A child in my class yesterday mentioned the word empathy. Empathy is different from sympathy because you actually try to imagine what it feels like to be another person. It takes a lot more work on the part of the empathizer – perhaps even a little more love. Empathy is important because I think it can make people more likely to want to share the Gospel with others who are totally different from them. It puts the emphasis back on the person and away from the difference.
Yesterday, the children in our congregation had a chance to learn about life on another continent. We changed our jungle room from the island of St. Vincent to Africa. A friend of mine, who has been on several mission trips to Kenya, was the source of our Kenyan bounty as well as the teacher of the center.
If you want to introduce the children in your church to a mission field, I have found it is best to use someone who has been there if at all possible. They are usually passionate about the work and pass their enthusiasm on to the children. My friend not only dressed in Kenyan clothes, but brought photos, crafts, food and more to give the children a taste of every day life in that part of Africa.
If you don’t have access to someone who has been to another country, you can do a lot to replicate our room. The internet is full of recipes from different countries. My friend’s chapati bread recipe was from someone she knew, but it is usually easy to find bread and dessert recipes for almost any country online. She had it pre-cut and ready to serve to lessen the time spent on preparing to taste food during her class.
A flag store near Atlanta mailed her the Kenyan flag for a cost of just a few dollars. Barnes and Noble carries the world map, which allowed her to show the children the distance from their town to Kenya. Many children have no concept of world geography, so we have found it really helps to show them how close or far away places are to where they live.
Once the children became comfortable “in” Kenya, they learned more about the mission efforts there and how they could help. In this particular case, the wife is employed by CDC to do some sort of research there. Her husband has gone with her and together they are serving the children of their town while she is working there.
Our children began to learn the skill of empathy as they learned about the 450 children served by the school who have nothing. Most go “home” to the slums at night where they may have no actual “house” to sleep in at night. Many of those who do, live in pieces of tin that have been put together to form some sort of shelter. The children learned that what seemed like the simplest of projects to them would make such a difference in brightening the lives of the children there.
Our children began decorating sun catchers like this (undecorated) one. To make the project neater, we used sharpies instead of paint. Now, I need to warn you about “out-of-the-box” Sunday School classes – you will run over – sometimes way over. The teachers and the children are so enthusiastic, no one wants to change centers or leave at the end of the “hour”. We are trying something new this summer and allowing the children to come to the building early on Wednesday nights and continue working on the service projects we are doing. (I may even let a few teens and parents help too!) I was personally so moved by the work at the school that our kids will actually be adding a couple more service projects to send to Kenya in August.
With all of that going on, it is hard to imagine that we accomplished two additional centers yesterday. The children continued learning how they could help people in their community and share the Gospel with them at the same time. This week, we focused on helping the sick. The older children thought back to many of the healing miracles in the Bible and realized that the sermon was usually after the healing and not before. Even the youngest children realized you don’t want to hear people talking when you feel really “yucky”.
The various groups discussed all of the standard ways to help minister to the sick. Because they are children, we wanted to do something a little unique with them. We are blessed to have two very good children’s hospitals in Atlanta, both with Ronald McDonald Houses. I discussed with the children the mission of the Ronal McDonald Houses and how we could help. The children decorated large baggies to collect pop-tops. We discussed how fruit, soup and even tennis ball cans have them now. Ronald McDonald Houses recycle these pop-tops to earn the money to support some of their programs.
We are encouraging the entire congregation to help us fill the large tub with pop-tops by the end of the summer. We started a memory work contest featuring the scriptures that teach us who, why and how to serve. The top three winners will get lunch at McDonald’s and a tour of the Ronald McDonald House as we deliver our collection of pop-tops.
Our third center started with a drama from Acts. The children saw the story of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin re-inacted. We took a regular classroom and transformed it into the Sanhedrin room. Our hallways have been painted to resemble a first century village which makes it easy to start many of our dramas in the hallway and then move into the classroom. Fabric, plastic table cloths and a few well placed urns helped lend a more authentic air to the drama. Keep the lights as low as possible adding only LED candles if necessary. This will make even the least expensive decorating jobs look more real.
Our children started working on t-shirts which will help them learn how to begin teaching others the Gospel message. Our design is very basic, just covering a handful of the basic concepts taught in many of the first sermons in Acts. An artist made special stamps for us and the children will use those and fabric markers to complete their shirts. I will show you some of the best finished ones in a few weeks.
If you are “trying this at home”, you can begin with a simple International Missions night once a week. Find some authentic recipes, check some travel books out of the library or rent a travel dvd. You might even be able to find some simple authentic games to play with items you already own. Then Google to see if your church has missionaries in that country or start with the mission areas your congregation supports. Contact the missionaries and see what you can do to help. You may just be surprised what a difference you can make in the lives of people thousands of miles from your town.
While you work on that, check to see if there is a Ronald McDonald House in your city. Call and see if they want pop-tops too. Or send a card or make some food for someone your family knows who is struggling with illness. Once they are feeling better, make sure you invite them to come with your family to church. Start talking with your children about how your family can share the Gospel with the people you meet. You might just discover you enjoy mission work as much as we are this summer!