On the flip side of my Hershey’s History adventures, I recently developed the non-profit ministry which I christened: “Castra Ministries.” Castra Ministries was created as an outreach ministry of our home church, Tomah Baptist Church. Its purpose is travel to other churches around the State (or even further), in order to better educate and train people about Christian life during the first century, Time of Christ, and to help those people better understand the Bible with a hands on approach to that period. My family and I would dress as 1st Century Roman citizens, and I as a Roman soldier or Centurion, bringing the display we have developed through our many years of Ancient Roman Reenacting. When my father in law first presented this idea to us, we had no notion how it would take off or how we would even make it work.
So we modified our Hershey’s History brochure (by “we,” I mean my talented wife, of course!) and sent out the first batch of 100 legion foot soldiers into the field of battle on our behalf. I did not know how my first century battalion would fare, but we prayed and began preparations nonetheless.
Our first summer of Castra Ministries involved a full campaign of Vacation Bible School (VBS) engagements. Within the week of the brochures being sent, we began receiving phone calls from curious and interested pastors, preparing their VBS programs. We had VBS listed as one of the bullet points, in the thought of perhaps being utilized as a 1 day guest speaker for the missionary story so something. While we had contemplated creating a whole VBS program from our materials, we had no immediate plans of developing this concept just yet. Unfortunately, that was not clear to the pastors who had called us. They were all anticipating the prospect of a fully developed, week-long VBS program–complete with us leading songs, games, stories, activities, and other related materials! After I kindly explained that I still had a full-time job, and would not be able to take weeks off at a time for the summer to run such a program, I worked out arrangements for weekend forays, sometimes even 3 day sessions, in order to help kickoff their current VBS plans or end them with a BANG!
So, rushing headlong into the fray, and recently concluding into a much needed period of rest, we began the adventure. For those of you that follow Castra Ministries on Facebook, you may have seen how this past summer went for my wife, son and myself. We traveled across the State of Wisconsin, and even into Illinois working with kids and adults, teaching them the truth of God’s Word, as well as the history of the New Testament Church, most often emphasizing the Armour of God.
As you know, my wife and I were excited at the positive response that we received earlier this Apring when we presented our ministry for the first time at Tomah Baptist Church. However, we had no way of realizing how much the churches in Wisconsin were interested in what we were doing. Since this was a new ministry, and due to constraints of my work schedule, we were able to take on five VBS programs from weeks of June through August. No Roman soldier ate at more McDonalds than I. Surely I’ll be drinking poska here to the next Feast day just to lower my cholesterol.
We toured for different churches in a six-week span. Every church received us warmly and were excited to see a real Roman soldier clad in armor and talking about God’s Word(BTW, the most asked question seemed to be, “Is that a real sword?”) I couldn’t help but feel like all true Roman soldiers on campaign. The weather was agreeable. The local populace most hospitable, and the objective was to win souls for the glory of the Lord. I have to believe that that latter point will bear itself out over time. It’s so hard to gauge how many lives we actually touch by the work that we do for the Lord, but I trust him for the increase.
This campaign season taught us a lot about preparation, and my wife and I talked extensively about the things that we would like to do differently next year should the Lord allow it. Yet, to keep this blog within a Roman theme I would have to compare our first VBS to Caesar’s crossing of the English Channel to invade Britain.
Our first church was not in Wisconsin, but in Illinois; and it was not Baptist, but it was Covenant. The good people at Northwest Covenant Church received us with a hero’s welcome! Everything was neat and orderly, and well done. I must confess, I had First Church Jitters. as did my wife. The hardest part for us was having to leave our son behind in the loving care of his Nana and Papa. We arrived at the church on time, and this allowed us to set up our display tables. The noisy throng of children was not unlike that which met Caesar at the shores of the mist shrouded island. They were ready for action and eagerly anticipated our arrival. I, on the other hand, had limited experience with children, most of all were easily 3rd grade and under. I must congratulate the parents of these children, because they certainly were very patient with me and had a lot of questions at the ready. Fortunately, my wife has plenty of experience with children, and filled in gaps and took notes for areas we could make more “kid-friendly” in the future. She marched ahead of me banging her huge Roman frame drum with great pomp and circumstance, while I made my grand entrance in full Roman soldier legionnaire gear. The kids were properly impressed!
After my first presentation, I hurried to the back to where my wife and I stood at our tables and answered questions about the different artifacts and replicas and the ancient instruments that we brought. Trying on the helmet was a regular theme of VBS, and one I greatly enjoyed. One of the things that my wife and I are committed to is providing the hands-on experience of being able to touch things that people from the New Testament world would have seen every day. The kids were delighted and although we learned some valuable lessons about how to work it out so that we could talk over the cacophony of sounds coming from my wife’s instrument display, the children and parents alike all expressed how much they appreciated this unique experience. So we knew that we were on the right track and in the right place, doing the right thing. We returned our hotel that evening exhausted, but satisfied.
The next morning, we left and headed back for Wisconsin with the experience of our first VBS under our belt. My wife and I contacted the pastor of our next church while on the way back from the first.Our second church VBS was Havenwood Baptist Church in Hurley, Wisconsin. I must say, the Lord put a special burden on my heart for this town shrouded in the mists and forest of Northern Wisconsin. This area seemed not unlike the Germania that Caesar encountered. Again, we were met with friendly hospitality, but in a much smaller setting than in the previous week. Hurley is a hard town spiritually, and the children face a lot of challenges trying to live a godly life. The town was also desperate to win the mining bill, which would give them the rights to open up the iron and copper mines to various companies and bring jobs back to their community. I thought it was ironic that I was wearing armor that was composed of iron and brass. I hoped the armor was a testimony to the people who saw me because it is that iron and brass which their economy needs; however, Christ offers more than just material wealth. And while our Lord would not want anyone to go hungry, the spiritual hunger in this town is very acute. My wife began furiously preparing more VBS ready material to go with our Armour of God presentation, including handouts, songs, writing custom music, crafts and suggested game ideas, while I began industriously preparing multiple sermon and interactive presentations for these 3 day style events that we had originally anticipated only doing one or two presentations per event. For some, I had to prepare as many as six or more separate messages! This really kept me on my toes and in God’s Word.
The third venture for Castra Ministries was closer to home. We attended the First Baptist Church of New Lisbon, Wisconsin. It was a weeklong VBS, but I was only involved in the 3 days: the Sunday night VBS kickoff, the Monday morning opening, and the Friday morning closing. In New Lisbon, I had to go it alone for days one and two, since my wife and son were ill, yet, by this time, my abilities in working with the kids had vastly improved. It was also my first showing of my Centurion crest I had made (with help from more talented crafters such as my wife and also fellow Roman legion member). All the kids asked questions about it, and I was all too happy to respond. I also modeled my chain mail for the first time. It was a lot heavier than I thought it’d be.
Originally it draped just past my knees. I later had the help of my Roman legion commander out of Milwaukee help me trim some of it down to size a little. I imagined a Roman soldier at a blacksmith shop, having his chain mail fitted to size, standing patiently, while his calf muscles protested, and finally rejoiced when the extra weight was removed from the rest of the armour. Meanwhile, our littlest Roman, (my son) was tasked with retrieving all the little snipped bits of chain links that flew off into all directions from the process. My wife tried valiantly to make a game of this job, and even offered a lollipop bribe, but it quickly lost its appeal with the amount of work still involved, so further recruits were quickly drafted to help complete that job. I was still missing my Centurion metal harness (the phalarae), but it was on order from Germania…no really! We had to have it shipped from India to Germany, then to us here in the U.S.! The kids didn’t mind though. They were just impressed to see my gear as a whole, and I was still able to expand on the Armour of God effectively. My wife was able to make it to the final closing day too, and lent a welcome perspective of civilian life in her attire, that all the little girls enthusiastically appreciated, along with her talented musical display.
Our fourth and final VBS engagement of the summer was at the First Baptist Church in Union Grove Wisconsin. I had to deliver a total of 8 presentations over 2 days. While my wife and I and our son were all on hand, this was more a speaking engagement than anything else. They certainly had VBS going on at that time, but I spent more time addressing the adults (which I really enjoyed) for a full Family VBS style program, and interspersing the program for the kids. I don’t know if anyone came forward for salvation. I know one person (a believer) did express they felt the need to get right with the Lord, after hearing one of my messages, and I pray for them. I’d like to give a special congratulations to Pastor Schlegel, who is approaching 25 years of service this coming February. Their church was very kind to us and I really appreciated the sweet spirit of the members there who helped with I and my family during our stay.
One of my burdens as a historian, was my desire to get the historical information to as many people as possible in the most interesting and useful format that I could. It’s one thing to open up a textbook and talk about the Roman Empire, or this Caesar, or that general, or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and do it in a classroom setting. However, I don’t believe that doing it that way can engage as many people as what I would like to do with this ministry or with my Hershey’s History business. The average person on the street will probably never hear what I have to say if I’m in a classroom. My goal with the Hershey’s History website, as well as the Castra Ministries page at the TBC website is to engage and educate the greatest number of people with information that would otherwise only be heard in the classroom. That does not mean I want to become too dry or
academic, but there is a place for my ideas and presentations. My goal is to make history a little more user-friendly and fun, even tangible.
Overall I am very excited at the prospects one friend pointed out to me while I was cashiering at Walmart, after I related to her some of the adventures that I experienced through my Castra Ministries. She said that it was nice that I’d finally be able to use that Masters degree for its intended purpose. To that I had to smile and agree wholeheartedly. It’s not every day that we get to do the things we like to do and be recognized for it. I certainly don’t think or want to become famous for this endeavor, but I definitely feel fulfillment when I go out with my wife and son and our traveling museum, and talk about Roman history and its impact on the New Testament and vice versa. Castra Ministries is definitely a church outreach program. I hope to make Hershey’s History more than a website. I think with some work, Hershey’s History could actually become a community outreach program that would allow me to speak to the public about the roots of Western civilization and how the Romans helped create the world that we live in. Just as Julius Caesar’s first steps into Gaul paved the way for Roman expansion in the North, maybe this first summer campaign of mine will lead to greater opportunities and teach greater numbers of people the value of history today.
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