Lydia remembers her dreams and happily shares them in detail. Stephan loves cats, and, with his lanky athletic body, he could be one. Cara’s answer for the ice-breaker question, “I would trade ____ for ____,” was “my brother for a horse.”
Before those revelations, we wrote faith-building curriculum for children. That’s fun. You brainstorm, research, imagine and sit at your computer to see what happens. If good ideas emerge, the Holy Spirit and you have succeeded.
But then we decided to teach what we wrote. We put ourselves in a classroom with fourth- and fifth-graders, which was scary, because we are two old ladies who would sometimes rather sit back and let the younger generation take over.
But there was the matter of the Eli Machine: a cardboard refrigerator box crafted into a time machine by one of our husbands. It’s named for Elijah, who got to pass from Earth to heaven in a chariot with fiery wheels. It’s designed to transport the children back to Bible times.
With big black sheets on either side of the Eli Machine, the room was divided in half. Pass through Eli, and on the other side there’s an inexpensive projector to turn a laptop into a video show. Bibles to read the story. Skits to act it out.
Somebody had to get smelly tuna into the Eli machine for when the children passed through on their way to the story of Jonah.
Somebody had to give them a blinded-by-the-light experience as they passed through to the story of Saul.
Somebody had to paint neon footprints in the machine so the black light could do its thing. Somebody had to show old toes with neon nail polish. Well, you get the picture.
We had to be there for the fun. And the learning.
We had to be there when, in a skit about Jesus calming the storm, Jesus said, “Chill! Enough already!” and one of the children commented, “Jesus probably didn’t say ‘chill.’ ”
We had to be there when different children, at different times, explained what had happened in that day’s story, and they knew not only the who and what but also the why and how. We had to be there to absorb their energy and enthusiasm for old stories becoming new again to us.
We had to be there, honestly, because writing and planting the seeds are only the first steps. Somebody has to water, cultivate and fertilize. Somebody has to celebrate the Holy Spirit bringing it all together.
And so, one Sunday, we gave witness. We told the children that when we wrote the lessons, we had no idea what the theme would be for the worship service that day. Then we told them that for three Sundays in a row, the themes matched up in ways that only the Holy Spirit could make happen. The children listened, and then they were ready to move on. It obviously meant more to the two old ladies, and that’s OK.
Because this Sunday, one of them is having a birthday. She will bring a donkey piñata. She will explain that as someone who loves donkeys and is a pacifist, she can’t bear to think of destroying it to get to the candy inside.
“So, children, come up with a plan for the donkey to give up its sweets while keeping its life.”
And they will.
Carol Duerksen and Doris Unruh are members of Tabor Mennonite Church near Goessel, Kan., and part of Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc.