I am a lousy excuse for a substitute Sunday School teacher. I have to confess when I was a kid I did not enjoy Sunday School and for no particular reason. Maybe because I was hyper and hard to manage (fine, still am). Regardless, I am reaping wild oats sown disrupting class tenfold as a teacher here. Picture a 15 foot by 10 foot room, 20 Cameroonian children age five and under, me teaching for the duration of an African sermon. We came out the gates strong, having fun acting out Numbers 21:4-9 about the Israelites and fiery serpents God punished them with for whining. Kids were attentive, participating, even understanding me! I felt confident until I realized only 15 minutes had passed with 45 to go. Panic. Beautiful brown eyes looking at me intently with multi-colored bands tying braids on their heads in arrangements twice their body size. Miniature African gowns of all prints and colors. Stunning. Waiting for me to stimulate their minds. I had to keep them occupied or all… children would break loose. I was in a full sweat dancing, singing, playing games and teaching them to pray. We survived. I happened to catch Jordan telling Jake about the lesson “the people were bad so God sent snakes that made them sick then made them better”.
The looming reality of the chaos was this “simple” task is one of the most underrated responsibilities in our churches. We were blessed to have Pastor Philip Malcom from Assemblies of God World Missions speak to area children’s workers on effective ministry strategies. Some statistics he shared struck me. I have not checked or properly cited from him so forgive me.
1. Children begin to develop a concept of God around age four.
2. Children are establishing beliefs of right and wrong around age eight.
3. What children believe at age 14 is most likely what they will believe the rest of their lives.
THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. If we are effective with children we raise and build lifelong soldiers in Christ rather than rescue people from behind enemy lines to take on the task of turning their perception of God, perception of right and wrong and perception of how they fit into those beliefs upside down! While the challenge is saving ALL why not take the children seriously before they have deeply rooted false foundations?
I love kids but patience is a virtue I struggle with. After the training a switch flipped in my mind when addressing children. Before I thought of my agreement or not with their statements, if I did not agree I would dismiss it and say nothing. Now, when I address a child for any reason I think “am I encouraging them to be Christ-like by being Christ-like?” or “Would Jesus tell me to put a millstone around my neck for that answer or behavior?” (Matt 18:6) Pastor Phil challenged me to prepare well for teaching, pray for teachers and consequently to have respect for those who take children’s ministry seriously.
I am a terrible evangelist because the love I have for Christ and how he changed me is the only thing I cannot begin to describe in words coherently. BUT if I can dance and sing like a fool knowing children are learning the word of God that will guide and protect their lives, sign me up. With 32 children at Helping Hands I already did because monkey see, monkey do. They watch every reaction, response and initiative I take and weighing it to what they have been taught to be truth… then following suit. People hear and see us but are the messages consistent? Are eyes watching us that desire to be like us? Are ears hearing us that want to sound like us? Are you the only example of dealing with anger, adversity or altruism that a child sees? If so, will you feel comfortable answering to God for your influence? I am asking myself these questions. Maybe you identify.
Sunday School closed with a beautifully mumbled prayer from a sweet girl named Dora. I could not help but think God was smiling at the sound of her voice and those little hands folded firmly, pressing against her consternation-filled face. She prayed “for all the children here [in class] and [their] parents”. It was so pure, so precious. They left me with lots of hugs soothing anxieties about how class went.
I am preparing Helping Hands kids for a Christmas Concert to bless the community on December 20th. We will do a variety of skits, songs, solos, etc. We will also share our songs with area orphanages! Hard to believe that is a quick 12 weeks away! Lots of work to do and looking forward to it!