In my last post I talked some about the differences that we face here. I am going to expand on that thought just a little bit, but doing it in relation to ministry. Most people reading this know that the 8 years before we came to Africa I was involved in children’s ministry and was the Children’s Pastor at my church in Indiana. I was so grateful to be in that job every single day of those 8 years. There were many challenges in those 8 years and so many things I learned about leadership and about ministering to people. But those 8 years did not prepare me for all of the ins and outs of doing children’s ministry here in Malawi.
We are very blessed to be working hand in hand with the Anglican Diocese Lake Malawi. With the Diocese one of our many jobs here is to help develop the curriculum for the Children’s Ministry. We are in the process of coming up with some resources to help the Sunday school teachers be able to share the Bible and their heart with the children.
At our church in Indiana one of the biggest headaches is a closet called the resource room. In it are so many awesome and amazing craft items such as construction paper, stickers, markers, glue, etc. There are also tons of Bible visuals, puppets, story boards, DVD’s etc. that are available to help you teach the lesson to the children. This closet is also used by the daycare and we share it, so it can get very, very messy and it needs cleaned on a weekly basis so it can be used properly.
Here in Malawi, I wish I had a resource room, even if it was messy and painful thing to deal with. Depending on the church, Sunday Schools here have virtually no supplies and often no set curriculum to work with throughout the year.
One of the other things that we do is to travel to many different churches and observe and teach. Our first step is to observe how the Sunday schools teach and the resources that they have. We feel it is extremely important to not come in and try to change everything so we want to see the way they teach. The next step is to go back to the same location with the children’s curriculum that is being designed and to start implementing and see what other ideas and resources we can add to it within the existing context.
You might be saying, “Well I teach in a Sunday school, what are the main differences?” The first thing is the population of Malawi. There are just so many people here. In most Sunday School Class you have 100 to 400 kids that you are teaching. The teacher ratio is also much different. On an average basis there is 1 teacher to 30-50 kids and sometimes a 1:100 ratio. Some of the classes that we have visited have rooms for the children some of them do not have space so they are outside. Sometimes there are benches, chairs, and sometimes they just sit on the floor. We have also visited some classrooms where there is a dirt floor.
In some places they break them up by age but most places all of the children from ages 1-12 are in the same class. Sometimes it is due to not having the space and sometimes it is not having enough teachers. Another main difference is the length of the services. Most services are at least 2 hours long and some services go 3-5 hours long. I have a huge tool box in my head of resources, but this is a really long time to occupy so many children. And of course in 90% of the places that we visit, the children and teachers only speak Chichewa so this always makes it difficult, but we are getting used to using broken Chichewa and translators to help us.
We are located right now in the city of Lilongwe, the capital. We also have the opportunity to visit the villages and go to many of their Sunday Schools. I have a dear friend that has visited Haiti and it is a place close to her heart. She used to always talk about the huge gap between the very, very poor people and the very, very rich. In the villages you do not see the huge gaps. Most people don’t have water, power, or more than a clay brick and grass hut style shelter. But in the city of Lilongwe we do see the huge differences and gaps of how people live. There are some very expensive and pricey hotels that I even gasp at seeing. There are gardens that will put some of the places in the U.S. to shame, and we have walked in houses with washers, dryers, dishwashers, microwaves and the works.
While we are here we split our time with traveling to the different Sunday schools and going to a fully English speaking high income church, St. Thomas. It helps us to get filled up from the Lord on a Sunday by being able to understand what is being spoken and to hear the Holy Spirit. Miriam loves children so it doesn’t really matter her environment as long as there are people, she is happy. Mark does get very overwhelmed by all the people and the language barrier. He still struggles but is getting slightly adjusted to the differences.
Luke and I are able to help out with the St. Thomas Sunday school when we are there. We take turns teaching in the Sunday school classes. Most of the children and adults speak English so we don’t need a translator. I think there might be a schedule of who teaches, but if you show up, you know you will be teaching or at least helping teach. In these classes they do split up in 3 groups, ages 1-5, ages 6-9, and ages 10-12. In each class you roughly have 20-40 kids and you are the only teacher. It has taken some time getting used to never knowing if you are going to be the main teacher, having no set curriculum, and never knowing what age group you will teach. But we have gotten used to it. We are starting to be prepared with our own lesson to teach. I have to bring so many supplies due to the fact that I sometimes teach the younger kids and sometimes I teach the older kids. They do have crayons there, a snack most weeks, and a few toys to play with at the end for the preschool class if it is a long service. It has taken time to figure out what to do with 30 to 40 preschoolers outside with just chairs and the few supplies for 3 hours.
Yes ministry here is very different. But Jesus is here. He is all around us. He is always here guiding us and teaching us. Even though I admit some days I get very frustrated and want to pull my hair out. When we minister to the children and teach them about the love of Jesus, it doesn’t matter how many children there are, it doesn’t matter if it is a dirt floor, and it doesn’t matter if all of it was from my head. We are teaching children the love that Jesus has for them and we are teaching them that they are important in the Kingdom of God.
I want to leave you with one special story that is dear to my heart. When we first got here there was a little boy we were neighbors with that was terrified of me. He was about two years old and he couldn’t stand to even walk past me, he would go the other way. If I was his Sunday school teacher he would scream and yell and would not stay in the class. This continued for about 6 months. But then one day I was teaching some kids and had a balloon and I handed it him. The next time he came to me saying “balloonee, balloonee”. Then he would hesitantly give me a high five while shaking. So for the last 3-4 months he has been able to come to class with me and is just fine. I saw his dad today and he said, “You are my son’s favorite teacher, he loves when you are his teacher.” So this little boy and his ability to conquer his fears challenges me to conquer my fears. It teaches me things can be scary but in the end it can be pure joy.