By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
Ninth-grader Sam Downs was perfectly poised as he took turns holding up a Bible and cups of dirt. He and his fellow youth group member, Ella Silvera, were teaching Jesus’ “Parable of the Sower” to around 50 kids and their families, crowded into the Frederick Rescue Mission’s largest room.
The kids, armed with crafts and candy, nodded their heads, listening intently to Downs’ youthful voice read and explain the scripture.
“And so the good soil is when … the seed is nourished because it has things around it to help it grow. This is like when we hear the Word of God, and the people around us are able to teach us about Him and help us grow instead of tearing us down like the thorns do,” he explained, pausing before the grand finale.
“And then you become—WHAM!—a plant!” he smiled, revealing another cup, filled with a growing plant. “We grow up, and we can live in God, and we can have God’s love, and we can love God!”
He emphasized, “And that’s an awesome feeling—being loved by God!”
His demeanor is gentle and inviting as his closing prayer aptly restates his teaching points and his desire for everyone to know God.
A member of Summit Trace Baptist Church’s youth group, Downs had given his day to minister in downtown Frederick, Md., at the Frederick Rescue Mission, which offers a range of services, from emergency services to transitional shelters, to those in need in the community.
According to the Frederick Rescue Mission, over 230,000 people call Frederick County home. Of those, 10,500 people in the county make less than $11,136 per year—the national poverty level. In addition, 16,000 county residents are considered “working poor”—earning between $11,136 and $24,000 a year (the “self sufficiency” income in Frederick County).
Moreover, in Frederick City, ten percent of those 25 years old and over have less than a high school education, and over 600 Frederick County public school students were identified as homeless at some point during the 2011-2012 school year.
In high school himself, Downs describes himself as being a “part of God’s ministry here in Frederick.” He feels perfectly comfortable at the mission, having served there on several occasions to work with children during holiday events, bring cookies for the feeding ministry, and tutor through an enrichment program.
He says he started his ministry when he was in the sixth grade, which “was really the turning point for me, when I started going in the direction of God’s ministry.”
He had been going on mission trips since fourth grade or so, but it wasn’t until sixth grade when he “really got the meaning of it and really wanted to do it.” He saw that was where God wanted him to be—in the ministry field, “because He had given me that gift,” he said.
In the seventh grade, he traveled with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s student ministry, Amped Ministry, on its annual mission trip to Guatemala. The difference in culture and language in San Cristobal didn’t stop him from wholeheartedly reaching out to the children.
“That was an eye-opening experience to see the people living in huts, who were just so happy anyway. They had God, and they loved God, and they were able to be happy with not very much at all,” Downs remembered.
“And when I came back, I wanted to be more like that, where I’d be happy with God and the people around me, instead of having stuff and things like that.”
A regular attendee to Amped Ministry’s summer camps and winter retreats, Downs works hard to grow his ministry skills. He also attends a Leadership Lab, where he is developing leadership skills and furthering his ministry training. He sees these opportunities as the “good soil,” which is coaching him along to be all he can be for Jesus.
“Sam is truly a disciple in progress. It is evident from his every day life that Jesus is not only working in him, but through him as well, and the crazy thing to me is that I can actually see him weigh his every decision and action against Jesus’ commands,” said Grace Schofield, Down’s youth leader, who is now serving as BCM/D’s LoveLoud missionary. “He’s walking and living in the truth, and I can promise you that God is going to use him to change the world. He is already using him to impact our little corner of the world.”
“I am just hoping that He’ll show me other places to do ministry where I can just continue to use the gifts He’s given me,” Downs said. “And that, I could share the love of God with others so it’s not just me getting His love, but other people will also be able to share in His love—because love is too great to not share with other people.”