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Ministry Dreams Winners 2011

To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we've spent a year making your dreams come true! Meet the five final winners of our Ministry Dreams Come True contest!

Watch our winners talk about their dreams and what they'll do with the funds! Go to childrensministry.com and click on the Children's Ministry Videocast link to view winners' videos!

It's official: Children's Ministry Magazine is 20 years young! As this major anniversary approached, we wanted to celebrate in style. And we wanted the celebration to be all about you, our faithful readers and subscribers! To honor the amazing, important work you do day in and day out, we decided to spend a year giving back -- giving away $20,000 in awards to 20 ministry dreamers. Over 1,000 of you sent in your ideas, plans, hopes, and dreams for your ministries. Each essay was packed with heartfelt hope and passion.

Our team has been blessed to read your ministry dreams. It's been a thrill -- and a real challenge -- to choose 20 winners to receive $1,000 as our way of affirming and supporting the eternal, wonderful ministry you're doing.

So read on to meet the five final winners of our Ministry Dreams Come True contest -- and go online to childrensministry.com to check out videos of the winners and their follow-up stories of how they used the money. And as you do, be encouraged. Although we couldn't award every essay $1,000, we certainly have celebrated every one. We've spent the year celebrating you, praying for you, laughing-and sometimes crying -- as we read your dreams and aspirations for impacting the lives of children. As we like to say around here, "Yay, you!"

KRISTA BRANNON and VALERIE BARNES
San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas
Krista wrote: Although I'm in ministry, my ministry dream isn't for myself but rather for my best friend, Valerie Barnes. Valerie is the children's director at Scotsdale Baptist Church in El Paso, Texas. Since meeting in seminary six years ago, Valerie and I have shared our personal and ministry hopes, dreams, successes, and struggles with each other. I don't know how anyone survives or succeeds in ministry without a confidante and prayer partner like her. Since taking our first ministry jobs out of seminary, we've laughed together, cried together, shared frustrations, and of course, celebrated together as we watch God work through our imperfections. I like to believe that I'm qualified to share her dreams as if they are my own. Among other things, Valerie has inherited a preschool area built circa 1970. As certified early childhood educators, we know the importance environment plays in the development of young children. Valerie wants the children to be free to play and explore in a safe, loving, and stimulating environment. She's worked hard to improve the area in cost-effective ways. The truth is the area is still in desperate need of a makeover. She wants to show parents that the church views young children as significant and worth investing in. She would love to add age-appropriate furniture, learning materials, and a storytime carpet to each room. As Valerie strives to minister to families with young children, I'd love nothing more than to support and encourage her by helping to provide the resources she needs to make her ministry dreams come true!

Our photographer Craig DeMartino met Krista in El Paso, Texas, to surprise Valerie with the ministry dream win -- and then go shopping!

"This is amazing," said Valerie when she learned her best friend had submitted a dream essay on her behalf. "This will make a huge impact on what we can do with the early childhood area. It's so important for parents to see that we value their children, and making the area more appealing and age-appropriate is a giant step in that direction!"


MELISSA WAGNER
Huntington, Indiana
Melissa wrote: I'm a part-time children's pastor at a small church in a rural town. Our church sits caddy-corner from an elementary school. It's "that" school that the rest of the town wouldn't want their kids going to. Families are mostly at poverty level and many parents are unemployed. Although we're small (about 50-75 adults) on a Sunday morning, God has used a bus ministry and mid-week program to reach kids in our community. We average between 30 and 50 kids -- and growing. My dream is to take all of these kids to camp for a week. Many have literally never left Huntington. I want to get them away from the hurts and distractions that keep them from Jesus. I want them to experience a world bigger than the few blocks around them. I want them to experience God in nature, to worship him with other kids, and to have the most fun they've ever had.

After learning that her ministry dream was chosen as a winner, Melissa said, "I am so grateful! Winning $1,000 for my ministry dream means that my dream of taking kids from our community to camp will become a reality. This fuels the passion I have for reaching our community for Jesus. I know that kids' lives will be changed. I believe that those who follow Jesus will catch a vision to reach their friends, and that we'll reach even more kids in the community after camp as we continue our ministry each week. I also know that this will build community in our church and among the leadership of our children's ministry as we have something so exciting to work toward. I can't wait to see the fruit God will bring!

"I've already contacted a local camp and set up dates for the camp for the first week of June. And then I started praying and dreaming about how many kids we can take, counselors, camp themes, and the list goes on. This win has inspired and challenged me to turn a God-inspired dream that has been living in me for a while now into reality. God will use this week to make an eternal impact; 10 years from now these same kids will say, 'Remember that week at camp? I committed my heart to Jesus there and it changed my life.' "


SHERRI STUFFLEBEEM
Des Moines, Iowa
Sherri wrote: My dream is to help a special needs family in our ministry. This family adopted twin boys from overseas almost five years ago. Both boys are blind (the adoptive mother is blind as well). When the boys first arrived, we thought they were simply suffering from the effects of a lack of care in their orphanage. We've since discovered severe autism along with other behavioral and learning disabilities. We struggle to find volunteers who are equipped to care for them. I'd love to be able to hire respite workers who are trained to manage the children's behaviors and make positive progress with them. One thousand dollars would go a long way toward hiring a skilled person to step in and help support this family.

"This money will allow us to share a blessing with a special family in our ministry -- worth so much more than $1,000," said Sherri. "The first thing I did was call the family and let them know that we could now minister better to them. We'll start looking for qualified respite staff right away. And I believe maybe God has an even bigger plan to use this money to help us see beyond our current efforts for reaching this family!"


ELIZABETH GOETT
Uganda
Elizabeth wrote: I have been doing short-term mission work in Uganda since 2006, but six weeks ago I moved to Uganda and have been working with the children there full-time. God has given me a huge passion for children, especially the little ones of Uganda. My focus is now on growing the children's ministry at my church.

The children have very little; they don't even have Bibles. I'd love to be able to buy them Bibles, get good resources to teach them, and also buy art supplies. It's a blessing to be a blessing. I desire to be God's hands and feet to these children and love him the way he's designed me to. I want to teach them about Jesus and his unfailing love more and more. The children of Uganda are beautiful, and through children's ministry I hope to continue to be able to open their eyes to who Jesus is.

Elizabeth was delighted to hear that her ministry dream won. Through email, she responded, "I've already met with the pastors of my church, Light the World, and they'd like me to get resources and plans together to grow the children's Sunday school! I'm really excited to see what God is going to do with the children and the community. Thank you so much for the big news! We at Light the World Church feel very grateful and blessed to receive this gift. I'm so excited to use it to further God's Kingdom!"


BROOK HICKLE
Enumclaw, Washington
Brook wrote: My dream is to give a big, huge thanks to my amazing group of kidmin volunteers. In the small church where I volunteer as children's ministries director, there isn't a budget for any volunteer appreciation. I want to do something to wow my volunteers. I could share individual stories about each volunteer and how that person has blessed me with a willingness to serve, but you'd be reading this for six months! I'm so thankful that these volunteers choose to use their vacation time and other time off to serve the children in our community. We began our vacation Bible school program in 2004 with 15 volunteers, and in 2010 we had 150 volunteers! I'd like to charter a bus to a retreat center in the Cascade Mountains and take my volunteers on a 1-day mini retreat. I want my volunteers to know that they are making a difference. My hope for the retreat is that it would not only thank and refresh them, but encourage them to continue serving and even inspire them to serve in new ways.

"Our amazing team of volunteers work so hard to bless the lives of children in our church and our community," said Brook. "I can't wait to bless all of them with a much deserved thank-you. I can treat and reward my volunteers in a way that I've never been able to do before. I've been praying for a way to show them my thanks and this is an answer to that prayer. No one in our ministry expects a reward of any sort, so what a fun way to surprise them and let them know they are vital to our children's ministry program. I'm challenged to use the money to do the very most and make the biggest impact for all my volunteers. This will be an event that they will remember-for sure!"



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