Child Evangelism Fellowship expanding in the Northland
“‘Let the children come to Me.’”
As regional director of Child Evangelism Fellowship for the Head of the Lakes chapter, David Ratajek (second from left) works in Duluth, Minn., but resides in Superior, Wis., with his family. Although fully trained as a CEF director as well, his wife, Rebecca (far right), is concentrating on homeschooling their three children: (from left) Naomi, 6, David, Noah, 8, and Hannah, 4.Bonnie Jordan / Living Stones News
Ron Hanson became assistant regional director for CEF in March and his wife, Marcie, will be assisting with secretarial duties.Bonnie Jordan / Living Stones News
Stories, songs, new friendships, crafts and games -- all of these strike fond chords of recollection for those who ever attended Vacation Bible School. If you share such childhood memories, imagine working as a missionary where your work includes teaching Bible lessons at clubs similar to VBS all throughout the summer, as well as setting up year-round Good News Clubs to meet on a weekly basis for further discipleship.
As the regional director of Child Evangelism Fellowship for the Head of the Lakes chapter, David Ratajek, 42, does just that right in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“I consider it the greatest privilege to carry out the Great Commission in my hometown,” Ratajek said, speaking passionately about his mission. “I believe Good News Clubs are the best discipleship ministry for children.”
The purpose of CEF is to teach children about the love of Jesus Christ through 5-Day Clubs, hosted by individuals in backyards and neighborhoods during the summer, and to continue discipleship and outreach through Good News Clubs that meet on a weekly afterschool basis in schools across America. The Head of the Lakes chapter includes 19 school districts in Duluth, Minn., Superior, Wis., and the surrounding area.
Yet, Ratajek said, “CEF is still not widely known about in the area,” even though CEF was founded in 1937 and currently ministers in more than 150 countries. His desire is to have a club in every school in the Head of the Lakes region.
“We need to expand,” he said. “We’d like to get more full-time staff as well as volunteers.”
Ratajek has received at least one answer to prayer on that account. In March, Ron Hanson, 56, of Superior became assistant director of the Head of the Lakes chapter, relieving Ratajek of at least part of the workload involved in directing such a widespread area.
Hanson had worked as a CEF summer missionary for the first time 40 years ago. Between the years of 1972-1980 he was often involved in some capacity with CEF. He moved to Duluth in 1994 to take a job with Christian radio station WWJC-AM 850 and joined a CEF committee that later disbanded when the regional director left in 1996. A new committee formed in 2003 when Ratajek became the director.
In 2008, Hanson lost his job with WWJC.
“I couldn’t find any full-time, permanent job,” Hanson said. “Everything was either part time or temporary. I had a collections job but left there after two months.”
But God already had a job in mind for Hanson.
“For two years David had been asking me to come on board, but I kept telling him no because I didn’t like fundraising,” Hanson said. “Then the Lord showed me it wasn’t that bad, and I could do it. It’s been interesting so far. Support raising is so much better than telemarketing.”
Much of the fundraising he’s had to do so far has been to raise support for himself and his wife, Marcie. “She will be helping me out in a secretarial role,” Hanson said. While the couple have been busy training, selling their home, moving and raising support, they’ve also started planning an Oct. 28 CEF fundraising banquet to be held at Barker’s Island in Superior.
“We are trying to build up a support team of people and churches that will help with finances and prayer,” Hanson said, explaining that the CEF policy about meeting the needs of the ministry is, “Ask God, and tell His people.”
Most Good News Clubs are adopted by area churches.
“I would like to see a lot of churches take the opportunity of adopting a school, to encourage families, to invite them to church if they don’t have one to go to,” Ratajek said.
People interested in outreach and ministry to children can be involved either by hosting a 5-Day Club or by being trained as a CEF missionary.
Christian Youth in Action is another ministry of CEF that trains both summer and full-time CEF missionaries ages 14 and older. Applicants are interviewed and, if accepted, take part in a two-week training camp and then spend two more weeks paired up in teams teaching 5-Day Clubs. All of the missionaries are given a thorough background check to ensure that children attending the clubs are always safe.
“We also offer a 30-hour course called ‘Teaching Children Effectively,’” Ratajek said.
He seeks to educate those who don’t know about the Good News Clubs held on school campuses. A June 2001 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court made equal access possible to all afterschool groups, including those that are Bible-based.
“It’s not about us versus them. We try to work with them,” Ratajek said. “Superintendents have been very accommodating in this area. They understand we are offering (CEF) as a public service. Parents can observe what we do. No kids can be in a club without their parents’ written permission. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Jennifer Vic, 42, of Poplar, Wis., has been a coordinator for one such church-sponsored Good News Club for 16 years.
“It’s nice to be able to use the public school setting,” Vic said. “We don’t have to transport (children). We have a really nice space.”
And as to the popularity of the club, Vic said they average about 30 children in attendance each week, with eight to 10 volunteers.
“We have such a great group. We have an absolute blast,” she said. “The kids are so amazing and so much fun. They learn so many things.”
Vic appreciates the efforts of the volunteers, including Eunice Laakso, who is one of the volunteers teaching in the club she facilitates.
“She’s an amazing storyteller,” Vic said.
But expansion doesn’t come without need. In an address at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar this spring, Ratajek said, “Last summer we observed growth in our summer ministry as well. Our 10 summer missionaries taught 29 5-Day Clubs reaching 400 children, with 20 decisions (to follow Christ), stretching our region all the way from the Iron Range to Silver Bay, Minn., down to the Drummond/Cable, Wis., area.”
He said his job takes on enough dimension to really fulfill 13 different full-time positions, so more workers and volunteers are crucial to the ministry.
“Right now we’re seeing Luke 10:2,” said Ratajek. “‘... The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’
“There is far more ministry to get done, where people of differing gifts could be involved.”
CEF has needs for committee members with servants’ hearts, or who are business people, encouragers, get-it-done types and even dot-the-i-and-cross-the-t types.
“We need a variety of personalities,” Ratajek said, “people with all sorts of gifts. We want people who have a passion to reach boys and girls. We want actively involved committee members.”
Explaining the roles of committee members, Ratajek said, “Ideally they help expand our vision. They help with the workload so I can go train at churches. They can help with banquets, office work, or with technical things if gifted in technology, or reaching people with prayer concerns. Members meet with donors on occasion, and they are my sounding board. I report to them, and they encourage me.”
What’s the impact of CEF?
“In total, for you numbers people, our chapter in the 2010-2011 ministry year reached 1,214 individuals with the Gospel and changed 52 lives for all eternity,” Ratajek said.
He told of one Good News Club meeting in a school library that had an even more unexpected impact. Without the lesson leaders realizing it at the time, the school librarian would often listen in on the lessons. She later told them, “I really appreciate the Good News Club. I came to know the Lord as my Savior through your Good News Club.”
Joining the CEF ministry
“5-Day Clubs are similar to VBS but don’t take nearly as much work,” said David Ratajek, regional director of Child Evangelism Fellowship. “It’s an opportunity for individuals to host a program. All they do is provide a place, a snack, invite kids and be willing to have a background screening. In our culture we need to have an environment that is safe for kids.”
This summer the lesson theme is “Jesus Is My Life Savior,” with five lessons taught from the Gospel of John, where Jesus said: “I Am the Good Shepherd, I Am the Bread of Life, I Am the Resurrection, I Am the Light of the World, and I Am the Way.”
Club kids will enjoy learning a memory verse, singing songs and playing some high-octane games for a little over an hour each day.
If you are interested in hosting a 5-Day Club, would like more information about becoming a CEF missionary or committee member, or would like to donate to the ministry of CEF, contact David Ratajek or Ron Hanson at (218) 269-9948. Visit the national CEF website at http://www.cefonline.com/.