By Rich Brown
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Travis Bolin believes in prayer, especially when it comes to Carthage Middle School. The CMS counselor and Fellowship of Christian Athletes coach points to the dramatic increase in FCA membership at the Carthage school as proof of the power of prayer.
With a membership that has quadrupled since the first meeting at the school on Feb. 14 last year, the FCA chapter has become known to pupils and teachers as the Fellowship of Christian Students.
And that's OK: Although FCA began in 1954 as a student-led Christian organization that was primarily for athletes, it states in its bylaws that members are not required to be athletes. And although FCA meetings must be held before the start of the school day and are led by students, adults play a key role as coaches.
Bolin is among several of the school's teachers and parents who serve as FCA mentors.
Since starting with 55 students, the FCA presence at the school has grown to an average of 200 or more at the weekly meetings, which are held from 6:30 to 7:25 a.m. each Friday. In fact, one meeting drew as many as 307.
"My prayer is that over half of our student body, which would be 400, will eventually come to FCA meetings," said Bolin, who served as a youth minister in Cardin, Okla., before going to Webb City as a second-grade teacher and coming to CMS last year. "This is not about the numbers, but rather to encourage kids to get connected to Jesus and even find a church home, if not already part of a church."
Attendance at the FCA meetings has been remarkable. It was a humble beginning with 55 of the fifth- and sixth-graders who make up middle school at Carthage. The second meeting drew 77, and the third 150.
It wasn't long before FCA meetings had to be moved from a large classroom to the band room.
"During our first meeting in the band room, we had 200 plus," Bolin said. "Our principal (Robin Jones) said, 'Well, when you outgrow the band room, you are going to the gym.'"
Bolin compares the dynamic increase in numbers to a revival, and said it is a direct result of prayer. Teachers have a prayer group meeting each Tuesday, and people from churches come in and pray in the halls before school.
Even with all the distractions that middle-school students face, FCA has still gained their attention.
"We have a lot to compete with when it comes to kids needing to get up early on Friday morning for our meetings," said Bolin, who grew up in Baxter Springs, Kan. "Kids will stay up late to go to sports activities or play video games. But I believe our FCA is very unique. It is fun, fun, fun, with high, intense energy."
Even though the meetings begin at 6:30 a.m., Bolin said he has to get to school early because students are already lining up by 6 a.m.
A year and a half ago the meetings were at 6:45, but they had to be moved back because the students arrived so early. Bolin said they cannot wait to get there.
Of course, that early arrival necessitates early-morning nourishment. Doughnuts and cookies provide positive appeal, as well as big videos playing while students mingle and talk.
Lily Smith, a sixth-grader, said that although the singing is a big part of the FCA meetings, she likes something else better.
'Worship is the best part'
"I think what has been the best part is getting everyone together as a school and being able to worship," she said.
Andrew Schweigert, another sixth-grader, said he has brought his friends to the meetings, and that being able to learn more about God has been important to him.
Georgia Aldridge, a sixth-grade paraprofessional who serves as a coach, said she has seen firsthand the effects of FCA on students.
"We have seen a lot of attitudes change," said Aldridge, wife of Doug Aldridge, academic dean at Ozark Christian College. "I look around the room and see kids with behavior problems. They often don't have a good home life, but they feel a part of FCA."
Bolin, who attends College Heights Christian Church in Joplin with his family, said it is not uncommon to see students come to meetings with their family members, youth ministers or other ministers from their churches.
"We have about 10 parents a week who come with their children to the meetings," he said.
The FCA influence goes beyond the walls of the school, as shown by the mother of one of the young members.
"A mom who has been coming with her daughter to meetings came up to me one time and said, 'Mr. Bolin, I want to share what happened to us last week,'" Bolin said. "'My car broke down, and we couldn't make it to FCA. I cried and cried. I want to tell you this is more of a church to me than my own church.'"
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.