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Pennies saved

Kids advance the gospel, one small coin at a time

By Christina Quick

American founding father Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

If Franklin were alive in 2009, he might be inclined to rethink his statement. Pennies don’t go far these days. In fact, some experts say they’re more trouble than they’re worth. They argue that the total cost of producing, distributing and handling each penny far exceeds its one-cent face value. Consequently, Congress has considered doing away with the copper-colored coins.

But there is at least one place where little pennies saved can still make a big impact: in a BGMC Buddy Barrel.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Assemblies of God’s Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge (formerly Boys and Girls Missionary Crusade). Since its inception in 1949, more than $84.3 million has been given to missions through BGMC. Much of the money was raised in the form of pennies — and nickels, dimes and quarters — collected by children.

“BGMC is greatly used and greatly needed by our missionaries,” says Mary Boyd, national BGMC coordinator. “Who would have imagined that a program that started in 1949 could grow into such a powerful agency that is changing the world for Jesus? All those pennies sure add up.”

The idea of children collecting money in barrel-shaped banks emerged shortly after the formation of the Assemblies of God in 1914. A 1918 article in The Christian Evangel, the forerunner of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel, told of some churches increasing children’s missions offerings by 500 percent with the addition of barrels and a little friendly rivalry.

“The children like to put their money into these barrels and see how much they have collected at the end of a quarter,” the article said. “One of these barrels should be in every Pentecostal home for the odd pennies and for special offerings.”

However, it wasn’t until after World War II that BGMC became a reality. With more missionaries headed overseas, creative means were needed to support the continued spread of the gospel.

BGMC was first introduced at the Assemblies of God General Council meeting in Seattle, Wash., in September 1949. At around the same time, letters were sent out to all AG churches urging participation. In the first few months, 229 congregations signed on as charter members of the new initiative.

“Wooden barrel banks were chosen as the collection containers since everything sent to the foreign field at that time was packed in sturdy barrels,” Boyd says. “This evolved into Buddy Barrel becoming the mascot or symbol for BGMC.”

A 1949 article in a publication for Assemblies of God Sunday School teachers explained: “The child is to take the barrel home and each day place a penny, nickel, dime or more in it.”

Kids took up the challenge. The first year, just over $1,000 was collected through BGMC.

“Back then, no one could have imagined how BGMC funds would grow and how they would be such a significant help to our missionaries,” Boyd says.

From the beginning, she says, BGMC had two stated goals: to provide literature for the mission fields and to educate children about the role of missions in the church.

“My first memory of BGMC was the old small, wooden barrels into which I dropped my coins as a child,” says Dr. George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. “Through the six decades of BGMC, countless persons have heard the gospel and grown in Christ because of the missions contributions of children. BGMC is a vital arm of Assemblies of God missions, and it’s a thrill to see a new generation of children sacrificially giving for the cause of Christ.”

Today, BGMC not only assists individual foreign missionaries but also helps fund various missions organizations. (See the sidebar.)

“BGMC has been an incredible tool to help kids gain a heart for missions and spread the gospel around the world,” says Jason Noble, national director of Children’s Ministries for the Assemblies of God. “It’s amazing to see how much kids really can do when they believe in something.”

BGMC especially tries to target the children of the world by funding projects that touch them, including orphanages, feeding programs, water wells, school supply distributions and children’s camps.

BGMC funds recently helped AG missionaries place two deepwater wells in the African nations of Togo and Benin and distribute hundreds of buckets to villagers in Zimbabwe so they can transport fresh water to their homes.

“The need for clean, safe water in Africa is overwhelming,” says Steve Evans, missionary with Assemblies of God World Missions’ Africa Oasis Project. “More than 300 million people in that continent don’t have access to clean drinking water. As a result, more than 80 percent of the diseases in Africa are caused by drinking unclean water. In many parts of Africa, women and young girls must walk more than three miles for water.”

Even if some adults no longer recognize the value of a penny, kids seem to understand. A 5-year-old named Max recently wrote BGMCKids online to say he is on the job.

“I am going to find money in my house and Mom’s car to give you to give to the people so you can tell them about Jesus,” Max said. “I’m going to ask my dad and my family and friends to help me. I’m not gonna buy any extra snacks, so I can give you more money!”

BGMC’s continued success depends on the vision of kids like Max. As long as tiny fingers keep dropping pennies into Buddy Barrels, the ripples of these small sacrifices will be felt around the world.

“There is no way I can express adequately the tremendous influence and blessing BGMC has been to our missionary family as well as to world evangelization,” says L. John Bueno, executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions. “At the time of the 60th celebration, I want to add my words of commendation and gratitude for the great ministry of the Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former TPE staff writer. She lives in Springfield, Mo., and attends Central Assembly of God.

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