“Mom, do you have cancer?”
This was the question eight-year-old Landen Schappacher asked his mom, Cassandra Roeske (pronounced “Risky”), one day while she was driving. The words took her aback as she responded, “I don’t know yet.”
Roeske looked over at her son, his head down and hands lifted up. His lips were moving as he prayed, and his response became a pivotal moment in her life that January day in 2016, even after the tests came back negative.
The following Sunday, Roeske took her family to church at North Park Wesleyan Church in Cuba, New York. This was not the first time Landen had visited.
For months, Landen had been attending Wild Wednesday, a weekly, afternoon program held at North Park for elementary-aged children. New York state has a law for “religious release time education,” allowing children one hour of off-site religious teaching once during the week, on school time. Buses pick up the children at school and take them to church, and once the hour is up at the church, return them to school to catch another bus or be picked up by parents.
At Wild Wednesday (WW), kids have an interactive Bible lesson that is illustrated in a messy or crafty way (such as digging through pudding to find gummy worms). They also play silly games and compete in team competitions. After a large group session, they split into teams and meet with leaders to discuss the lesson and learn how to apply it in their lives. The children also have a weekly Scripture verse to memorize.
Attending this program was Landen’s first introduction to Jesus. Landen, who turns 12 in January 2019, began attending WW with a friend who invited him. At first, the attraction for Landen was that WW was “really fun.” But as he continued to hear Rev. Megan Cusumano, WW director and North Park Wesleyan assistant pastor, talk, he became curious and eventually placed his faith in Jesus in December 2015.
Landen isn’t the only WW participant who has decided to follow Jesus. In Cusumano’s 10 years as director, approximately 300 kids have made a personal faith decision for Christ. Cusumano, a Cuba, New York, native, sees this as her “opportunity to give back to the community and to God."
“I have a passion to share his message with as many people as possible,” she said.
Seventy percent of the children in the WW program are from single-parent homes and 90 percent of their families are not regular church attendees.
According to Cusumano, many WW kids are making radical differences in their families. They are discipleship heroes.
“Kids are bringing parents to church and not the parents bringing kids to church.”
That’s how it happened for Landen’s family. Soon after he received Christ as Savior, he asked “Pastor Meg,” as she is affectionately called, for Bibles for his mom and her boyfriend (now husband). Landen and Roeske attended church afterward but not consistently.
Then Landen decided he wanted to be baptized. Since North Park Wesleyan was hosting a baptism service on Easter Sunday that year, 2016 seemed to fit perfectly. So Roeske, Landen and her younger son, Hayden, ended up meeting with Cusumano.
No one was expecting what would happen that day. Cusumano shared what baptism represents, and Roeske burst into tears.
In Cusumano’s 10 years as director, approximately 300 kids have made a personal faith decision for Christ.
“I thought, ‘My kids know about Jesus, and I want to know about him, too,’” said Roeske. She and Hayden placed their faith in Jesus that Good Friday in Cusumano’s office. Two days later, Landen and Hayden were baptized. Then, weeks later, Roeske and the boys' uncle were baptized.
Now, three years later, at least 10 members of Landen’s family attend North Park regularly. Nearly all have placed their faith in Christ, have been baptized and are now serving at the church. Some have also become members.
Roeske is beyond grateful for the impact Cusumano and WW have had on her sixth-grade son.
The difference Landen has made in the lives of his family members is having a multigenerational impact.
“Without Landen, we wouldn’t be where we’re at,” said Roeske, who serves in the church kids’ ministry and has started helping with WW.
Landen isn’t done having an impact in Cuba. He still has plenty of friends whom he’d like to see come to Christ.
“I want my friends to come to Wild Wednesday with me, because I want them to have Jesus in their lives,” said Landen, a kid who loves all things Buffalo Bills and dinosaurs.
Cusumano continues to encourage other kids like Landen and, more importantly, communicate who Jesus is. She believes Next Gen ministry will change the face of the church as a whole.
“Invest in [kids’ ministry],” said Cusumano. “Kids are going home and changing their entire families, just like Landen did. I’m seeing God change the lives of kids of all ages.”
All because of WW, a faithful Next Gen leader like Cusumano and big heros like Landen.