Envision with me an entire generation of children, youth and young adults becoming loving disciples of Jesus, empowered to fulfil their God-given callings. This is our passion and vision. It is important to ask, “What does that look like? What takes place in the life of a child, a young person, or a young adult that forms them into whole-hearted, whole-minded, whole-life followers of Jesus?”
In pondering this, I was drawn back—I believe by the Spirit—to revisit my story of faith, my testimony. I re-examined the scope and sequence of my life in Jesus as a child, a youth, and a young adult and contemplated this question: What are the commonalities that become evident in every generation of Christ followers?
My faith as a child began as the oldest child within a somewhat typical Edmonton family. My “Builder” parents experienced the boom and the result was five “Boomers,” three boys and two girls. My parents, who had elements of a Christian background from a United Church Sunday school (my dad) and a rural mission church (my mom), were not engaged in the life of the church by the time I entered elementary school. Life was hectic, with a new child every year or two and shift work dominating the schedule. My mom’s sister and her husband, who were newly married, determined that it was not good that the oldest Wells kids were not attending Sunday school. My parents gave them permission to come by the house to take us to a school where a branch Sunday school of Central Pentecostal Tabernacle was meeting. It was led by my uncle’s cousin and her husband.
The music, the Bible stories, the opportunities to participate, the atmosphere, and the loving people all captivated me. Week by week, month by month, and year by year, I found myself growing to understand the good news about Jesus and the need to apply it to my life. Somewhere along the way, I came to know Jesus personally.
There are a few moments of time that stand out in my memories of this season of my faith formation.
While in these younger years there was not a lot of intentional faith formation taking place within our home context, there was full parental support of our participation, not only in Sunday school, but in attending summer camps. At first my uncle and aunt, and later my parents, made sure that every July we were off to Sunnyside’s kids camps. Oh, sure, there were some strange things about it like the morning nail inspection to make sure we were clean, the bizarre action songs, and the promise of free “tuck” if we could demonstrate that we had been baptized in the Spirit … I’m not kidding. But, from the age of eight, I was impacted by a camp environment marked by Bible teaching and memorization, friendship and fun, caring directors and counsellors, and the genuine work of the Spirit, leading to my public confession of faith and the baptism of the Spirit with the initial sign of tongues.
My original opportunity to publicly participate at my branch Sunday school was also memorable and faith shaping. It was at a Christmas concert during my early elementary years. One year Mrs. Schram, the Sunday school director, was convinced I was ready to bring the greeting on behalf of all the kids. I practised, knew my lines, and when the time came, walked through the open curtains for my grand debut. As I opened my mouth, the very first words I uttered in public ministry were “I feel sick!” I raced off the stage, worried that I would vomit and further embarrass myself, Mrs. Schram, my aunt and uncle, and my parents, who were there to see me.
An amazing thing happened as the concert continued. Mrs. Schram came to comfort me, assured me that everything was OK, and then told me to take a little time to practise my lines again because they needed me to do my part. I would have another opportunity to welcome everyone. As the final part of the program that night, David Wells stepped out onto the stage and greeted the audience with the words, “Welcome to our Sunday school! We are glad to have you here …” I often wonder—if Mrs. Schram hadn’t had the wisdom and courage to find a way to get me back on that stage to do my part, would I have ever gone on to fulfil the public ministry the Lord has called me to in the years that have followed?
The important place that influential adults play in the life of a child cannot be overstated. My memories are not just of my aunt and uncle or my Sunday school director, but of a Sunday school teacher and usher named Wally who would get down at my level, look me in the eyes, and clearly communicate how he saw that God had His hand on my life and that I should pursue God’s calling on my life.
That encouragement was complemented by the words and example of my first pastor, Rev. Robert W. Taitinger. Although he was the pastor of over 1,000 people, he always seemed to zero in on the red-headed boy from the newer family that was now attending Central Pentecostal. To this day, His words and example at that time and his ongoing influence continue to mark my understanding of following Jesus and a life of ministry.
As a child attending elementary school, I experienced consistent, positive relationships within the Christian community which led to life-changing, personal experiences with God. His Word and Spirit became primary influences in my life. My passionate desire half a century later is that every Canadian child would have access to the same opportunity in their formative years. That remains the church of Jesus’ mandate and challenge. There are a lot of “Davids” out there waiting for us to show up in their lives with the loving, transforming message of Jesus.
Our heavenly Father, those of us who have known You from childhood express our whole-hearted worship for the life You have given us, the deep sense of purpose and calling You have instilled in us, and the influential relationships You have arranged for our lives. Now we ask You to direct and empower each of us to be the spiritual parents You would use to impact the current generation of children in Canada and globally. For Your glory. Amen.This article was written by David Wells, the general superintendent of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. This article appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of testimony/Enrich, the quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ©2019 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Visit www.testimonyenrich.ca.