Making an Impact in the Early Years of Awana
The first paid Awana employee, Rich Wager, attended Awana as a child and developed some of the innovative early ideas for the Awana ministry

Unlike Co-Founders Art Rorheim and Doc Latham, Rich Wager’s name isn’t synonymous with Awana. But few individuals have left a more enduring impact on so many Awana programs as the first official employee of the 60-year-old ministry.

After growing up in Awana clubs at the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago, Mr. Wager was named Art Rorheim’s first assistant at Awana in 1949. Money was tight at the time he was hired. His $15-a-week salary had to be paid with money raised from a weekly paper drive conducted by Awana clubbers.

Rich Wager

Building a ministry that reaches generations of families
Rich made lasting contributions to Awana. He served as the first editor of Signal magazine for local-church Awana leaders, printed the first Awana handbooks and supervised the Pals and Pioneer club programs for boys in grades 3 to 6. He was instrumental in promoting Awana to other churches.

Art and Rich conceived a number of the hallmark features of Awana in those less-than-glamorous early years. The two men shared a small desk in a six- by eight-foot room situated under a stairwell at the North Side Gospel Center. Together, they molded Awana into the prototypical youth ministry of its time.

"He virtually ate, drank and slept Awana,” Art said. “Together we worked, prayed and planned the Awana program in those beginning days."

The launch of AwanaGames™
Mr. Wager’s influence on Awana continued long after he resigned. In 1955, Rich, then the youth director at Midwest Bible Church, asked Art to consider creating an athletic competition between local churches that used Awana. Later that year, four churches competed in the inaugural Awana Olympics (now AwanaGames) in the basement of the North Side Gospel Center.

Scholarship Camp for Awana kids begins in 1972
Mr. Wager also had a hand in establishing the first Scholarship Camp. When Art told him he wanted to form a summer camp for award-winning Awana clubbers, Rich offered the free use of Silver Birch Ranch, a camp he founded in northern Wisconsin. The first Scholarship Camp in 1972 welcomed campers from as far as California, Florida and the Bahamas.

Mr. Wager made his mark in ministry outside of Awana, first as a pastor and later as founder of a Christian school and of Phantom Ranch Christian Camp. But he always kept ties to Awana. He even served on the Awana Board of Directors before his passing in 1987.

It’s Amazing
What God
Has Done

Otto Melby was a carefree 13-year-old from a loving Christian family in Chicago when an unexpected event rocked his world.

When his father passed away in 1949, Otto struggled profoundly with the loss. His mother became deeply concerned as she watched her son grow increasingly confused and angry with God and those around him. It was clear to her that he needed a male mentor to fill the void left by his dad’s death.

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Using Her Gifts to Serve Others in Full-Time Ministry and Awana

A few months ago, Mandy Hornbuckle’s box of Awana memories tumbled out the back of a truck going 60 miles per hour down a Texas highway. The box contained old Awana uniforms, pins and her Citation Award, the highest achievement in Awana.Mandy Hornbuckle earned the Citation Award for learning Scripture verses and truths

As the box hit the pavement, the contents scattered all along the road.

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Celebrating 50-Plus Years of Faithful Awana Service

Gwendetta Albright’s 50-plus years of faithful Awana service at a church in Chicago has changed lives in hundreds of families

Gwendetta Albright grew up on the west side of Chicago. She trusted Christ for salvation at a summer camp at age 13. She then started serving as an Awana leader two years later in 1958.

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First Family Church: Using Awana to Reach Kids and Parents for Christ

A few years ago, Roger Stuart’s life changed dramatically. He trusted Christ for salvation through the ministry of First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas.The Sparks children's ministry club at First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas

“I came to First Family Church in hopes of finding a great children's ministry for my daughter,” Roger said. “I was more concerned with her spiritual growth than my own. But listening to my pastor preach, I felt like he wasn't talking to a congregation of 2,000; he was talking to me and my own personal struggles.

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Hope Amidst Hardship

For 12 years, Carlton Carty knew only intense poverty and suffering. Now, thanks to an Awana program in central Jamaica, he knows Jesus as Savior.

The first time they met, Carlton Carty made an immediate impression on Brad Rostad—but not exactly a good one.

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An Oasis
of Hope

The Awana program at the only evangelical church in Gaza is extending God’s love, truth and grace to kids and families in this volatile region.

Thursday and Friday afternoons, a haggard bus drives a circuit through garbage-strewn neighborhoods in one of the world’s most volatile and densely inhabited areas of the world, where half of the population is under age 15.

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31 Years of Service Brings Generations to Lasting Faith in Christ

If you’re ever looking for someone from the Wallace family, there’s a good chance you’ll find them at Harvest Bible Chapel in Lake Zurich, Illinois on Monday nights.

Every Monday starting at 5:30 p.m., four generations of Wallace family members serve in Awana. Bob, age 85, and Lucille, 82, along with their daughter Diane and granddaughter Jill, are faithful leaders in the Sparks (kindergarten through second grade) and T&T (third to sixth grade) clubs. A great-grandson, Brayden, is only 1 and stays in the nursery but is certain to someday be in Puggles (for 2- and 3-year-olds).

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The Model Awana Leader

Jim Barker was facing a dim future when his aunt brought him out of the backwoods of Tennessee to live in Chicago during the Great Depression.

Jim resided in one of the poorest sections of the city. He was painfully shy. He had a meager educational background. He wasn't good at sports. His Southern accent made him a target for insults. He didn't own a car and rarely had money in his pocket.

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Baseball Continues To Be a Tool to Proclaim the Gospel

Alvin Davis has hit his share of home runs over the years. As first baseman for the Seattle Mariners from 1984 to 1991, Alvin racked up 160 home runs and batted .280 in 1,206 games. He homered in his first two big-league games and once belted a grand slam with both Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. on base. Alvin Davis played eight seasons and made the All-Star team with the Seattle Mariners

Alvin was named 1984 American League Rookie of the Year and was also selected that year for the All-Star Game. He was the first inductee into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame in 1997.

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to Awana and Helping Their Own Kids Develop Lasting Faith

You may know what it’s like to get one or two kids ready for Awana and to church on time. But can you imagine getting six kids organized and out the door?

The Pilgrim family lives in Huntsville, Alabama, and all six children participate in Awana at Whitesburg Baptist Church every Sunday night:

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Building a Worldwide Kids’ Ministry From the Ground up

Art Rorheim is co-founder of Awana. Art built Awana from the ground up from its early days as a weekly club program at the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago.

Art was introduced to youth and children’s ministry in 1935 at age 17 when Lance Latham, his church’s pastor, asked him to serve as a club leader at the North Side Gospel Center.

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Leading Awana to Influence Generations of Kids to Follow Christ

Since 1999, Jack Eggar has served as President/CEO of Awana. He has provided strategic leadership for the ministry’s efforts to equip churches and parents in raising children and youth to know, love and serve Christ. Under his guidance, Awana has expanded its impact from a total of 9,000 churches around the world in 1998 to over 22,000 as of 2011.

Knowing that parents are the key influencers in their children’s spiritual development, Jack invested vision and passion to give direction for the recent launch of the Modern-Day Joseph and Awana at Home initiatives.

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