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Twelve Sundays each spring and fall, groups of twenty to twenty-five children make their way from Children’s Ministries in WBC’s Lower Level to the Global Outreach Center in the Atrium for an adventure in missions.
For some of these first- through fourth-graders, this experience could very well change the trajectory of their young lives!
When they arrive in the Global Outreach Center, these classes of inquisitive children are greeted by a gifted team of creative teachers—some of WBC’s best—who share three passions: teaching children, missions, and telling rich, life-impacting stories about God’s love for them and our world.
Cindy Clousing and Nancy Hemstreet lead the current teaching team, along with Marilyn Petersen, Nancy Lewis, Carol Balow, and Jan Sokoloski, who serves on the Global Outreach staff. Together they bring decades of experience with children as veteran teachers in public and Christian schools, Children’s Ministries staff, GO Team members and leaders, and parents.
Team member Nancy Lewis is herself a former missionary who served among at-risk children in the Dominican Republic.
During this missions-enrichment hour, the children are transported to far corners of the world through stories and hands-on experiences.
“Can we come here more often?” asked one second grader.
Another child adds, “This is my favorite room in the church.”
“I want to be a missionary when I grow up,” says another.
A Big Vision for Young Hearts
As our new campus was being envisioned, the spark for the Children’s Missions Enrichment team came from Cindy Judge. Then WBC’s director of Global Outreach, Cindy dreamed of a Global Outreach Center that, among other things, would expose our children to the world of missions in a kid-friendly way. With that goal in mind, she assembled a team of creative minds and gifted teachers who loved missions and relished being unleashed to develop curriculum that would resonate with young minds and connect to our own church’s missions focus.
“I got the inspiration from my sister’s small church,” Cindy said. “They had a walk-in closet in their church building, decorated like an African hut, where they took one children’s Sunday school class each week for a missionary story. In our new church we had a much larger space—the Global Outreach Center—where we could do something similar. All we needed was to find some elementary teachers who had a passion for missions to develop a curriculum each semester that could be adapted and taught to first- through fourth-graders, one class at a time.
From the buzz among kids and teachers, the children love the interactive nature of their visits—from watching videos about different cultures to eating Cheerios with chopsticks to meeting missionaries who tell their stories.
The creativity is amazing as this team takes on everything from introducing children to the secretive church in China to the mysterious world of Islam to the history of HCJB’s worldwide radio broadcasts from Quito, Ecuador.
For many children the classes are their first introduction to what the work of a missionary is all about. For some, their visits start them thinking about what God might want them to do someday. All hear the challenge to be a missionary every day—right here, right now.
Props, Stories,—and China
The curriculum for each semester of Children’s Missions Enrichment is unique in terms of the theme and the props/activities the team uses to bring the theme to life.
“We use maps, DVDs, role playing, music, costumes, food tastings, and more,” teacher Cindy Clousing explains, “anything that will connect our children to children in another part of the world and the kind of setting our missionaries are in. We also try to connect our children to the missionaries themselves, by showing their photos and ‘translating’ their ministry into language the children will understand.”
Central to each lesson is a good story.
“We have learned the powerful effect that telling a simple story has on children,” says Nancy Hemstreet. “We all love good stories, and what better stories to tell than true stories of missionary families, the challenges they face, and how God uses them. We want to tell good stories with a strong message for the children. We also like to include hands-on activities, something for the children to take with them to remind them of the stories, as well as a letter for parents so they can be connected to what their child has seen and heard.”
The Underground Church
During a recent semester, children experienced a powerful lesson on the underground church and on what it’s like for people to gather for worship in a land where such gatherings are forbidden.
That lesson began as soon as the children left their home classroom on the Lower Level, because even the walk up the stairs and down the halls affords teachable moments.
“For that unit,” Cindy said, “we put scraps of paper on the floor along the hallway the children would travel to get to the Global Outreach Center (GOC). We asked the children to walk in silence and to pick up the scraps and put them in their pockets. When we finally arrived in the GOC, the kids discovered that the topic was ‘The Underground Church in China.’
“Once they arrived, we asked the children to give us the scraps of paper, which they expected us to throw away. But instead we unfolded them carefully and started to tape them together,” she explained, “and the scraps became a Bible story familiar to the children. We explained that in some places of the world, the children may only have a small piece of Scripture. But even with a small piece, people can learn about Jesus.”
Fast-forward to this fall’s lesson, which focused on two heroes who were children—the boy with the lunch that Jesus used to feed the 5,000, and a young girl from Wales named Mary Jones, who was born in the late 1700s.
At the age of 15, Mary Jones walked twenty-five miles in hopes of buying a Bible of her own. At that time in Wales, Bibles were very scarce, but she had worked and saved for six years in order to buy a Welsh Bible she could read for herself. Mary’s story had such an impact on the church leaders that a mission organization was eventually formed so that Bibles could be distributed through the world in languages of the people. We know that organization today as United Bible Societies, and one of our WBC missionaries serves with UBS in Egypt.
Through stories like these, the children are learning about character and courage so they can face big challenges. They are also learning that God can use people of all ages—even children and teenagers—to make a big difference.
Another semester the lesson focused on refugees in our community. The children imagined what it would be like to go to a new country and not have a clue about how to live in that new culture. They were introduced to some refugees in the Bible, and they discovered that Jesus himself was a refugee.
And when the Global Outreach Center wall display featured Latin America, the children learned fun facts about Latin America and became familiar with families WBC supports who serve throughout Latin America.
As part of that unit, the teachers created a makeshift radio station and headphones, and the children learned about a man who had a “big idea” to begin a radio station on the top of the Andes Mountains that could broadcast the Gospel around the world. The children learned that he trusted God and God blessed the efforts of HCJB Radio.
Biographies Are Favorites.
A favorite unit for the teachers and children alike over the past five years has been the story of the Dr. Paul Jorden family from Wheaton Bible Church—three generations of missionaries.
Dr. Jorden, a surgeon from Wheaton, took his wife, Janet, and nine children to Kenya in 1972 for a one-year missions adventure. That year so affected Dr. Jorden’s family that his oldest daughter, Sandy, became a missionary in Kenya, and his granddaughter Suzanne Lincoln became a missionary in Africa too.
The theme for that unit was “The Ripple Effect.” Through it, the children discovered how one act of obedience by Dr. Jorden and his wife affected his children and even his grandchildren. Through this one family’s story, they saw how God can use many different occupations to serve Him. They also dreamed about what occupation they might enjoy when they grow up and thought about how they could use it as a missionary.
Other biographies that captured the imaginations of the children have been the stories of Eric Liddle, Amy Carmichael, and Jim Elliot. Each has afforded opportunities to convey, in terms children understand, how one person—committed to Christ—can make a big difference.
It Often Begins as a Child.
“Our children’s faith is important,” Cindy said, “and for the forty-five minutes, just twice a year, our team has with each of our first- to fourth-grade classes, our primary aim is to encourage them to take their love for Jesus everywhere they go.”
“Our heart’s desire is that the children we teach will grow in their understanding of how God is working all over the world to change lives, and that He is using ordinary people who trust him and want to tell others about Jesus. Our prayer each week is that the children will be challenged to be missionaries where they live today and that perhaps, some of them will be called to be career missionaries.”
Often that seed is planted during childhood, and that was true of the teaching team. Each of them recalls growing up in missions-minded churches. They remember hearing missionary stories, having missionaries in their homes for dinner, and getting to know families with kids who could come home from serving in far corners of the world. Nancy Hemstreet says one of her favorite memories was the time a missionary from Japan taught a group she was in as a child to sing a song in Japanese— a song she can still sing to this day.
These passionate teachers are finding great fulfillment passing on our church’s legacy in missions.
“There is nothing more rewarding than serving with friends each week and seeing children get excited about missions and missionaries,” Nancy adds. “What could be better!”