Our village got hit with a bit of bad news this last year when they were informed that they would not be receiving a schoolteacher for their community.
They had been working over the last several years trying to get a small government school started in our remote little village (we are 5 hours from the next Iski village with a school), but, in the end, it ended up coming to nothing. There will most likely not be a school in our village for the foreseeable future.
This has been a commonly discussed subject in the community, as well as in the church (those two entities are basically synonymous in our village, as 90% of the villagers profess faith in Jesus). “What are we supposed to do with our kids?” is a common question. “They just run around and cause trouble and have nothing to do.”
As I talked the issue over with one of our Bible teachers, I ran the idea past him of starting a little kids’ church program.* “After all,” I reminded him. “We parents are the ones that are truly responsible for educating our kids and teaching them. What if we church leaders tried to set something up for the kids in our community?”
For several months we talked and planned about how we might go about engaging with the youngest of our church family. In each step of the planning process, I tried to encourage our Bible teachers to think through the issue and own the project:
What is our goal in setting something up for the kids? What would we actually DO with the kids? What content would we teach? Who would lead it?
It was interesting to see the range of excitement and trepidation with which they talked over the topic. (Regardless of your culture, engaging with the unknown is scary!) They settled on wanting to have some of the teenagers** in the church lead the program, as that would allow the Bible teachers to come alongside them in the project, thus doubling the reach of the program.
For weeks, we practiced together reading Bible stories out loud (Remember, a written form of the Iski language is only a few years old!) and went over how to teach kids to memorize Scripture (“Go slow, and make it fun!”). And, because it never hurts to add a little extra incentive, a buddy and I made up a bunch of balls of chocolate for the kids as prizes!***
Though there were a few hiccups (a few of the teens were removed from the teaching roster for taking part in some mild sorcery), the overall program was a rousing success!
Around 45 kids gathered each day to sing, listen to Bible stories, play games, and memorize Scripture. Over the course of the 6 days that we ran the program (three days each week for two weeks), over 35 kids managed to memorize both John 3:16 & 3:17! (Chocolate WORKS!)
The Bible teachers and parents were so excited with the response of the kids, that immediately following the completion of the program, they declared that they were going to incorporate it into our weekly church schedule.
Now, during every Thursday morning teaching review, the kids are getting their own lesson, catering to them at their level. They’ve even put the adults to shame a little bit, because the kids are more excited and quicker to gather for their meeting than the adults are!
Please continue to keep the Iski Bible teachers, Christian parents, and their children in your prayers. Intentionally interacting with children is not a normal part of the Iski culture, but our Church is beginning to recognize the need for them to be actively investing in this younger generation.
What a beautiful sound to hear a chorus of children singing songs of praise to God and shouting out Scripture in the middle of the jungle!
*Though this might seem like a simple thing to a Western reader, it was a novel idea for our young church. Besides the fact that marginalized people often feel helpless to help themselves, kids are largely left to their own devices in Iski culture.
**This is another demographic that the church has struggled to engage with.
***It has taken a little while, but chocolate is catching on in Iski-land!