Children's Mission Education Part III
by John Holzmann
What's involved in giving missions its rightful place in every phase of the children's Christian education program? Geri Templeton, whom many mission educators consider their "mother" in the field, offers some suggestions.
If you try to integrate missions into every part of the children's program÷as you ought to÷ you need to have different emphases, different philosophies, for each part," says Geri Templeton, children's ministries director at Calvary Church, Santa Ana, California.
"When you look at what you want to teach in each age-level, you need to look at what principles you're teaching and how they relate to missions," she says. For example, if you're teaching about Daniel and courage, you bring out the fact that missionaries need courage, too. "When might a missionary need special courage?" she'll ask her students.
Templeton believes Sunday school is "a good place" to teach kids about going, giving, and praying. "You already teach prayer. So from the very beginning, when you teach the fundamentals of prayer, you need to teach a prayer burden for missions. That can be from the very youngest children."
And as far as giving is concerned: "Teach that part of what we give goes to missions. And talk about why it goes to missions."
Templeton, as most of the other children's mission educators I spoke to, is very concerned about the learning environment she works in, the room and its decorations. She uses lots of posters, pictures, and other visuals÷a Current-Events Board, for instance.
"Each week, talk about something that's happening somewhere around the world. Use the Church Around the World paper, or current events from the newspaper. Cover them from a Christian perspective."
Then there's the missions bulletin board to remind the children of their missionaries. "Have poster-size pictures÷no small, regular-size pictures," she says. "Have them blown up. Let the kids see them!"
On the first Sunday of the month. Templeton recommends you "give a little more time to missions. Take a slide of the missionaries, put it up on the screen, and say, 'Kids, let's not close our eyes this morning, but let's just look at this picture of our missionaries as we pray for their needs.'"
One of the more popular visuals Templeton uses each week is the "Missionaries We Have Met" poster board. "What missionaries have we met this week?" she asks the kids. Occasionally one or two of them will have had cross-cultural missionaries into their homes for dinner. If they have met such a person, they'll call out the name and have it written on the board.
More often, however, the dialogue goes something like this: "Today our lesson is on Paul. He was a missionary. Let's write Paul's name up here. . . . Okay. Now, did any of you share Christ with someone this week?" Sarah may raise her hand, and the teacher will say, "Great, Sarah! You are a missionary. Come on up and write your name on the board . . . !"
"They love to go marching up to the front of the class to write their names on the board," Temple-ton says. The main thing, no matter what you do, is to "keep the missionary task in front of them."
Unlike Sunday school, which is more practical and action oriented, children's church is more concerned with the children's world-view. "It deals not with a particular person, town, or village, and not with a specific missionary, but with a continent or people group. It has to do with 'what's happening around the world today.'"
During children's church, the kids "discover facts and realities about different places around the world." It is when they get a "world perspective." "Kids can use this material for reports at school. It makes geography and social studies come alive."
Children's church is also where Templeton emphasizes the diversity of missionary occupations.
During the summer she runs a book club. When they've finished reading a missionary biography, the children make written and spoken reports. With the children thus teaching, and each week's subject different from the last, all the children are able to participate fully in each week's program, whether or not they were absent the week before due to family vacations. Templeton says the reports themselves are sights to behold. Some children come dressed as the missionary about whom they are reporting. "You can end up with whole families being involved," she said. "One family did a drama!"
Instead of lectures, Templeton seeks to make children's church as close to a "real-life" experience as possible. One time she did a "radio broadcast" from India. Children were dressed as members of different Indian people groups. Having first been briefed about the religious and cultural practices of "their" new ethnic groups, these "Indian" children were able, with the help of a "radio broadcaster-interviewer", to give the rest of the class insights into the culture, customs, and financial situations of Indian children on the other side of the world.
You may have a missionary make a presentation, or you may find some top-notch people from your church who are not able or willing to teach full-time in your children's church program, but who are willing to do the research and do a special six-week presentation," she said.
Club crafts are "mission" crafts÷crafts for missionaries, or boxes of Christmas gifts for homeless men who work at a camp run by a nearby skid-row mission. One time the children made crafts for children in a school in Zaire: place mats, banners for kids' doors, book covers, and greeting cards.
After a few songs that told of the joy of Christmas, another child stood up and said, "There are many places in the world where they won't be singing because they HAVEN'T heard because NO ONE has gone . . . ."
Integrating missions is not hard, Templeton said. "The Christmas story is the good news the missionary tells!" Easter is much the same.
At Easter, the Calvary youth department held a big program to which the children invited their unsaved friends. After an evangelistic message, there was an invitation. Sixth grade students served as "counselors." And that, said Templeton, was missionary emphasis enough: "The children learned the message; they learned to share it; and they practiced what they'd been taught."
And what are you supposed to do with the missionaries you get? "Have them be there in the class; let the kids get their vision and burden." It's that personal contact that "sells."
Beyond the personal contact with a missionary for each class, or in the extreme situation where a missionary cannot be had for each class. Temple-ton is adamant about having a "missions time" each day. "Have a missions room decorated to the hilt; bring the kids to the room; have a special story-teller. If I've got a missionary from Africa who lives in a hut, I'll have a hut in the room, a 'campfire' (made from cellophane and lights), a man with an African drum . . . . "
Need more ideas? Contact Templeton, or take note of the resources listed on Supplement pages 14-15.