Rich Patrow has been a "faith role model" to hundreds of kids over the years. Rich and his wife, Helen, have attended Constance Free Church for 42 years, and have faithfully served in a number of roles. Currently Rich leads Council Time and games for our AWANA program, a ministry he's served for 29 years. He is also the Bible study leader for the "Prime Time" senior adults. Rich has a heart for serving across generations.
Rich remembers the days when his own children were young, and as a family they would reach out to neighborhood kids with their "Red Wagon Express." Each AWANA night his girls would recruit friends from up and down the street, and they'd pack out their red station wagon for a trip to church. "There were no seatbelt laws back then!" Helen remembers the time she overheard the kids talking – "You know the rules. No swearing in front of Rich!" Rich, too, chuckles as he remembers one of the neighbor girls retelling the story about "Jesus turning water into beer." These kids are grown now, with families of their own, and Rich talks about the blessing of seeing some of those he'd least expected following Jesus.
The same could be said for the students he's taught and mentored over the years at church. He remembers teens so rowdy he wondered if they'd ever lead godly lives, but today they are rock solid in their faith. This is what keeps Rich going through the ministry challenges he's certain to face with each passing year. "You never know the difference you're making until years later."
Recently Rich has been intentionally reaching out to a couple of teens who serve with him in AWANA. Both Alex and Silas are LIT's – Leaders in Training – for the upper elementary "T & T" boys, where Rich is the leader. Rich has developed relationships with these young men, extending beyond ministry at church. The boys, who are musicians, have begun to join Rich for a monthly outreach ministry at Arbor Oakes, an assisted living care facility nearby. Alex and Silas play the piano for the residents during a worship service led by Rich. This connection between Arbor Oakes and Constance teens is continuing to grow; in November several Constance Middle School students joined Rich for a Thanksgiving service.
Silas and Rich have also served together through the church's "Sticky Faith" Care ministry. Constance Care Director, Brenda Benny, has been working with Student Ministries for a couple of years to provide opportunities for students to practice compassion by serving the needs of our church and community. Kids and adults work together to cook and deliver meals, bake pies, create blankets, and practice other good deeds. Rich and Silas, and others like them, develop genuine relationships as they work side-by-side together.
It's not only Alex and Silas benefitting from Rich's friendship. Rich has a tender heart for kids with special needs, and over the years he has gone out of his way to develop genuine relationships with kids others might not notice. Years ago there was a little girl with special needs who took a liking to Rich; she'd stay close to his side whenever they were at church together. This girl grew up to have a child of her own, and Rich was encouraged to see her bringing her own little daughter to AWANA at Constance. Today Rich goes out of his way to spend time with young men like Josh, who attends our Special Needs Ministry. Rich takes Josh out to lunch, and listens to his stories, encouraging him in his faith.
Rich's life verse is Matthew 20:26-28, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Rich talks about the challenges he faces serving in a ministry bursting with rambunctious little boys. There have been times when he's thought it might be time to "retire," but God has always made it abundantly clear, this is where Rich belongs. "There are always kids who really want to follow God with their whole hearts, and I just want to be there with them. God is good, and I just want to serve Him."