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Pastor teaches kids ?might for right’ in tae kwon do class

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A UMNS photo by John Gordon

The Rev. Mark Pedersen leads a Might for Right class at a Texas church.
March 16, 2006

By John Gordon*

PORT BOLIVAR, Texas (UMNS) — The idea, at first, sounded a little strange.

Tae kwon do lessons at a church?

“My first impression was somebody’s teaching fighting at a church,” says Cody Van Zandt, 11.

“I found out it’s a lot more than fighting,” he says. “It’s teaching you lifelong lessons.”

Lessons in life are part of the Might for Right ministry at Bay Vue United Methodist Church, on a slender peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay. The Rev. Mark Pedersen started the program a year ago to offer children on the peninsula something constructive to do after school.

“I just love teaching children,” Pedersen says. “And any opportunity that I have to teach them is a joy for me.”

He demonstrates the kicks and jabs of martial arts to about three dozen students from nearby elementary and junior high schools. Buses drop off the children at the church twice a week.

Pedersen is quick to point out the program does not condone violence.

“The whole point of martial arts is not to learn how to fight. It’s to learn how to defend yourself,” he says.

Students are taught to walk away from playground bullies, if they can. Pedersen also teaches them discipline, self-respect, and how to build and strengthen friendships.

While at Bay Vue, volunteers help the students with the homework and teach them sign language.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

Student Kamille Simmons practices her tae kwon do forms.

“I have seen the kids become a lot more respectful towards their parents, a lot more respectful towards their teachers,” he says. “I’ve seen their attitudes with their schoolwork improve pretty dramatically, some kids going from Ds and Cs to As and Bs.”

The Might for Right students must maintain at least a B average at school to stay in the program.

“It’s really fun, and it helps you gain self-confidence,” says Ami Millender, 11. “And it helps you learn that you also need to do your school work.”

Pedersen says some of the students face learning challenges, such as attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorders. About half the students in the class are being raised by grandparents.

“It’s taught me responsibility,” says Cearra Darnell, 11, who lives in Crystal Beach and holds a purple belt. “It’s taught me to say, ?yes, sir,’ ?no, sir,’ and ?yes, ma’am’ and ?no ma’am.’”

Students begin each class by reciting a creed that includes promising to use their might only for the right reasons.

Each class also includes a brief devotional. In one recent class, Pedersen talked to students about love.

“That’s a challenge for these children, for some of the situations they come from, understanding what love is all about,” he says.

Pedersen, 42, who is also pastor at Port Bolivar United Methodist Church on the peninsula, holds a red belt in tae kwon do. He has taken martial-arts courses about 20 years. The Bay Vue program is the first time he has offered the ministry at one of his churches.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

Student Cody Van Zandt practices kicks. He says of the class: "It's teaching you lifelong lessons."

Kathy Tucker, a schoolteacher and member of the church, praises the program. Her daughter, Kailey, 7, is enrolled in it.

“I’ve seen quite a bit of improvement in the children’s self-discipline, and it gives them something to look forward to,” Tucker says. “They’ve had a lot more self-control. We’ve had fewer fights.”

Savannah Frazier, 10, was surprised that a church would offer tae kwon do lessons.

“At first thought it was weird because really at church you shouldn’t be fighting,” she says. But then they learned about discipline, she says, and “I knew he wasn’t just telling us to fight.”

Pedersen says his reward is knowing the children will be able to take care of themselves in the years to come — and not just physically. For some of the students, he says, it was their first time inside a church.

“What they learn here will help develop not only their physical prowess but also their spiritual character,” he says. “This is a wonderful outreach to the community.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or


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