I just thought it would promote friendships across racial lines," she said. "As Christians, we're called to expand our social horizons and broaden our world view."

She said too often "white churches" and "black churches" are content to do their own things independently.

"There needs to be less of that," she said. "We're all God's church, no matter what our color. What better way to get that started than to get these kids working together?"

Emmanuel Harris, the youth pastor of Greater Dimensions, agreed.

"It's like anything else," he said. "It's the fear of the unknown. There's a hesitance to have fellowship with a church that's different than yours. You don't know what's out there unless you make an effort to know. That's what we're trying to do. We're not a black church. We're God's church."

Dawnisha Bell, 9, of Cape Girardeau showed she understood.

"I don't care who I play with," she said. "As long as they're nice."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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