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Mr. Awana: Sixty Plus Years of Changing the World for Christ Review by Laurie Gauger

Art Rorheim
Grace Acres Press

Last year, our family moved to a new city. Finding a solid, theologically sound, local church was at the top of our list. At the recommendation of a friend, we visited First Free Evangelical Church, in Rockford Illinois. We had visited that church a time or two for concerts, and based on our research, we felt that it had a good chance at being our new "home". That first Sunday, we were up bright and early, and found a parking spot. As we crossed the drop off lane to walk into the main entrance, who should be sitting in his wheelchair, waiting for his helper to assist him into the building, but Art Rorheim himself!

My husband has deep roots with AWANA. As a child, he attended the organization as a clubber. In fact, his childhood church was something like the third church to ever have an AWANA program. As a young adult, he worked for AWANA, in one of their locations in Rolling Meadows, IL. As parents, both of us have served as leaders, and watched our daughters make their way through the program. Needless to say, with that history, Mr. Rorheim was very familiar with our family, and he and my husband enjoyed a brief conversation. Even at ninety-nine years old, and in a wheelchair, his words were filled with AWANA. That church we were visiting had just welcomed a new pastor, about whom Mr. Rorheim said, "He's a good guy. He made his way up through the AWANA program." As we said our goodbyes, we quipped to each other that if Art Rorheim approves of the pastor, it had to be a solid church!  He has of course, passed away since then, but how wonderful it was to have had that exchange with him, and thank him for the foundation that he built in AWANA. 

All of this is the reason that I was interested in reviewing the book, Mr. AWANA: Sixty-Plus Years of Changing the World for Christ. If I was interested, my husband was thrilled to have it added to our personal library. I thought that I was familiar with the program, but I quickly found that I had a lot to learn. My husband, on the other hand, was familiar with many, if not most of the names in the book.This review period has been a sort of AWANA reunion for him, as he would elaborate on information that I read aloud to him. It was almost like looking through a family memory album, if that doesn't sound too corny. 

There are only nine chapters in this book, but don't let that fool you, this is not a short read. Written by Mr. Rorheim himself, it is a generous collection of his memories. I'm going to get corny again, and I do apologize, but in my mind's eye, as I read, I could picture sitting across a table from Mr. Rorheim, enjoying a hot cup of tea, and listening to him tell his story. It's the perfect book to pull out and enjoy during a lazy afternoon.

He begins with his childhood and conversion, and the influence that his older brother had on the latter decision. He is Norwegian in heritage, but settled in the general Chicago area, which is where my people are as well. That shared history made the details all the more intriguing, as I (and my husband)am familiar with most of the locations talked about. If you know anything about the history of AWANA, you'll recognize the name Lance "Doc" Latham. He was pastor at North Side Gospel Center in Chicago. At only seventeen years old, Rorheim became a club leader there, working his way up to youth director a little over five years later. They would later cofound the program we now recognize as AWANA. 

You'll learn how the game circle came to have four colors, and why those particular colors were selected. Spoiler- there was a collection of beanies found in a warehouse that were red, blue, green, and yellow. How handy to simply use those for uniforms! A tradition was born.

You'll read about the five second count, and why they started that attention grabber, as well as the "toes behind the line" strategy. I had no idea that I was so ignorant regarding AWANA. Having been a leader for years, I thought I was a pro. Wrong. I didn't even realize that across the globe, every club follows a similar structure. It was a delightful, uplifting, read.

By the time that you turn the last page of this book, you will have no doubt that Art Rorheim loved his God, and he loved kids. His heartbeat was for people to come to know the Lord. The program began with virtually nothing, but through very hard work, amazing leadership, and an amazing faith, AWANA can now be found in one hundred and four countries, on six continents. Mr. Rorheim visited many of those programs, traveling to over fifty countries in his lifetime. What stood out to me the most, was that he was...ordinary. He was like you or me. He came from a regular family. His life displayed what an impact may be had when a person allows the Lord to work through their life. Who would have thought that a weekly club, where kids play games around a large circle, would impact countless lives for Christ?

I wish that I had read this when I first became involved with AWANA. It would have meant even more to read the life story of the man who cofounded the program, and to understand his vision. Every church with an AWANA club should have several copies of this book available for leaders to read.

-Product review by Laurie Gauger, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September, 2018