Suntanned from summer adventures, the children huddled under a picnic pavilion, listening intently to their instructors.
The kids were attending a 5 Day Club that came to their neighborhood at Pleasant Village in Altoona and were enthralled with the Christian message.
It's all fun and games at the clubs, which are sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, and led by summer missionaries. Most of the missionaries are local teens.
(Photo for the Mirror by Kristy MacKaben)Doing a dance during a 5 Day Club held in Pleasant Village in Altoona are (from left) Bradey Michaels, Luke Fleck and Charles Lohsl, all age 5, and Olivia Fleck, 4, all of Altoona
Leading the club at Pleasant Village were Abby Smith, 14, of Altoona and Austin Parker, 17, of Hollidaysburg.
"This is my third year. I really love the children. They're so much fun," said Austin, who also has led other free clubs this summer.
The five-day programs are held in local parks, pavilions, community centers or houses.
By summer's end, kids in 21 different neighborhoods will have attended the clubs open to ages 5 to 12 with the permission of their parents.
The kids sing, dance and make crafts while they learn about God.
"The goal is to give them the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ," said Jim Lowther, coordinator of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Pennsylvania.
The children memorize Bible verses, talk about Jesus and learn about missionaries in foreign countries.
Among the children is 5-year-old Luke Fleck of Altoona who has no trouble picking out the missing word from a Bible verse. Other kids cheer as he points to the correct word.
His sisters Sophia, 2, and Olivia, 4, know the words to every song and Bible verse despite their preschool status.
"This is so fun," said Bella Lego, 7, of Altoona.
It's all about fun to the children, as they jump, kick and perform karate dance moves while singing about Jesus.
"I teach the missionary stories, and I love working with the children," Abby said as she held out a tin jar for children to donate money to overseas missions.
Reaching children at a young age is the objective of Child Evangelism Fellowship.
"There's so much competition for ideas and lifestyles that we want to give them a spiritual base early. It's important to reach the child at a formative age," Lowther said.
The 5 Day Clubs are a small part of the mission of fellowship with international status that dates back to 1937.
The nonprofit organization not only has a branch in Altoona and other communities in the United States, but provides programs for children in Africa, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.
During the school year, Child Evangelism Fellowship sponsors Good News Clubs for elementary-aged children.
The clubs meet once a week, often during the school day, with the permission of parents, teachers and administrators.
Similar to 5 Day Clubs, the Good News Clubs teach about Jesus through fun activities.
"By law, a parent may ask that a child may have an hour of religious training per week," Lowther said, explaining there are Good News Clubs which meet near schools during the school day, and some meet at schools after school hours.
At Martinsburg Elementary, one of the teachers transports kids every Wednesday to the Martinsburg Grace Brethren Church for the Good News Club.
At Tyrone Elementary, the Good News Club is held in the building after school hours. At Roaring Spring Elementary, almost 100 children are transported to Faith Assembly of God Church in Roaring Spring during school hours. The teachers, helpers and drivers are thoroughly screened and trained to deal with children.
"We have Bible lessons, missionary stories, songs, memory verses, games, all in the context of Good News Clubs for elementary children," Lowther said.
At Good News Clubs, children are encouraged to have a daily quiet time devoted to God, and volunteers are asked to pray for the children.
A big part of the Child Evangelism Fellowship mission is working with local churches.
"We say that we are partnering with churches to reach children for Christ," Lowther said.
"We do want to provide an opportunity for churches to disciple children who come to the knowledge of Christ through clubs."
Last year there were 12 Good News Clubs that met locally, with 439 children enrolled. Lowther hopes more clubs will be active this year.
Anyone interested in starting a Good News Club, volunteering or learning more about Child Evangelism Fellowship can visit www.cefonline.com or call 1-800-300-4033 or 942-5222