After a visit from an LCMS World Relief and Human Care staff member, urban Sunday-school kids realize they, too, can reach out to children in other countries with the Good News of Jesus.
by Diane Strzelecki
The children at Hope Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Mo., were likely expecting only a mildly interesting “grownup” presentation when Sally Henrickson, medical/material goods resource coordinator for LCMS World Relief and Human Care, came to talk about her work in Kenya. Yet Sunday-school superintendent Pam Nielsen thought it would be a great opportunity to enhance the mission focus of Hope’s new Growing in Christ Sunday-school curriculum and help that emphasis resonate with the kids.
“Sally was scheduled to leave for Kenya in less than a month, to accompany medical supplies, teaching supplies, and a Mercy Medical Team,” explains Nielsen, who is also a senior editor at Concordia Publishing House. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity to connect our students with mission work, because we could have a firsthand account of the work being done.”
The visit turned out to be more than mildly interesting.
Henrickson told the students about her trips to Kenya and the needs there. “I have been working with the women’s center that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya just put together in Dago, which is a rural and extremely poor part of the country,” she explains. “They have a preschool there with one teacher and 52 children—ages 3 to 5—mostly orphans.”
Henrickson says she also told the students that children in Kenya have very few resources—such as worksheets, stickers, pictures, and crafts—compared to Sunday schools in the United States.
“Many pastors have multiple parishes—six to eight congregations is not uncommon—and they walk great distances to serve the congregations,” Henrickson recalls telling the children. “The kids and I ended up talking about how the Growing in Christ Bible Story Posters from their new Sunday-school curriculum might be good tools for the pastors to use with their children.”
Henrickson adds that the conversation developed into excited chatter as the students decided they wanted to use their offering money to help the pastors teach about Jesus.
Nielsen was pleased by her students’ response. “They did the math and were immediately excited that they could afford to do this for children in Kenya,” she remembers. “Knowing that their nickels, quarters, and dollars would be used for this purpose, they remembered to bring an offering every week.”
Before she left for Africa, Henrickson made another stop at Hope. “We took a photograph of the kids with the posters so that the African children could see who sent them,” she explains.
A chance to spread the Word
Sunday-school materials often include plenty of encouragement for children to share their faith with their neighbors. Yet it might be hard for kids to make the leap from the local mission field to foreign mission work. If a kid’s not allowed to travel to the next subdivision, how can he imagine traveling to the next country? If a child is told not to talk to strangers, how can she think about telling people in a strange land about Jesus?
If a student’s allowance is only $2.50 a week, how is it possible to raise enough money to dig a well or build a house? For a young person between 3 and 4 feet tall, some things just seem, well, out of reach.
Nielsen notes that one of the purposes of Concordia’s Growing in Christ materials is to provide ways that children can actually support and be involved in spreading the Good News. “The Growing in Christ website includes a section called ‘Mission Connection,’ and this features links to other mission organizations connected with the LCMS,” she says. “This Web address is on the back of every student leaflet so that children and families can find opportunities for prayer and support.”
According to Nielsen, the posters were designed to provide vibrant illustrations of significant events in the Bible. The back of each poster contains a summary of the Bible story in six languages: English, Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. Nielsen says that CPH consulted with LCMS World Mission and LCMS World Relief and Human Care when selecting the languages to include.
“The art is intentionally realistic, to show that these people really lived and the events depicted really occurred and were part of God’s plan for our salvation,” Nielsen says. “We wanted to provide a visual message that God’s Word and our Savior Jesus is for all people, in all times.”
Nielsen adds that English-speaking children can see what the Bible story looks like in other languages, while children who speak those languages “will be glad to see the Bible story in their own language.”
Nielsen says CPH is encouraging Sunday-school classes to purchase sets of the posters to be sent around the world. “If a Sunday school elects to purchase mission sets, CPH has an agreement with Concordia Gospel Outreach that ensures the sets will get to a missionary or mission church,” she says. “We hope this gives the children a sense of the wider church, the need to share the message of salvation with all people, and a way to be actively involved in spreading the Good News.”
‘A beautiful asset’
Once in Kenya, Henrickson presented the posters to Rev. Gordon Alex in Dago and gathered the children at one of the preschools of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) for a photograph with their new materials.
“He was excited to receive the first collection of posters and thrilled to know that more were coming for other pastors to use,” Henrickson says. “He said they were a beautiful asset to the parish, to help instruct the children—and all the people, really—in the stories of the Bible, and in their knowledge of Jesus.”
Rev. Dennis and Deaconess Lorna Meeker of the ELCK recently visited the United States and told CPH editors what a blessing the posters have been to their fellow church workers.
“Pastor Alex received a set of these posters and carries them with him wherever he goes,” Rev. Meeker said. “He has 10 congregations, assists with widows and orphans at Dago, and teaches the Bible at local schools.”
Meeker also explained that like most pastors in Kenya, Alex does not own a car or a bicycle, but walks or takes public transportation (if he has the funds) to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“It may take him up to five hours to reach his destination. So with pictures speaking a thousand words, this tired pastor can share the Gospel message more effectively with these posters,” Meeker said.
Rev. Walter Obare, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, notes that the posters have been helpful. “Often, we don’t have sight materials—and the ones we have, we use over and over again,” he says. “These materials make it much easier for our Sundayschool teachers to reach our students.”
Alex agrees. “God richly blessed us when He made these durable teaching tools available to us,” he says, noting that pastors in Kenya are free to preach and teach the Gospel in school classrooms. “The poster durability and the carrying bag is also of great value,” he adds.
Alex goes on to describe the condition of the schools: “Most schools are of mud construction with dirt floors, and the children walk far and are undernourished,” he says. “The posters are very helpful in that they prolong the attention span of the children to enhance learning under less-than-favorable conditions.”
After Henrickson returned from Kenya, Hope held a mission festival so she could share her experiences with the congregation’s Sunday-school students. In addition to learning songs and tasting food from Kenya, the children were able to see photos of the mission field they had served—as well as a photo of the first Kenyan children to receive the posters.
“It’s not possible for our Sunday-school children to visit Kenya, but their quarters and dimes in the offering plate can help send Bible posters to the children there,” Nielsen says. “Seeing the photos of the African children and their posters made it real for our kids.”
Getting Your Sunday School Involved
Deaconess Pam Nielsen, Sunday-school superintendent at Hope Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Mo., and an editor at Concordia Publishing House, believes that sending Concordia’s Growing in Christ Bible Story Posters to churches in need of resources is a great way for children to become involved in mission work.
“Churches purchasing these posters can check a box on the order form to request an additional set, or sets, for mission use,” Nielsen says. “That prompts CPH to work with Concordia Gospel Outreach to send the materials to a missionary, mission church, or school that has need of them.”
The poster packs sell for $11.99, and each set contains 13 posters. Concordia Gospel Outreach covers the cost of the postage to mission locations around the world.
For more details, visit www.cph.org/growing, or call CPH at 1-800-325-3040 and ask for the Growing in Christ Bible Story Poster sets.
According to Rev. Walter Obare, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK), it’s been nearly 60 years since the first Lutheran missionaries started their work in Kenya—and the church is still growing.
“At present, our population numbers about 90,000 members divided into four dioceses, and dioceses are divided into districts, and districts divided into parishes,” Obare says. “A parish is five congregations or more with one pastor. The average congregation has 50 to 60 children attending Sunday school.”
Sally Henrickson, medical/material goods resource coordinator for LCMS World Relief and Human Care makes regular trips to Kenya. She enjoys her work with the people of the ELCK.
“They have been a wonderful partner to us, just opening their hearts to us,” she says. “When we come to visit, they’re very helpful and very thankful for how we’ve been able to serve them with regard to orphans’ and women’s projects, and also the medical teams.”
Henrickson notes that both the countryside and the people make Kenya a beautiful place to visit. “The people are very gracious and excited when we come,” she says. “The last medical trip we went on, we probably saw 1,500 people in a week’s time, mainly in rural areas.
“The people are so neat, and they’re very poor, and they have a very rough life, but they’re appreciative and supportive. So it makes it worthwhile,” she adds.
Poster Power: In the Mission Field
Packing for international travel–especially if it’s a mission trip–is no easy task. But when Christine and Aaron Ferber, members of Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Charles, Mo., traveled to Honduras to work at a Christian orphanage for five weeks, they decided to take both the Old and New Testament Growing in Christ posters with them.
“We felt the posters had the potential to be a great tool to share the Gospel,” Aaron says.
They weren’t disappointed, he adds.
Christine, a clinical psychologist fluent in Spanish did some traditional counseling work with the children, but, according to Aaron, a lot of her time was spent just being a trustworthy friend. His role on the mission trip was a little different.
“My background is in engineering, and my intent had been to help with several construction projects that the orphanage was beginning,” he says. “However, due to various reasons, the construction projects were at a standstill during our time there, so I served as the resident handyman, hooking up the water pump, working on vehicles, installing bathroom fixtures, etc.
“It’s always a challenge to think of effective ways to share the Gospel, especially when you’re working in a culture other than your own,” Aaron says. “The posters provided an easy and effective way for us to conduct short Bible lessons on a moment’s notice. We used them for an Easter lesson and bedtime readings, and we left the posters at the orphanage to hang on the wall.”
Ferber notes that the children were very interested when the posters were read. “They would often scoot in closer and closer during the reading in order to get a better look at the picture on the front of the poster,” he says. “They even argued over who got to read the posters, so we let them take turns doing it.”
The posters ended up serving a dual purpose. “Several of the children at the orphanage were interested in learning English and would often ask us how to say things,” Ferber says. “We took advantage of the multiple translations on the back of the posters by first reading a paragraph in Spanish and then reading it in English. It was one more element of the posters that intrigued them.”
Poster Power: Meet the Translators
Each Growing in Christ poster provides the text of the Bible story, which is printed in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian on the poster’s reverse side.
“So often in these faraway lands the people cannot read their own language, thus a picture is truly worth a thousand words,” says Deaconess Pamela Nielsen, senior editor of Sunday school, youth, and family materials at Concordia Publishing House. “Providing the story in their language so someone can read it to them is a priceless tool.”
The translators for this project are from around the world, but they have one thing in common, Nielsen says. All were eager to do the work, and they understand the potential of what they are doing. The translations were sent via email to CPH, where artists and editors ensured they were properly placed on the posters.
Spanish. Sandra Luiz is a high school English teacher who lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She and husband, Ricardo Gross, have four children and are active in helping handicapped children in Latin America.
French. Joseph Randriansolo is a resident of Ivory-Avaratra, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar. He is a professor of systematics at the Malagasy Lutheran Graduate School of Theology, an assistant pastor to The Malagasy Lutheran Church of Camp of Joy, and a lecturer at national religious events. He also works with poor rural street kids through the Good Samaritan Association in Fianarantsoa.
Russian. Olga Suhinina lives, works, and attends church in Novosibirsk, Russia. She is a translator at the Lutheran Theological Seminary and a charter member of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church. “Novosibirsk” means “a new city in Siberia,” Suhinina says. “It is only 110 years old.”
Chinese. Janice Lau is a travel consultant who works out of her home in San Francisco. She is a member of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in San Francisco, where her husband is pastor.
Arabic. Hicham Chehab is a former Muslim now serving People of the Book Lutheran Outreach (POBLO), evangelizing to Muslims in Chicago. A native of Lebanon, he is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Roselle, Ill.