Emilio De La Cruz saw a vision of two fields. Workers toiled long, hard hours in the first rocky and infertile field in an effort to prepare the ground for plowing before sowing seed. But the second field appeared clean, fertile, and ready. Wherever the sower planted seeds, that field yielded abundant fruit.
“The Lord told me these are the children,” says De La Cruz, 60, superintendent of the AG’s Hispanic Southwest District, which encompasses Arizona. “We've been focusing on the other field, reaching broken and damaged lives, being so passionate to reach the lost that we didn't put resources into reaching the children.”
De La Cruz wanted to change the paradigm and make children a priority in all the district’s churches.
“Across the board, children have to come first,” he says. “We must invest staff and finances first into our children. Some of us have to be passionate and carry that torch.”
To that end, since 2016 he’s championed throughout the district the 4-14 Window movement developed by Flushing, New York-based AG Promise Church. That congregation, led by Assemblies of God Executive Presbyter Nam Soo Kim, aims to reach children with the gospel during the receptive ages of 4 to 14. Promise Church’s Powerhouse Kids children's ministry, directed by Herman Mendoza, ministers to 635 kids each Saturday, offering classes in choir, piano, guitar, violin, drama, dance, knitting, pottery, soccer, basketball, ping pong, taekwondo, and arts and crafts.
By reaching the children, Powerhouse also impacts their parents, who may receive counseling in English or Spanish, and take classes in English as a second language. Women may participate in zumba dance.
“Amid all that, they're teaching about Jesus,” De La Cruz says.
The Powerhouse program proved to be the right match for the Southwest District, which needed ongoing focused outreach to children rather than one-off events.
This year New Life Covenant, the church De La Cruz pastors in the Phoenix suburb of Avondale, launched Powerhouse once a month. Meanwhile, the church is building its volunteer team to eventually offer the program weekly. So far, five Southwest District churches have adopted Powerhouse.
“It’s going to spread, but that takes time, prayer, persistence, and presenting the vision until God awakens something in the pastor,” he says.
One of those pastors is Queta Flores of Iglesia Monte Sinai de las Asambleas de Dios (Mount Sinai AG Church) in Somerton. She attended a 4-14 Window Southwest District conference.
“At that tender age, children believe what is placed before them, good or bad,” Flores says. “That’s why we need to reach them for the Lord with the gospel.” While Monte Sinai long has offered the AG boys’ program Royal Rangers and National Girls Ministries, the church now is implementing the 4-14 discipleship program in children’s church.
“The conference awoke in us the need to reach non-Christian children, not just the children already coming to church but also evangelism programs and events focused on them,” Flores says. Additionally, she says it addressed how to provide assistance to adults regarding events for children.
Flores notes that De La Cruz’s passion for child outreach is contagious, as is his conviction that the Lord will provide trained volunteers and other resources to meet the need. At a recent Tucson rally of a dozen churches in one of three Arizona regions, De La Cruz told millennials they needed to take responsibility for the next generation in prayer and involvement as those who can best relate to and reach kids.
“I'm going to keep crying out to reach the next generation and not lose it,” De La Cruz says.
De La Cruz expects pushback from the enemy of the soul, whom he believes has reserved his fiercest fight for children, in an effort to keep them from becoming effective pastors, church leaders, missionaries, and congregants.
“I don't want to fail this generation,” he says. “Reaching and discipling children is the most important mission of the church.”