Children from the Spanish Adventist Church of Hollywood, Florida, perform a song as part of the unveiling of this year’s “The Talking Backpack” initiative which will include face emojis that describe the beatitudes mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. The initiative presented in Miami, Florida, on Feb. 18, 2020, includes a series of character building traits that will help children all across Inter-America learn about Christian values and share Jesus’ love and share with their peers at school, at home and wherever they go. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

February 23, 2020 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division

Children and adolescents ministries leaders from throughout the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Inter-American Division (IAD) met to strengthen their commitment to teaching Christian values. The leaders met for two days of meetings in Miami, Florida, United States, Feb. 18-19, 2020.

The dozens of regional leaders celebrated the success of Inter-America’s most comprehensive evangelism initiative called “The Talking Backpack,” a program which allows children and adolescents to earn patches and pins as they study and learn character building traits every month through various activities at local churches as well as Adventist schools throughout the territory.  The meetings introduced new materials and resources dedicated to continuing discipling children and adolescents across the IAD during a year in which the Adventist world church commemorates the 25th anniversary since the children’s ministries department was established.

Dinorah Rivera (left), children and adolescents ministries director for the church in Inter-America, introduces the third edition of The Talking Backpack this year to nearly 200 leaders from throughout Inter-America’s unions, or major regions. Esmeralda Guzman (right) of South Florida translates the message. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

“Our main goal is to ensure that every child and adolescent throughout Inter-America is cared for through the different initiatives and activities that we have been called by God to do,” said Dinorah Rivera, children and adolescents ministries for the church in Inter-America.  “It is because of your dedication and love for this ministry that so many children and adolescents have witnessed for Jesus and expanded God’s Kingdom.”

Rivera announced that the third edition of “The Talking Backpack” would focus on the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5. Rivera unveiled some of the new resources that are available in English, Spanish, and French, which includes a manual, animated videos, activity workbooks, face emojis, pins and patches that will be part of this year’s focus. The year will also see children and adolescents equipped to lead in small group ministries with their peers.

Linda Koh, children’s ministries director for the Adventist world church, encouraged leaders to continue following Jesus as their Master.

Linda Koh, children’s ministries director for the Adventist world church, reminds the delegation that they were chosen by God to make disciple-makers in children. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

“God chose us to be His disciples so we can be like Him in the way we love others, in the way we treat children,” said Koh. “With our weaknesses, with our strengths, He has chosen us to be children’s leaders, we are called to impact those lives.” Koh also reminded them that God also chose them to bear fruit, to have compassion and never be too busy to spend time in prayer and to study the Bible everyday and make children disciple makers too.

Edith Ruiz, children and adolescents ministries director for the Southeast Mexican Union, said the new character traits on the beatitudes like being humble, peacemakers, joyful and more will provide the right tools to follow-up last year’s The Talking Backpack success. More than 25,000 children in the seven regional fields she oversees got involved in the monthly program all across local churches last year, said Ruiz. Hundreds of children were baptized as part of The Talking Backpack initiative, she said.

Ruiz began with this year’s backpack initiative already with the help of thousands of leaders in the territory. It’s an effort that involves monthly meetings and training to move forward together ministering to children and adolescents for this year’s impact, said Ruiz.

Delegates from the Caribbean Union territory join in the program on Feb. 18, 2020. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

“Every Sabbath, churches present a special video spot during church service shedding more light on the activities and programs that are part of the character building and discipleship ministry for children and adolescents,” said Ruiz. Children have their lessons on the special app and are being trained to lead in small groups to reach their peers in their neighborhoods and communities.

Raquel Medina, children and adolescents ministries for the church in East Venezuela, said the goal for this year is to reach more than 10,000 children with the character building traits that the Talking Backpack is focusing on. She is sure hundreds of leaders spread out across the eight regional conferences will double their committed efforts to disciple more children and adolescents. More than 7,500 took part in the initiative in 2018, and more than 8,500 in 2019. “We expanded the program to not only use it across our churches and Adventist schools but many other non-Adventist school teachers and leaders sought us out to implement it in their schools too,” said Medina.

Sample of a decorated “Talking Backpack” displaying the character building traits taught to thousands of children across Inter-America in 2018. [File Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

Medina shared that this year’s edition was launched already on January 25, all across Adventist congregations in Caracas and other cities comprising the East Venezuela Union, with a special communion service entitled Let’s have supper with Jesus. “All our leaders are so excited because the program this year continues to be so spiritual and has a mission focus as well. We are challenged and blessed to be part of such great work with the children,” Medina said.

Rivera urged all leaders to have courage in moving the initiative further. “No matter where you are, no matter how much or little you have, just like you have witnessed through Raquel Medina’s report from Venezuela, you have no excuse to do anything but your best for the kids and find ways for them to experience being blessed by sharing Jesus around them,” said Rivera. “‘The Talking Backpack’ is about preparing children to uphold values and principles that a Christian should have, help them strive to possess a character like Jesus, learn to have a spirit of service and mission as well as become part of the church’s commission to reach others for the kingdom of God,” Rivera said.

Raquel Medina (right), children and adolescent ministries director for East Venezuela shares the programs and activities already launched the first activity of The Talking Backpack initiative across her territory. Edith Ruiz (left) children and adolescents ministries director for Southeast Mexico listens in after she gave her on report. Dinorah Rivera (2nd left) looks on while Esmeralda Guzman (3rd from left) translates. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

Principal of Ace Academy of South Miami Lizzbeth Ixchu, who specializes in strategies to help parents improve their children’s behavior in promoting desirable attitudes and managing misbehavior, provided tools to help the delegation of children and adolescent leaders in their ministry.  “We have to be radical in our teaching of what the Lord says in the Word of God,” said Ixchu. “The role of the parent-teacher relationship will change but we need to strive to continue that positive education, reaching the physical, emotional, and intellectual needs of the children,” she added.  Ixchu also provided tools to cater to children with special needs.

The program included a performance by the children from the Spanish Adventist Church of Hollywood, Florida.

Lizzbeth Ixchu of Ace Academy of South Miami speaks to the dozens of children and adolescent directors on strategies they can use to improve children’s behavior through positive education and reinforcers. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

To find out more about Inter-America’s children and adolescent ministries, Click HERE

To view the full program of February 18, 2020, online, Click HERE

For the photo gallery, Click HERE

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