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Church helps in ‘molding’ children

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Tom Bailey of Alexandria, Va., was either the craziest preacher at the recent National Baptist gathering in Charlotte, N.C., or the most courageous.

I vote for most courageous. For if the church is to play a part in building a better world, it will be men like Bailey with chutzpah to get the job done.

You want nerve?

Bailey came to the Congress of Christian Education with 29 children ages 6 to 16. Some are too young to read the Bible, much less put its principles into action. Yet here he was in Charlotte with 60,000 Baptist brethren, leading these young'uns to where they need to go.

I spotted Bailey and his flock on the second floor of the convention center. The 46-year-old pastor of Victory Temple Missionary Baptist Church outside Washington was trying to keep his eye on everyone. It wasn't hard, since most everyone was asleep on the convention carpet after an all-night bus ride. With the children singing "Praise Him in the Sanctuary," Bailey said, you couldn't doze long on the charter bus.

While the children curled up on the hard floor, Bailey and I spoke of the need for these kids to come to the convention and see church on a grander scale. To see a movement of God powerful enough to fight the evil that all of our children will inevitably confront on the street.

In his day, Bailey said, kids dabbled in danger, whether it was rock 'n' roll or cruising Main Street. Today, too many kids immerse themselves in the wrong thing — and the wrong thing often involves sex, drugs or violence.

If we don't take their hand early and lead them to church — and church conventions — someone else might take their hand and lead them down the wrong street.

That conviction echoed throughout the convention, from Christians who understand that parents can't do the job alone. The faith community has to help mold children, including the 10,000 attending the convention.

Bonnie James, 37, of Mobile, Ala., remembers that if she did wrong as a child, her neighbors felt empowered to whup her. Then she'd go home and get another whupping.

James came to the convention with her three children, ages 7, 11 and 17. She is determined to let Antyane, Antyonette and Anthony understand that an entire village has a hand in their raising.

But instead of the back of a neighbor's hand, they get Bible lessons at the front of a church.

"You have to teach your kids," James told me, "You have to stay on 'em."

I listened last week as 1,000 youths rehearsed a spiritual number they were to perform for the convention.

They sat at attention, listening to every order of the choir conductor, including the one to take out their gum. Singing "Amen" over and over, they became louder and louder as their leader commanded them to "Raise the roof!"

The young people were disciplined, passionate, faithful.

They're on the right track.

And there was no doubt they were loud enough to awaken any little ones still asleep on the convention center floor.

Ken Garfield is the religion editor at The Charlotte Observer. Write to him at: The Charlotte Observer, 600 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NC 28232.