The children looked intently at the picture of the baby in the hay surrounded by a man, a woman, and a few animals. A few would eagerly raise their hands to answer Tatu Celestin’s questions:
“Who was Jesus?”
“The son of God!”
“Where was he born?”
”In a stable with animals.”
”Was he born with honor?”
”Is a stable with animals a place of honor? No, he was not born with honor and glory. He left that in heaven when he was born as a person like us.”
Here in Kasai, most families sleep at night with livestock in their homes – goats, chickens, guinea pigs, etc. So, I could see how that was the concept of Jesus being born in a stable was not particularly “dishonorable” to these kids. And they could recognize the animals and the surroundings in the picture as a familiar setting. Tatu Celestin patiently walked them through the story of Jesus’ birth, always making sure the kids understood and engaging them with questions. One 7-year-old was even able to quote John 3:16 when he asked the reason why Jesus was born.
This Sunday was the first Sunday that a new set of pictures and lessons about the life of Jesus was used here. Tatu Celestin, the Sunday School teacher at our nearby parish in Kananga, was the first to try it out. It has taken almost all year to develop, and it is finally finished! A team of people here, including the Coordinator of Christian Education, the director of Evangelism, and the director of the printing press, coordinated the effort along with a couple of others who helped with writing lessons or illustrating the pictures. The pictures were drawn locally in Kananga, and lessons were written in Tshiluba. Each of the lessons was laminated so that it will last for years despite the humid and dusty climate, and so that nearby churches can share and rotate the lessons amongst themselves.
We have found few churches here who have a strong Sunday school or time for teaching children. Children are present in the main worship service, and maybe after a 3 hour service adults don’t have the energy or motivation to do anything else for the kids. Many people have told us that a lack of materials like pictures and lessons is one the primary reasons for the neglect of Sunday schools. We know that there are lots of ways to communicate a story and truths without materials – story telling, acting something out, etc., but those require some training and a lot of effort on the part of the teacher.
We are hopeful that early next year a training can be organized in both West and East Kasai to equip Sunday school teachers with knowledge and materials for teaching children. Children are eager to learn, and we have seen many who are fervent prayer warriors or are exceptionally loving and helpful to others. But we know that they need dedicated time tailored to them to really understand the truth of the gospel and the significance of what Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross.
And the support for creating these pictures? It came from a generous and faithful woman in the U.S. who spent many years in Congo as a missionary. In her retirement, she has collected stamps from churches and individuals and used the proceeds from the sale of them for ministry projects in Congo. What a creative idea! Given the decline of postal mail and the increased cost of mailing, “Stamps for mission” ended this year. But, we are grateful for Peggy’s faithful use of time and energy to continue to support God’s work in Congo.