Takin’ It to the Streets

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The Winner’s Circle outreach is changing the lives of children
and an entire community in Windsor, Ontario

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Calling all winners, it’s time to gather ’round. Calling all
winners, it’s time for the Winner’s Circle!”

It’s Saturday morning, and Stacey Quinlan issues a call that’s
become familiar to boys and girls at three parks in Windsor,
Ontario. Within minutes, over 50 children race from homes and
playgrounds to join the festivities. For the next hour, kids from
ages 3 to 13 are treated to nonstop action for the body, soul, and
spirit.

In two years, the Winner’s Circle has become Windsor’s most
successful children’s outreach. Its volunteers reach people in a
predominantly Muslim district, in a low-income neighborhood, and in
a middle-class subdivision.

Start your engines, and follow along to learn more about this
ministry from the start to finish line.

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START YOUR ENGINES

The idea for this multicultural ministry sprang from the hearts of
Windsor Christian Fellowship’s children’s church leaders, Rob
Quinlan and Frank Krall in 1999. Together with their wives, Stacey
and Sherri, they wanted to take a Sunday school program into their
community. After much prayer and planning, a community Easter egg
hunt (used as a pilot project for the Winner’s Circle) exceeded
their wildest expectations and confirmed that they were moving in
the right direction.

“We all have a passion to reach kids for Jesus,” says Frank,
father of three. “And we wanted to take this desire into the roads
and county lanes of our community, in accordance with Luke 14:23.”

“We held the Easter party in April 2000 in an area populated by
first-generation Muslims,” says Rob. “The possibility of an
unresponsive audience would test our resolve to bring the gospel to
the streets.”

The initial plan they followed for the Easter program was the plan
they’d later implement for the Winner’s Circle program. After
approaching the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in March
with the plans and permit applications, Frank toured different
parks until he felt satisfied that God was directing them toward
Crowley Park on the west side of Windsor. Next, he met families and
became familiar with the area. The Quinlans and Kralls then
educated their volunteers about the culture they’d encounter.

“It’s important to understand customs and traditions,” says Frank.
“Pork is forbidden for Muslim people, so we only served all-beef
hot dogs. A few parents asked for the packages and were pleased
with what they read. The Apostle Paul said he had become all things
to all men in order to save some (
1 Corinthians 9:22
), and we wanted to follow his
example.”

At 2 p.m. on the day of their Easter program, the Easter egg hunt
began. The volunteers set up registration and game tables, secured
a stage, and beckoned children over loud speakers to join the fun.
For the next two hours, children registered for prize drawings,
participated in games, and listened intently to Bible stories and
object lessons. The actual Easter egg hunt was divided into age
categories so all children received a fair share of candy. When the
fun wound down, Rob gave a simple message proclaiming God’s love
for all and asked if anyone would like to become a Christian.

“We couldn’t believe the response,” says Stacey. “Five hundred
kids had registered, and over 350 responded with a show of hands!
We passed out hundreds of New Testaments that day and praised God
for his goodness.”

LET’S GO RACING

Back at Windsor Christian Fellowship, the Kralls and Quinlans
quickly moved to follow up on the success of their trial program.
Since Windsor is the automotive capital of Canada, the team chose a
racing theme and christened their new endeavor the Winner’s Circle.
They called their volunteers Team Victory and established a set of
“racing rules” as guidelines for the children to follow.

“Every kid is a winner in God’s eyes, and our message is ‘You can
win in the race of life,’ ” says Sherri. “Team Victory has smaller
groups called Pit Crews, and each person wears a golf-style shirt
with our logo on it.”

God’s hand was in the selection of the racing theme as in many
other decisions. When Frank attended a NASCAR event, he received a
Victory Bible containing pictures of Christian drivers. Then upon
close inspection of a car transporter, he saw a black and white
winner’s circle tiled on the floor. And the various mechanics’
tools reminded him of his own Winner’s Circle spiritual “toolbox”
containing Scripture verses, songs, and powerful teaching tools
that the team used to repair and maintain children’s lives. When he
brought these ideas back to the group, they enthusiastically
embraced the additional theme-related ideas.

By July 2000, the weekly outreach was ready to begin. But in order
to make this a regular Saturday morning event, Team Victory needed
more equipment.

HAULING THE GOOD NEWS

Frank and Sherri learned of an inner city children’s outreach
called Operation Stitches. The program uses enclosed trailers
rather than buses to house equipment. The Winner’s Circle leaders
decided to do the same.

“Our enclosed 20-foot, dual-axle trailer is practical and
dependable,” says Rob, father of four. “It can be left in one spot
or pulled by various vehicles.”

“The money came from our 1,500- member congregation. After hearing
of the Easter egg hunt’s success and our vision for this outreach,
the people willingly gave more than we needed. The extra money was
used to outfit the trailer and buy enough prizes, food, and toys to
give us a good start.”

The trailer was custom-made to meet the ministry’s needs. One side
folds down into a 7×16-foot stage that’s used for puppets, Bible
stories, and object lessons. The trailer also houses a built-in
sound system, portable generator, and prize boards. The inside
walls are decorated with cartoon racing figures, and the Winner’s
Circle logo is painted across the trailer’s shell in bright yellow
letters on a black and white checkered background.

CHOOSING A PIT CREW

As every children’s ministry leader knows, volunteers are the
backbone of every successful outreach. But true ministry only
happens if people willingly support their leaders. So the Winner’s
Circle chooses volunteers based on their “armor bearer” mentality.
This armor bearer concept comes from ancient Israel. People who
carried the armor of warriors were called armor bearers. They
willingly put aside personal agendas to encourage and protect the
warriors.

“Frank and I learned this concept in Bible school,” says Sherri.
“Many people want to be in the ministry, but few really desire to
serve. As armor bearers to Rob and Stacey, Frank and I serve them
in any capacity needed. We help keep the trailer stocked,
coordinate schedules, and do whatever else is necessary so they can
oversee the entire outreach. Rob and Stacey are our leaders, and we
need to be role models for the rest of the team.”

When volunteers sign up to be part of Team Victory, each person is
fully aware of the required commitment. From June to September,
every Friday night and Saturday morning are spoken for. When a team
member is on vacation, other volunteers perform more than one job.
Because of the time sacrifice required, the Quinlans and Kralls
make the outreach a family affair.

“Many workers participate alongside their spouses and kids,” says
Stacey. “We have daughters on the dance team, sons helping out with
games, and both participating with puppets or interacting with the
children. This serves a two-fold purpose: We aren’t neglecting our
families, and we’re learning together what ministry and selfless
giving are all about.”

HITTING THE STREET

To get the neighborhood of Crowley Park ready for the outreach
each week, Team Victory members knock on doors on Friday nights
throughout the summer and talk with parents and children. Each team
member briefly explains the Winner’s Circle program and then hands
each child a registration card and a piece of gum (with the
parent’s permission, of course).

Team Victory understands that not everyone is ready for the
Winner’s Circle. “Getting to know each family is important,” says
Frank. “But we have a motto that says, ‘Don’t bruise the fruit.’ If
someone isn’t receptive, then we smile and say, ‘Thank you’ and go
on to the next house.”

These brief meetings give insight into needs families might have,
such as food or clothing. Many families lack these necessities, so
Windsor Christian Fellowship’s benevolent ministry comes to the
rescue. God also intervened in one case with a miraculous provision
of furniture.

“Shortly after we started, a congregation member was talking to a
lawyer at a local health club,” continues Frank. “The lawyer was
closing an estate, and the family didn’t want anything from the
house. When told of the Winner’s Circle, the lawyer arranged to
have everything bequeathed to us. We quickly distributed about
$5,000 worth of furniture, and to this day we have household goods
donated and distributed on a regular basis.”

On Saturday, July 5, 2000, the first Winner’s Circle call went out
at Crowley Park. Within minutes, children scrambled over with
registration cards and scurried about playing games while music
played over the sound system. When Bible story and object lesson
time came, the kids sat down on tarps.

With much of the teaching centered on morals (don’t covet your
neighbor’s Game Boy video games) and family values (respect your
mom and dad), it was easy to get the community to buy in. Cultural
centers and grocery and toy stores willingly donated food and
prizes. Even nonprofit organizations donated money to help defray
the costs.

“During the summer, we also applied a principle I learned from
working with kids,” says Frank. “There’s always a ‘child of
influence.’ He or she is a leader in the making and can easily make
or break an outreach. At Crowley Park, it was a boy named Hussan
Bazzi. With Hussan’s help, we quickly had over 50 kids in regular
attendance.”

When it came time to wind down the Winner’s Circle at the end of
that first summer, volunteers wanted to leave on good terms and let
the children know the outreach would return the following
year.

“We really felt impressed to do something special,” says Rob.
“After discussing ideas with our church leadership, we settled on a
back-to-school bash. Thanks to the generosity of local businesses
and benevolent individuals, we handed out 98 backpacks full of toys
and school supplies on our final day at the park.”

Thanks to press releases sent to local newspapers and radio and TV
stations, the day became a media event with local politicians
lending support. Phone calls poured in the following week, and
donors pledged enough money to repeat the back-to-school event in
2001.

The Winner’s Circle team invited hairdressers and dentists to the
event. “We wanted these kids to look and feel their best for their
first day back to school,” says Rob.

MOVIN’ ON

Over the winter of 2000, the Quinlans and Kralls expanded their
Winner’s Circle vision to include two more parks. This major
undertaking called for additional workers, prizes, and food. The
staff reorganized schedules and raised up new leaders. After much
prayer and consultation with church leadership, they added
Drouillard and Devonwood parks.

The new parks were chosen for their proximity to Windsor Christian
Fellowship and Crowley Park. All three were within one-half hour of
the church and 20 minutes from each other. A change of venues also
meant a change in demographics.

“The Drouillard Park area has many broken families,” says Stacey.
“The parents were suspicious of our motives when we initially set
up, and it was hard for the kids to attend.”

Devonwood Park was also unique because it’s surrounded by
middle-class families. The children had their own entertainment and
weren’t looking for anything new. But throughout the summer of
2001, area residents at both parks warmed up to the Winner’s
Circle. Attendance climbed to 40 at Drouillard and 35 at
Devonwood.

“We’d like to see more kids, but we’re still touching lives,”
continues Stacey. “After one program, a mother and child came up to
speak with us.” After Team Victory prayed for the mother and son,
both chose to follow Jesus as their Savior.

To raise funds for the new park outreaches, Rob held barbecues at
local soccer games and at different events around Windsor. They
also set up a golf tournament as a yearly fund-raiser. A few
members of the church still contribute monthly, including one
grandmother who consistently gives $100. However, even though local
merchants continue to support the outreach, meeting the increased
expenses is an ongoing challenge.

“We’re still using one trailer to cover three parks,” states Rob.
“So our Saturdays are very hectic. We meet at Crowley Park by 9:30
a.m., and we’re ready to go by 10. After finishing at 11, we arrive
at Devonwood by 11:30 and start at noon. At 1 p.m., we eat while on
the move to Drouillard, set up at 1:30, and begin at 2. By 3, we
start moving everything back to the church.”

Knowing everyone is exhausted by the end of the day, Team Victory
plans a weekly barbecue at someone’s house. But by the next
weekend, everyone is excited and raring to go again.

FACING THE FINISH LINE

Despite the demands the Winner’s Circle makes on their time, the
volunteers look at the outreach as a labor of love. Eager new
leaders, such as Simon and Donna Hughes and their three children,
are being trained to take over one of the existing park outreaches.
A core group of six works at all three parks, with other volunteers
rounding out each park team to 12 or 15 Team Victory members. The
group is praying for two more trailers that’ll help with schedules
considerably. They’re also considering adding a fourth park. And
characters such as Go Get ‘Em Goose and Believer Beaver are
scheduled to join Mighty Mo the Moose — the outreach’s official
adult-size mascot — in the near future.

“We’d also like to bus the kids back to our church for a regular
Saturday morning program in the fall and winter,” says Rob. “At
some point, we want to help moms and dads learn basic skills such
as reading and writing, learning computers, writing resumes, and
biblical instruction on raising their kids.”

A local campground has also invited Team Victory to hold Sunday
morning services on long holiday weekends. With hundreds of campers
on site, the Winner’s Circle has a ready-made audience of up to 400
kids. At a recent service, 150 children and 30 adults chose to
follow Jesus as their Savior.

“God’s hand is upon this ministry,” says Frank. “So he already
knows what we need and what lies ahead. It’s our job to do what
God’s Word says: Love God first, then love our neighborhood kids by
raising them up to be winners for God. As we continue to follow
God’s vision, we’re assured that he’ll send us provision.”

Simon Presland is a free-lance writer in Essex,
Ontario.

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