One of my favorite things about doing service and mission projects at church is to see how many people I can get involved and excited about what we are doing. Many people will jump right in and busy themselves going about God’s work. Others may be a little more reticent (like Gideon or Moses) at first.
I have learned something from old Tom Sawyer and his fence painting escapade though. If you make serving God and teaching others about Him fun, others will jump in and start participating before they even realize it. Often these are the same people who might tell you they are not gifted for that work, or maybe they will say that particular work is just not “their thing”. Children may tell you they are too grown-up for such baby stuff. Try a little Tom Sawyer on them though and they will surprise themselves.
This summer, we have pulled in every conceivable age group to help us (except perhaps babies). People have acted in our dramas who may have never acted before. I have discovered quite a few very talented people who I might have never originally asked to help in particular areas. We have used people from other congregations and outside organizations to inform the children of the many ways they can help others in their communities and around the world while also sharing the Gospel.
I always love it at the end of class time as we try to finish up our service projects for the day. I will look up and suddenly there are teens and parents who are working with the children on one of our many projects. Some of our teens will check in with me every week to see if I need their help. Often they will come early on Wednesday nights to help me finish projects before they go to their own class.
This week was another example of using a lot of people. In our first center, we talked about homelessness with the children. After discussing what life is like for many people, I took the children outside to get a little taste of what life on the streets might be like. I set up an “alley” behind our building. Although it is grassy, it really does sort of have that alleyway feel to it. A few large appliance boxes and a large trash can were thrown out in our “alley”.
I had the children step outside and figure out shelter and food for themselves. At first they were very excited and proud about the shelters they built. Reality sank in though when I asked how well their shelter would work in a bad thunderstorm or when it was 20 degrees outside. The idea of possibly having to go through garbage cans for a meal was a new idea to them. We even discussed mental illness and how it can play a role in whether someone will use shelters and soup kitchens or not.
After gaining a new insight to the challenges facing the homeless, the children came inside (It was over 100 degrees in Atlanta today or we would have stayed outside!) and made fleece blankets we will deliver to Atlanta Inner City Ministries to give out when the weather gets cold. We took two – two yard sections of fleece and placed them wrong sides together. After cutting a seven inch square out of each corner, one inch strips were cut all around the blanket.
The children double knotted the front and back strips together all around the edges. Small children almost have to have one adult for every one or two children for this project. Tying shoes is a lost art, so many did not have any idea how to tie a knot. The older children can whiz through a blanket very quickly, so make sure you have cut enough blankets to fill your time.
India was the country our children visited today. Friends of ours in another congregation in town are involved in the tsunami area of India. Another member came by and shared about the orphanage and how the church has loved and cared for those children. Their care has shown the community God’s love. As a result the church is also growing all over that part of India.
The children saw photos of the area and heard stories of life in India. They learned 100 rupees is not as much money as one would think and tasted one of the favorite foods in that part of India. Each group of children presented the mission work in India with a bag of items they said would help them the most. The mission team will take them with them to India in a few days.
Our story from Acts focused on Paul and Silas in jail. Oddly enough, dog chains and tierras from Walmart (minus the princess part) created makeshift shackles for the prison. This summer, we have tried to use some of the same actors as almost an acting team. This has worked well, as the actors develop a comfort level working with each other. The dramas are more natural and fun as the actors are able to relax and get into the swing of things.
The children finished their t-shirts and discussed persecution of Christians around the world. The older children learned more details of recent events (from Voice of the Martyrs website) and how standing up for your faith may even be hard for them here. The younger children talked about being brave enough to tell people about church and God. In a couple of weeks, the children will put on their shirts and practice using them to help remember the parts of the basic Gospel story.
The next time you have a service or missions project, take some time to think about what will make it appear to be more fun. You don’t have to be silly or bribe people. Fun colors, background music and an enthusiastic and encouraging leader will draw in people to help. Many of those same people may have said “no” if just asked to “help with a project”. Take a tip from old Tom Sawyer and see how many people you can get serving others and sharing God’s words.