• Beth Bowman

Judy Covington first came alongside me as I began to serve on the church staff where she was working in the weekday education day care. She was the assistant director and also a member of the church. I met her on Sunday morning and she endeared herself to me with one request, "Beth, introduce me to your boys." That statement became the entry point for our friendship. As any new church staff member will tell you, starting a ministry position at any staff has a learning curve-the culture, the people, the history. Judy came alongside me and began to mentor me. Her timely advice and words of wisdom provided the backdrop for me to build my ministry.

Because we shared space, there was a time (actually several times) when our Sunday School ministry had not taken care of all that we should on Sunday and Monday morning arrived to find rooms "less than ready" for the important ministry of weekday education. Judy would call me in her office, "Beth" she would begin and then go on to tell me what she had observed. She would remind me of expectations for shared space and then, she ended with some of the best advice I have ever received from a mentor, "Now that we have cleared this up, let's not speak on it again." And she wouldn't. She taught me the critical skill of confrontation in love and relationship. And the all important "not speaking of it again."

I began to seek wisdom also from Judy as a wife and Mom. Because she had some years of wisdom raising three awesome kids, she had the birds eye view to speak into my life in ways that blessed me as a mom. I could always count on her to provide the truth. Judy was known for guiding parents toward great decisions by helping them see the big picture. One piece of advice she gave me before I married Mark, "Now Beth, just keep in mind that as you marry Mark and together, you raise your four kids, there will be bumps in the road. But don't blame every bump on being a 'step family'. Sometimes raising kids, there are just bumps in the road." Wow! That advice has not only helped me sleep some nights but I have passed it on to countless step-families as they navigate their story.

In April, Judy and I took a trip with some other friends to Birmingham to hear a comedian and a podcaster that we liked. It was an multi-generational trip. We had a friend in their 30's, almost 40's, 50's (me), 60's and 70's. Judy provided the homemade snacks for the road, a whole lot of the laughter, and needed wisdom and advice. She didn't know at that point that this would be her last April, or her last big road trip with girlfriends but she said something the next morning that resonated with all of us. As we were leaving our hotel, Judy said, "I couldn't sleep last night thinking about all of the fun I had." In a world where speed and business are the hallmarks of success, she came alongside to show me how to treasure this day, this moment, this joy.

Last month I received a phone call from her daughter, Kim. Judy had been sick for several months and when they discovered that it was cancer, it was pretty far along. I went to the hospital and asked for a few minutes alone with her, which her sister and daughter were so gracious to give me. DANG! Judy! This is NOT what we planned. "No, it's not" she replied. We emotionally "kicked some tires" and maybe even thought some bad words (at least I did). And then...

Judy came alongside and mentored me once more. In those precious, few, tiny little weeks we had left with her, she showed me once more her heart for Jesus and her love for people. She intentionally spent her last days praising the One who gave her life, bragging on her family and pouring every ounce of energy into her grandkids. I visited her one day and accidentally sat on her Sunday School quarterly. Who still reads their Sunday School lesson while facing a death sentence with cancer? Who still takes time to praise Jesus and sing with the hospice chaplain? Who, still in her very last days still was teaching me the Joy and Strength of the Lord is all we will ever need? Judy Covington, sweet friend, I will honor your life and investment by coming alongside someone else and pouring into their lives maybe a portion of all of the wisdom you have given me. Maybe tonight I will stay up and think about the fun I had today-and wake up with a smile of gratitude for all God has given. Especially sweet friends like you.

  • Beth Bowman

It was the summer of 1982 and I had just completed my senior year of high school. I was packed up and headed to New Orleans for the summer. Carver Baptist Mission Center in New Orleans recruited recent high school graduates and college students to serve in their summer programs with children and students. The recruiting letter explained that we would be serving in an African American neighborhood. I was one of a team of 28 eager to serve who came to Carver that summer. I left, armed with a brand new NIV Bible, a heart to serve and an eagerness often apparent in people headed for the mission field with a target and a goal.

My parents and my grandmother took me to Carver on the appointed day. We were met by Bro. Herbert Martin at the door. He was tall with an old fashioned flat top hair cut, filled with a contagious enthusiasm for mission work and...black. We stood there in shock while Bro. Martin explained the program to my parents-what was expected, where we would stay, etc.

Soon the other summer missionaries arrived and my parents and grandmother started the trip back home. I don't think any of them were settled about leaving me and I sure was not settled about staying. Although the presence of the other summer missionaries helped, I could not see beyond basic skin color. My lofty ideas were being challenged. They needed to be.

The summer was filled with heart change-both from the kids we served and in my heart. Although there are a tremendous amount of memories from that summer, one memory stands out the strongest. One of the tasks of the summer missionaries was to take turns riding the van for pick up. I don't remember if I volunteered or was assigned but the first day of picking up the kids for the summer program, it fell to me and my summer missions partner to help. As soon as the van left the mission center, Bro. Martin opened up a large box of ginger snaps (he ate these by the boatload), turned to me and asked, "So, Beth, tell me about your time alone with God today and what He said to you."

Now I am in shock that he talks about the Lord, well, like...he knows Him. Like, really knows the Lord. I have no idea what I said, or if I said anything at all. I do remember that Bro. Martin proceeded to ask the other summer missionaries about their time with the Lord and then, he shared about what God was showing him in the Bible and how those verses impacted him. As he shared, my heart was challenged. Here was someone whose faith permeated conversations and whose love for God was evident in His actions. Here was a black man whose faith was so vital and so alive that he couldn't stand it until he shared it with someone. I was used to having these conversations only in Sunday School and well, in a group of all whites. Not like, well, on a bus full of inner city kids, cookies flying around and in the noise and traffic of a metropolitan city.

Bro. Martin died this year...a fact that makes me very sad. It doesn't upset me because he is gone-his body is healed and he is with the Lord. But it makes me sad in that I never told him what he meant to me. Or how this girl experienced a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian-without bias or prejudice or preconceived notions.

Bro. Martin, thank you for investing in this eagertoserve but notwelltraveled girl and hundreds of college students just like me over the course of your ministry. Thank you for seeing, not what I was but what I could be as I grew into being a more mature Christian. Thank you for seeing past my faults and challenging me to become all I could be in Christ.

I hope that you know that the person I am today (and hope to grow to tomorrow) is because of your investment. I wanted you to know that my love for people of all colors and cultures started when I walked into Carver and met you.

I can't wait to see you again....I'll bring the ginger snaps.


Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Dear Sunday School Teacher

I know you are a bit overwhelmed trying to navigate what life should look like during this Coronavirus. With school schedules, work responsibilities and family life in disarray, it's easy to set aside your church volunteering responsibilities but here are 6 plus 1 quick ways you can continue to teach and invest in little lives while home and doing your part to prevent a spreading virus.

1. PRAY for the kids on your roll-by name. Call out each individual name to our Heavenly Father. Picture each face as you pray, asking God to bring comfort, peace, healing, and joy. Pray for their parents, too...maybe a whole lot!

2. WRITE to your kids. Send each an individual note and let them know you are thinking about them and praying for them. Include a question about the last Sunday School Bible lesson you taught or a question and the verses for the lesson this next week. If you have access to any Bible lesson activity pages or worksheets, mail those with your note. Adding a joke is optional but sure appreciated. Find cute jokes here: https://redtri.com/best-jokes-for-kids/slide/1

3. Make PHONE calls to any of your class guests from the past six months. Use the current crisis as a springboard to check on kids and their families. Many of your previous guests may be kids whose families are not plugged into a faith community. This provides a great chance to share with them your church's response to the virus and what your church is offering in spiritual growth for this time.

4. VIDEO your Bible lesson for this Sunday and send it out to all of your kids. Be sure to keep it upbeat and fun. Your example shows Bible teaching and spiritual growth is a priority-no matter what is going on in the world.

5. Depending on the age of your class members, USE APPS such as GroupME, WhatsAPP, or SLACK or Social Media groups such as on FACEBOOK to create a group for your kids and their parents. Host a Bible Trivia Contest on a particular day and time. Award small prizes to winners (toilet paper anyone?) -be sure to mail the prizes as soon as you are able.

6. Encourage FAMILY MEMORIES with a Photo Challenge! Ask families to take crazy pictures and post them in whatever platform you use. For instance: Post a video of your family singing a hand washing song or post a picture of your family gathered in the smallest place possible in your house.

7. In every interaction with your kids, REMIND them of God's love and thoughts toward us. His care toward us exceeds any and every crisis we may face-

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!          How vast is the sum of them!

If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.          When I awake, I am still with You.

I know you gifted, dedicated teachers also have some secret sauce you are using to keep up with your Sunday Schoo kids, please let me know! Let's encourage each other as we love the kids God has entrusted to us.

Booking your Sunday School leadership Fall Training Event?

Contact me at beth@bethbowman.net

I stinking love to equip kids ministry volunteers to serve!