NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, April 17th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up, alternatives to the Boy Scouts of America.
The Scouts began in 1910—to “teach patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values,” including faith in God. Scouting groups were chartered in churches and other organizations all over the country.
EICHER: Membership got as high as 6 million in the 1970s.
But since the 1990’s, memberships declined by at least 2 to 3 percent a year, each year.
Over the most-recent decade? Even steeper declines.
Officially, the BSA blames busy schedules and changing interests.
But many former troop leaders and scouts say the erosion of traditional values within the organization is the real culprit.
REICHARD: Some choose to stay and work for reform, but a growing number of former scouts are joining Christian alternatives instead, more in alignment with original BSA values. Paul Butler recently visited one family who is doing just that.
PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: It’s a busy Monday afternoon in Algonquin, Illinois. Jonathan and Trephina Bedell are going over last minute details for tonight’s meetings.
BEDELL: That’s what I forgot to add to our home depot list. Wood putty. Alexa, add wood putty to the shopping list.
The house smells of chicken tortilla soup and Fritos, as their children eat a quick supper before everyone heads out the door. The older sisters are members of American Heritage Girls and 8-year-old Micah is a first year “Hawk” with Trail Life USA. His backpack is covered with patches.
MICAH BEDELL: Cabin camping is when we camp in a cabin. Fishing is when we fish. 4th of July is when we march around the parade. Stadium night…
The Bedells are part of a growing number of families nationwide who participate in Christian scouting alternatives.
TREPHINA BEDELL: It goes back to just bringing them up in Christ…
Micah’s mom Trephina is the Trail Life coordinator for the state of Illinois.
TREPHINA BEDELL: And both of the programs, teach these kids and raise them up in the Word, teaching them how to go out and really share God’s love with others out there.
Trephina’s husband Jonathon is the troopmaster of Trail Life Illinois Troop number 0412:
JONATHON BEDELL: This is what I’m called to do. I love the outdoors. I love teaching boys how to use pocket knives…
As a devoted Christian, Bedell believes scouting should be more than just outdoorsmanship and leadership development. The troop is named after 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
JONATHON BEDELL: God is a part of everything we do. And you know, Trail Life USA just mixes that right in with everything. It’s not something you have to work hard to get in there.
Bedell grew up in the Boy Scouts of America.
JONATHON BEDELL: It was a great time in my life. My dad was my scoutmaster for many years, so I went through the entire program with my dad at my side and it was awesome.
In 1992 he earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and he kept his membership active in the Boy Scouts for years. When he started having his own kids, he made the difficult decision to not enroll his son in the BSA.
JONATHON BEDELL: I realized that it wasn’t the same organization from when I was kid. So I never got more involved than that, of just considering it…
But a few years ago he learned about Trail Life USA and knew it was what he wanted for his son.
JONATHON BEDELL: Now a couple years down the road. I can’t see myself doing anything else.
Everyone’s smartly dressed in uniforms as they pile into the family SUV for the 25-minute drive to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palatine, though it turns out that not everyone is quite ready to go…
AUDIO: Did everyone remember their Bibles?
Once underway, the girls are preparing for the evening’s badge work as Jonathon, Trephina, and Micah talk over the boys’ meeting.
JONATHON BEDELL: Hey, Micah.
MICAH BEDELL: What?
JONATHON BEDELL: Do you feel comfortable doing the, uh, falling in tonight?
MICAH BEDELL: Not really.
JONATHON BEDELL: Ok…
At the church, the whole family lends a hand in getting the meeting rooms ready.
AUDIO: [Sound of unlocking doors, arranging chairs]
The meetings start at 6 p.m. with the girls in the education center and the boys in the fellowship hall. Both recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the troop oath:
AUDIO: On my honor, I will do my best to serve my God and my country…
About a dozen boys dressed in green shirts with black yokes edged in red head to the gym for games and team building…
AUDIO: [Sound of games]
…while the girls in their white shirts with blue and red sashes work on their Bible Skills. This evening they’re learning about the attributes of God.
AUDIO: Omnipresent. Means he’s everywhere, all the time.
The meeting ends as the American Heritage Girls listen to a presentation from one of their members. She’s preparing to advance to the next level…
PRESENTATION: Ladies, just gather around so you can see Lizzie’s project…
…And the Trail Life troop regathers for a closing devotional on the Biblical roles of men and women in the home…
AUDIO: So everyone has a role. Fathers are the leaders, mothers are just as important as fathers…
There are a lot of scouting alternatives available today. AWANA has been around for both boys and girls since the 1950s. The Assemblies of God have the Royal Rangers, the Southern Baptists offer Royal Ambassadors. The Troops of St. George started six years ago for Catholic boys.
As the BSA continues to move further from its founding ideals, many other groups are sure to spring up. Trephina Bedell says they see an uptick in interest each time scouts make another policy change.
TREPHINA BEDELL: It’s interesting to see what might tip some people more than others. And every wave and announcement, you know what? God has a hand in that. It’s that time in that family to join, and really opens up that door for them.
AUDIO: See you at the campout…
Jonathon Bedell is currently working on earning the Trail Life Freedom Award as an adult. It’s the Eagle Scout equivalent. But what really motivates him as a troopmaster is the opportunity to disciple young men and train them to disciple others.
JONATHON BEDELL: Long after I’m gone from this world, that’s going to continue on. That’s what drives me and I look forward to. I love the organization, I love the fellowship that we have with it.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Paul Butler reporting from Algonquin, Illinois.