A young evangelist from a local church helped lead KaRetha Kelley to Christ as a 17-year-old.
"This particular ministry literally loved me into the kingdom. He would share his ministry and share his love, and here I was this little teenager who thought she knew everything," Kelley recalled. "He was faithful, and, to me, that proved the faithfulness of Jesus. After that, I came to know Jesus, I started studying the word and seeing how it is alive and active, and he wants us to love others."
Forty years later, the 57-year-old Kelley is sharing the love of Christ — with a particular passion for children's ministry.
Kelley, of Denham Springs, is the acting coordinator for the Greater Baton Rouge committee of the Child Evangelism Fellowship. CEF is an independent national organization based in St. Louis that reaches out to youngsters. Among the organization's many different programs are the Good News Club and the 5-Day Club.
"We're the largest ministry that strictly shares the gospel with children," Kelley said.
Louisiana has eight CEF chapters. The Greater Baton Rouge chapter includes Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, Walker, Livingston, Port Allen and Zachary.
"We go into neighborhoods and community centers, wherever we're invited, and we actually put on a Bible Club and talk Bible lessons. We do it with songs, games and just minister to the children," Kelley said. "We're the best-kept secret — I tell everybody that — when it comes to children's ministry."
CEF also offers seminars, conferences and other formal courses to help train and equip churches to effectively minister to children.
"Our curriculum I just personally believe is just anointed," Kelley said. "You can pull those flash cards out and those PowerPoint presentations, and it's all strictly the word of God, and the children just love it. There are mesmerized with the Bible lesson."
Kelley, a member of South Walker Baptist Church, has held clerical jobs at churches and faith-based organizations for years — she's presently a full-time ministry assistant and bookkeeper for the East Louisiana Baptist Association in Walker under the direction of Richard Blue — and worked extensively with children's programs before getting involved with CEF.
That started in 2000 when the state CEF leader invited her to an event.
"When I saw how they sang songs and go into those neighborhoods with the children, that would have been very much like me in my younger years … and to know that they needed what God had done for me, it just captured my heart," Kelley said.
She was hooked.
"The love for the children was there. I love kids. I've always loved children," she said. "I just saw the tools and techniques that CEF offers to me that was life-changing."
While the "CEF method" provided wonderful training in how to lead children to Christ, for Kelley it went beyond that.
"(It) just helped me be a better Sunday school teacher and a better mom," she said. "Not being a professional teacher and not being trained that way, it just made life really easy learning this is God's way anyhow."
Kelley takes comfort in the word of God that she now shares with children and adults. She's faced her own challenges in life. She overcame a failed first marriage and through God's guidance was able to find her husband, Roger, who shares her love for Christ.
"For me, staying in the word and seeking God and knowing that he has a plan for me in spite of me is what made the difference," she said.
Kelley said a pastor once applauded her gift of being able to comfort. That is a reason why she touts as her life verse 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 — "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
She prays to bring comfort and encouragement to young people.
"To know that they have a hope and future in Jesus that was my heart's desire," she said.
Reaching children opens a way to reach their families, Kelley said, again emphasizing the importance of programs such as CEF.
"That's the beauty of child evangelism because we're strictly out sharing the gospel and teaching teachers and leaders how to reach children with the gospel message that you can incorporate in all areas of ministry," she said. "It works for Vacation Bible school. It works for Sunday school classes. It works for children's church, anywhere you work with children and want to teach them about Jesus. … We want to share the gospel, disciple them and establish them."
For more information on Child Evangelism Fellowship, contact Kelley at (225) 405-5869, state CEF director Mary Glover at (225) 933-8752 or go to cefonline.org.
'Forgiveness is hard'
Colossians 3:13: "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
The late, great Fred Craddock, who was a marvelous storytelling preacher, once shared the story of George Wallace and forgiveness.
Wallace, the four-term Alabama governor, was once regarded as "one of the nation's most destructive racists" and most famous for his words “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" during his 1963 inauguration. Wallace would admit years later that he was wrong. Craddock said he believed Wallace had changed and had given his life to Christ.
When Wallace asked Craddock why some people were not willing to forgive him, Craddock simply replied, “Forgiveness is hard.”
Craddock later said in this message, "Forgiveness is hard. It's hard for people to believe it really, really takes place."
As we continue in this Advent season like no other and the countdown to celebrating the birth of the Christ child, Christians are reminded that that child came to offer hope, forgiveness and ultimately to die for the sins of the world.
Forgiveness is hard. We've learned that in this season of political hostility, racial strife, social unrest and debate over masks and personal liberties as we continue to battle this coronavirus pandemic which has resulted in thousands of lives lost, social distancing from loved ones, mental health challenges, freedoms limited, health care compromised, finances strained and faith tested.
It's hard for many of us to forgive, let go of some hurts and move on from some political, social and religious differences that have cost relationships with longtime friends and co-workers and even family members.
That's nothing compared to some families even in our community who are dealing with the loss of loved ones to senseless street violence and grappling with the idea of forgiveness in order to maintain their own sanity and faith.
Forgiveness is hard — even though it doesn't mean that the offender is absolved from any of their violations or wrongs. Forgiveness is as important for the offended as the offender.
Peter once asked Jesus how often it is necessary to forgive (Matthew 18:22). Jesus said, “Seventy times seven.”
That symbolic number inferred that we need to forgive as often as needed. That sounds hard, but only possible if Christ is with us and in us.