First Baptist Church of Chassahowitzka has a heart for kids. Even though the church is small in number (about 75 people attend on Sunday mornings), twice a month about 13 of its members minister to as many as 45 kids in a community youth program.
Bill Shuert and his wife, Bernice, have been working with the youths since they retired to the area from Tampa four years ago.
"We love kids and they love us," said Shuert, who has worked with youths for the past 30 years. "We're kind of Granny and Grampa to them."
Shuert also teaches Sunday school to youths 13 and up. In the winter, those kids are invited to the Shuert home about once a month.
"We have a pretty good amount of food and we have 5 acres, so they can run," Shuert said.
The children who attend the Thursday night program come from throughout the community.
"They just need time to play with their friends and we try to provide them a place off the street where they can interact with their friends and just have fun," Shuert said.
The first hour of the program is "free time." Some of the children play on the new $3,800 play set while others participate in organized games. A few of the younger kids practice songs on a karaoke-type machine that they will sing during a church service. .
The second hour is organized into a time of singing, scripture memorization, snack time and teaching.
"Our pastor's wife is very good with kids, and she's running around getting the kids to do different things. So it's a pretty good activity to keep them involved and having fun and laughing," Shuert said.
Shuert said the primary goal is to give the children the gospel and let God's spirit do the rest.
"That's done every time we meet in some way or some fashion," he said. "The past five nights that we met, we had a foreign theme. Each lesson was represented by a foreign country. For instance, if it was Germany, we would have German food and snacks to serve the kids during the snack time. Then we'd have a movie about a missionary that was in that country. After the movie we'd have a discussion on that and a reading from the Bible or something that would pertain to the lesson in that particular movie."
Shuert said there is another important goal of the program.
"We want to let the kids know that there are people that care for them, people that want to spend time with them. They know if they need somebody to talk to, they can pick up the phone and call us and we'll run over to see them."
Shuert related an incident where he and Bernice did just that.
"We had one boy 12 years old who called us. We went over there and it was an argument between him and his dad and the boy had run off. We took him back home and just let him know that we're there for him if he needs us. That's the worse case scenario that we've had and it turned out that we got the father and the son back together talking."
Anyone in the church is welcome to help with the ministry.
"I get up in front of the church every Sunday morning and evening and welcome guests and I give announcements and read a Bible verse," Shuert said. "I generally invite the whole church, anybody in our church is welcome to come down and help. We have one elderly man, he's 89, and he comes down there just because he loves the kids. I think that's what we want to get across. There's a lot of children in that area for a small community. We want them to have a safe place to go, and we want them to know they have someone that cares about them and is concerned for them and will love them no matter what."
TO LEARN MORE
First Baptist Church of Chassahowitzka, 10002 S Riviera Point, Homosassa, hosts a youth program for children from fourth grade through high school from 6 to 8 p.m. every second and fourth Thursday. Call (352) 382-3585.