It’s Not Child’s Play

A New Idea Comes to Russia

By Anonymous

By the age of 10 I was a seasoned veteran when it came to Sunday school. I could answer every question the teachers asked, I knew the books of the Bible, I was great at sword drills, and I always memorized my verses.

Still, there was a dark cloud over me when it came to church. I knew what sin was, and I knew that I was a sinner. Yet no matter how hard I tried to be good, I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t know what grace was. I felt like God could never forgive me or love me no matter how much I loved Him.

But there was a day that changed my life. I heard the phrase “you can know for sure that you are going to heaven.” I didn’t believe it! It couldn’t possibly be true. How could anyone know if they had been good enough for God? Being the “all knowing” student, I couldn’t possibly ask if it was really true.

I waited until that night to ask my dad. He explained to me what grace is. He told me God did love me and wanted to forgive me. That night I sought God’s forgiveness and asked Jesus to be my personal Savior. Instantaneously I felt joy! I knew I was forgiven and loved, and I wanted everyone to experience that feeling as well. I knew God wanted me to go overseas and tell others about grace.

Also, I knew I was going to Russia. The Soviet Union was not a country I had studied, and I have no ancestors from Russia. Yet I knew that was where I was supposed to go. As soon as I learned that Christians were not allowed there, I began to pray. I believed with all of my heart that the God who was big enough to forgive me was big enough to make a way for me to do what He had called me to do. Two years later the Soviet Union collapsed.

From my experience in the American church I believe that too often we assume “church kids” have a saving faith. Yet I know—also from experience—that that is not always true. When I moved to Russia, I learned that the problem there was far more disturbing. Russians typically believe that children cannot have a saving faith in God. They believe that anyone younger than 16 years of age cannot receive Christ as Savior. That belief has led to a Sunday school of coloring pages and play time.

After language study I moved into my first ministry role in Russia, focusing on children in a small church plant. I knew that I would not only have to prove myself in ministry, but also I would have to show them the value of working with children. The pastor and leaders were hesitant but open to giving it a try.

One of the first things I did after beginning my ministry was to travel to Moscow to look for Sunday school curriculum. What I found was sparse and incomplete. When I talked to my pastor about the lack of curriculum, he put me in contact with Child Evangelism Fellowship. I had been through the training in English. I did it all over again in Russian. While I believe in what CEF does, I knew it would not work in my context. I had more than 10 kids between the ages of 3 and 13 in one small room and no assistant. Effective use of an age-based curriculum was not possible in this setting. So I began writing my own material. I was fresh out of language study and felt completely inadequate. I had to rely on God to help me write and teach each week.

Sunday school led to a biweekly kids’ club. Non-Christian children would come on Friday night and like it so much that they would come again on Sunday morning. That got the church excited enough to start working at an orphanage. Once a month 10 people from our fellowship would go to an orphanage to play with the children and love on them. That led us into a kids’ camp, where our first two children prayed to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior! Those two girls were the pastor’s and head elder’s daughters. A small church of 50 people began to believe in the value of children’s ministry.

A year and a half after I began the children’s ministry, it was time to go back to the United States for a year of home assignment. I left my church with no curriculum, few supplies and little training. I had spent the year and a half just trying to figure it out myself. Shortly after I left, I watched the ministry begin to crack. The orphanage outreach ended. No one had the energy to do camp. Sunday school was back to coloring pages and play time. I began to question whether any of it was worth it.

As the ministry unraveled, I prayed that God would give me direction. I didn’t want a ministry that would crumble; I wanted something lasting. Russia is a huge country; how was it possible for me to make a real difference by staying in one church? God clearly directed me to start writing. To write curriculum for churches just like mine. Churches with fewer than one hundred members. Churches with one classroom—if they are blessed. Churches with a wide age span, few resources and little training among the staff and volunteers. Those churches are in the majority in Russia. Those churches are the coloring-and-playtime churches. I believe they just need help and encouragement.

A year ago I moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, and began writing. I won’t say it’s not a daunting task. Every week I sit down and write three new lessons. I then review them with a Russian language teacher and edit them. Then I teach a new lesson in the classroom and edit it some more, working with other teachers in my church.

Each lesson is extremely simple. They consist of review, story, craft, memory verse and activity. One benefit of Russian being my second language is that it’s easy to put the Bible stories on a kid-friendly level because that is where my own vocabulary is.

After I had written about 50 lessons, I began to wonder if it was all too simple. Would anyone ever use what I had written? Then a guest teacher from another church came to observe my class. At the end she asked me where I bought my material. I told her I wrote it. With a downcast look she said; “Oh, I’ve been looking for material for months, and I can’t find anything.” I asked her if she wanted copies of mine. “Yes,” she very quickly replied. “I haven’t seen anything this good and simple.” God brought me encouragement at just the right time.

By the end of this summer I finished writing the lessons, 101 in all. I will spend the next six months working with a Russian teacher doing a final edit, adding some more activities and taking pictures of every craft. I then hope to send it on to the printer and by the fall of 2013 be ready to start training teachers in seminars throughout Russia.

It has been amazing to see how God has blessed and guided me in this process. When everything gets overwhelming I sit back and count my blessings. They give me the strength I need to keep writing and dreaming.

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