There are a lot of ways we might think of to bring people closer to Jesus Christ. Teaching them karate may not be at the top of that list. Nonetheless, First United Methodist Church in Augusta saw an opportunity for discipleship in karate. With the help of a Pathways for Discipleship grant, the church has been coming into contact with children and youth who are developing a passion for that discipline.
Like many other smaller communities, Augusta has been hit hard by COVID. A number of athletic programs for children and youth quit functioning and are now trying to re-start. The virus also hit many
families hard economically, and the fees associated with some other
children and youth programs were difficult for them to support.
While others saw only problems, Derek Highbarger, a longtime member of the Augusta Department of Public Safety who holds a black belt in karate, saw opportunity. He has worked with kids for a long time and has three children of his own. He knew from previous experience that there was interest in karate in Augusta. As an active member of Augusta First UMC, Derek was aware that the church was always open to non-traditional ministry with young people. What he needed was resources to purchase the mats the ministry would need. Though the church was experiencing a COVID-strapped financial year, it found some money that could be used as a match for a $500 Pathways for Discipleship grant. When the mats arrived, Derek started the class.
Derek, with the help of his children and additional adult leadership, has been holding the karate class in the church gym since November of 2021. There are 10 to 15 children and youth ranging in age from four to sixteen who meet on Thursday nights and more are showing interest. Their parents bring them and often stay to watch the training. Some of the older youth recently asked for a second session with Derek during the week to increase their training and he managed to work it in. All of this is free to the participants.
Rev. Lynn Lamberty, pastor of First UMC Augusta, is excited about the future of this ministry.
“I believe that karate can be a good fit for us in forging new relationships with a variety of people in the community,” Lynn said. “They are experiencing the church in a new and exciting way and have appreciated the welcome they have received. At the heart of the training for karate are values also useful to Christians: selfdiscipline, respect for others, self-confidence, support for family and being willing to develop one’s given talents and abilities well for the blessing of others. This ministry opportunity would not have developed into anything concrete without the support of the Kansas Methodist Foundation.”
The program will continue as long as students keep showing up. God is moving in interesting ways.