The Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia will soon launch its first uniform Sunday school curriculum — one based on the idea that a foundation for transformative peace can begin with children.
Krista Allen of Elkhart, Ind., wrote the children’s curriculum in collaboration with the MKC peace office during a four-year service term with Mennonite Central Committee in Addis Ababa.
“For peace to truly take root it must start with children,” said Allen, now the director of communications for Mennonite Education Agency. “This was the beginning concept for the creation of the curriculum.”
She finished the curriculum in 2012 and returned recently to conduct a five-day training session to help teachers introduce the new programming, when final edits of the Amharic language version are completed.
Harder to change
Allen spent a year on research. She visited six regions of Ethiopia, interviewing church leaders, children’s ministry workers, parents and children — 131 people in all — about cultural perceptions, peace and existing programming.
“Challenges ranged from a lack of a uniform Sunday school curriculum to a desire to see certain values taught and harmful traditional practices reduced,” she said.
For example, in some areas of Ethiopia, revenge killing is a common cultural practice.
MKC is working to teach adults reconciliation through traditional techniques such as mediation groups in local congregations. But adults are harder to change than children.
“If children can be taught to live peaceful lives, it will be easier for them to learn than to relearn ways as adults,” she said.
And in the research, she discerned what needs exist.
“A desire to bridge the generation gap, to help children have a healthy self-concept and adults a healthy view of children, as well as training in basic care of the physical body were all needs expressed,” she said.
Allen used her research to develop, along with the MKC peace office, a starting point: “peace defined as shalom or being in right relationship with God, self, family and friends, and the whole created world.”
She used those four concepts for categories to develop in the programming.
One year of lessons was written for each of three age groups: 3-6, 7-9 and 10-12. Each lesson consists of scriptures, a teacher’s meditation and prayer, an opening activity, singing, opening questions, a story or Scripture exploration of some form, review questions, weekly challenges, a memory verse, game and craft.
Humility, self-care, forgiveness, conflict resolution, creation care and loving those who are different are a few of the 52 topics the curriculum covers.
Parents, church leaders and Sunday school teachers each receive different training manuals.
Glenda Siegrist, who was then working as a nurse practitioner for the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia, also wrote two of the lessons.
Allen is quick to acknowledge her work could not have been done without the guidance and grace of God.
“I, to this day, do not know how I wrote the curriculum other than to say that God was with me through each step of the process,” she said.
For the last two years, MKC leaders, pastors and Sunday school teachers reviewed and translated the curriculum. Allen helped if necessary from the U.S.
She returned in mid-August to lead the training.
Thirty-two regional MKC coordinators and a selection of Sunday school teachers and children’s ministers from five regions of Ethiopia took part.
Allen said they were eager to learn, engaged and brought a wealth of knowledge as they practiced teaching and learning with each other.
“The teachers were all excellent storytellers and have the skills to be strong teachers,” Allen said.
Through mostly open discussion and group work, they covered different aspects of teaching the lessons.
“They were excited to have a uniform curriculum available for the first time for the whole church of Ethiopia,” Allen said. “There had been other curricula, but this would be the first one that would keep all the churches learning the same thing at the same time.”
She kept in mind differences in Ethiopian Sunday school classes as she worked. Compared to North America, classes tend to be larger and have a wider range of ages. Children have longer attention spans. Churches have fewer materials and a lot longer time for Sunday school. She hopes the new curriculum will meet these needs.
“With God’s help it will enable children as well as parents and teachers to learn valuable lessons not only through story but hands on experience that will provide academic, spiritual, physical and emotional skills,” she said. “Through prayer, perseverance, committed teachers and, most important, God’s provision, the curriculum has the potential to transform lives.”
Once editing is finished, the curriculum will be implemented with those at the training, who will serve as pilot groups.