Car racing and Christianity join forces this weekend at South Columbia Baptist Church.
Children in the church's Awana program have built, painted and decorated 7-inch, gravity-driven pine-wood cars they will race from noon to 3 p.m. tomorrow in the Awana Grand Prix at the church.
Awana is an international, Bible-oriented ministry to children that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. There are Awana clubs in 104 countries worldwide and in more than 8,000 U.S. churches, including eight in Howard County.
"The goal of Awana is to reach boys and girls for Christ," says Cindy Cannette, director of the Awana club at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Clarksville.
Paul Norris, South Columbia Baptist Church's Awana "commander," agrees. Norris says the purpose of Awana is "to present the Gospel to all of our clubbers, the Gospel message, which is real simple: Jesus Christ died for them and wants to have a personal relationship with them."
Greg McCarty of Laurel, whose children are in Awana, likes the program because it "makes the whole Christian experience fun [for the kids]." The car race at South Columbia Baptist is an important part of that fun.
McCarty's 3-year old twins, David and Colleen, showed off their freshly painted entries. David had big plans for his bright red car to go fast "on the table." The "table" is a 30-foot, inclined wooden track the men of the church built about seven years ago. The track's red, blue, green and yellow strips keep four cars at a time in their required lanes.
Mark Ridenour of Dayton said each race takes about 2.8 seconds. Ridenour had brought his power tools to the church to help club members carve their pine blocks into shapes of their own design. He also cut shallow holes so that the children could insert pennies to bring their cars to regulation weight (5 ounces maximum).
There are about 180 children, from preschool to ninth grade, in South Columbia Baptist's Awana program. Ridenour expects 60 to 70 entries on race day and a full house of family and friends to join the contestants for lunch, a Gospel message and races in different age categories. Every racer will receive a ribbon. The fastest and best-designed cars will win trophies.
Members of local Awana clubs can expect other entertaining events, from "Splat Night" at South Columbia Baptist (children get to throw cream pies at club leaders) to dress-like-your-parents night and "can-can" night (club members collect cans to raise money for their sister club in Zimbabwe) at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Clarksville.
"Our kids absolutely adore the Awana program," says the Rev. Ed Simpson, pastor of Harvester Baptist Church in Columbia. Simpson thinks Awana helps children grow into teens who will want to make the church part of their lives.
Member Kara Shockey, 8, of Fort Meade (red car No. 72 with the orange stripe) likes Awana because "you get to do verses."
"Verses" refers to the Bible memorization that is a key part of the program. Kara and her 6-year-old sister, Molly, "have grown leaps and bounds in their faith and how much they know about the Bible," said their father, Sean.
"They make it fun to learn the Bible," said Tricia Hastings of Fort Meade and mother of two girls in Awana. "They never had that when I was a kid."