by Dave Thompson
Coming to serve with Agape Project International (API)-Kenya for the first time, my expectations hinged only on the stories I'd heard from the Pulpit at Summit Christian Fellowship, videos on the API website, and dinner at Mike and Kim's home before we moved from Washington last summer. Like the stories from others who'd ventured into military basic training, marriage, and parenthood before me, there were many moments of epiphany as I recalled their Mike and Kim's stories. “Ohhhh … THIS is what they were talking about!”
My wife, Julia, and I were trusted to run the first children's ministry during the conference since it's inception 11-years ago. I was told from Ben, who was here on his second trip that “last year, the kids entertained themselves outside the church with screwing caps onto and off of waterbottles before you guys came”. Whatever we had planned would be an improvement, but we also take James 3:1 seriously... the role of teacher (even over little people) is a high honor and calling. We had no idea what age the children would be nor how many would come.
As with previous youth ministries in which we'd participated, Julia and I made a plan to keep the kids engaged throughout the day: a 20-minute introduction/craft/or review of a memory verse, followed by a 20-minute lesson on the old testiment, then a 20-minute game related to the lesson, leading into a 20-minute lesson on the new testiment connection to Jesus (to align with the overall conference theme), and finally a 20-minute game related to the second lesson. After that, we would serve Chai Tea and cookies to the kids and send them home to care for their livestock. Day one, minute 21 was the first deviation from the plan.
For first day's lessons, we planned to cover the creation story. During the intro time, the goal was to gave kids “create” a nametage by sawing a thin slice of 3-inch diameter tree branch, decorate it with their name, then use it on subsequent days to track memory verses successfully repeated over the next three days. It was also an easy way to help the Thompsons learn names quickly. Brilliant! Well, in theory.
Upon arrival, we met the 88 children who'd be with us for the day, ranging from barely walking to 12 years old. I grabbed the biggest 6, gave them nametags first, then tried to set up an assembly line. About an hour later, we had almost 20 done. I decided it was prudent to call it a day on nametag workshop, then went to find my wife and the other 82 children. Where did they go, anyway?
Julia was awesome. She had them listening to stories from the bible about half a mile away and behaving well. We were amazed at the older kids always tending to their younger siblings or neighbors. I use the term “older” loosely. Some 4-year olds were carrying and comforting yearlings. I high-fived Julia and got back to the “core curriculum”.
After playing red rover to help with name recognition, I let the majority without name tags know I'd make more during the coming days (a promise I didn't keep... day two our crowd grew to at least 175 kids! My arm could only handle making 2 slices at a time in about a 5 minute span with a 5 minute break). Then, we covered Genesis 1 and 2 in story form (acting out as much as possible to help span the language barrier through an interpreter—something we did during every lesson from there on out). We handed out lollipops to each child, and recognized some were coming back a second time and hiding the first in a pocket or up their sleeve. We tried to address it then, but revisited the next day in our lesson on the 10 commandments and the breaking of God's laws being the definition of sin. Our second game was relay races of various kinds that related to relate to Jesus being the beginning and end, the Alpha and Omega. We tied the same creation story back into John 1 and built on that foundation in the following days: Jesus the fullfilling the prophesies of the Passover Meal during the Last Supper, Jesus the Sacrified Son on Mount Moriah (or as Abraham would call the place that later took the name of Calvery, “The Lord Will Do It Here”, and finally the Parables of Jesus.
As a great finally to our time with the children, we got to recommend some “Who/What/Where/How/Whys” of Children's ministry to the men and women's break out sessions. Having some elderly men act out the parable of the Good Shepherd the same as small children had done earlier that day, then demo the game “What Time is it Mr Wolf” will stay with me for a long time! More than the fun that we had with the adults in recapping the week, my hope is that they resolved that day to carry the torch back to their own congregations of having a children's ministry that fills up their senses with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches that are in the greatest story every written. (1 John 1)