Several days a week, Esther McMath is better known as one of the “tie-dye sisters.”
“That’s what the kids call us,” said McMath, who directs RPM (Redemption’s Promise Ministry) Outreach in Escambia County.
Through the program, 1,600 students from kindergarten through eighth grade participate in an optional class where they learn about character qualities and Bible stories.
“It’s been a gift to this area, to the children of this area,” said McMath, a member of First Baptist Church, Flomaton. “The teachers tell us they can see it making an impact.”
About 15 years ago, McMath’s friends Daniel and Cindy Johnson started RPM, modeling it after the release time program in public schools in nearby Geneva County.
Here’s how it works: Students whose parents have signed them up for the 30-minute optional program can check out of school once a month and go to RPM’s 40-foot-long mobile classroom, which they bring with them and park just off school property.
The ministry’s volunteers come from churches of all denominations across the county, are background checked and follow all the school rules in order to keep the children safe. And to be identifiable to the children, they wear tie-dyed shirts.
“The majority are retired teachers and educators and people who have been teaching Sunday School and Vacation Bible School for a number of years,” McMath said, noting it’s a group effort among local churches.
The trailer is housed at Little Escambia Baptist Church, Flomaton.
“We come to the schools once a month, which means we take each child six times between September and March,” McMath said. “We have a five-year curriculum planned that we go through and teach different character traits like self-control, orderliness, responsibility, love and patience.”
At larger schools, they may go three days in a row to reach all the children registered. At each school, they have about 80% enrolled, and of those, McMath estimates around half aren’t involved in church.
During the session, they are involved in action songs, videos, stories and activities. This month, they’re wrapping up year five of the curriculum, so they will start back over in the fall with the creation story.
“It’s all centered around character education,” McMath said. “We use the Bible to do that because it is the highest standard of character.”
And they get to share the gospel. When the children first come into the trailer, they have questions about the cross in the picture on the wall, and then the leaders tell them the story of Jesus.
“The children love it, and they love having people they can trust. They have a lot of grannies and grandpas at RPM,” she said.
Wendell Ray, elevating mission strategist for Escambia Baptist Association, said the ministry meets a big need.
“Character is a great need in our country and world,” he said. “When the RPM trailer stops just outside the edge of school property, it opens the door for children and families from diverse backgrounds and conditions to hear a message of hope and character from godly people.”
McMath said it’s all about planting seeds of the gospel.
“We just want to share truth with them,” she said.
For more information, contact McMath at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Grace Thornton)