Presbyterians Today

JUN-JUL 2018

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32 JUNE/JULY 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay Once the tent was up, participants ages 5 to 16 stepped inside and got a firsthand look at how they would be helping others. "Is that a cookstove?" one child asked. "Where are the pots?" asked another child, which led to the pressing question of the night: "Where is the macaroni and cheese?" By the time the last tent came tumbling down the following morning, the kids had raised $520. The $20 was given by a girl who had been saving her birthday money to buy something special for herself. After the campout, though, she told her mom that others needed the money more. Her new American Girl doll could wait. While the money raised was not enough to cover the cost of one ShelterBox, it was still enough to give the children of First United a sense of helping a world in need, even in some small way. Hands-on learning Christian educators can't stress enough the importance of hands-on mission projects when teaching children about being the hands and feet of Christ. And while taking a collection of loose change at vacation Bible school or asking for cans of food to be brought in on a Sunday morning is a valuable exercise for children, they agree it is beneficial to physically connect the children inside the church to the hurting world outside. "Jesus taught us to love one another. How did he teach his disciples that? By showing them. It's really that simple," said Amy Thetford, vacation Bible school coordinator and former Christian education director at First United. "When we raised money for ShelterBox, the children got to see the tent. Some even got to experience a night in the ShelterBox tent. That experience will stay with them for a lifetime." Brett Eaton agrees with Thetford about the impact that hands-on mission projects can have on children. Eaton remembers the different volunteer opportunities offered by his childhood church, South Presbyterian in Bergenfield, New Jersey. From serving at soup kitchens to helping build a Habitat for Humanity home, children were included in mission projects, he remembers. "As a child or teen, the impact of seeing how some people are forced to live with much less than ourselves will last so much longer than just donating a few shirts or pants that don't fit anymore," Eaton said. While Eaton doesn't discount the value of donating clothes, food or money — "many times these are very important for foundations and chari- ties to exist," he says — he believes the best type of donation children can learn to give is their time. Time, though, is a stumbling block in raising mission-minded kids. With children's schedules just as packed as adults' schedules, children have little time to participate in mission projects. "Still, for younger generations, giving their time is the most impor- tant way we can teach gratitude and perspective," said Eaton. Mindful of missions Traditional Sunday school is just one step in Christian education for children and teens, experts say. "What we also need is to connect abstract ideas to real life," Thetford said. That's easier said than done. Most churches are small, and getting volunteers to model servanthood for children is not always easy. Add to that the growing trend toward pastoral transitions and increasing money woes, and the focus and means to raise up mission-minded kids are pushed aside. "It feels like we've kind of lost a generation of kids that have a heart for service. They just haven't been exposed to missions," said Jenifer Rabenaldt, director of children's education and interim coordinator of youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church, in San Luis Obispo, California. But that is beginning to change. "We're now talking more to the younger children about real world needs and problems," she said. For example, the church has adopted a school in Haiti, and the children of First United recently raised funds to buy the Haitian children portable soccer fields and soccer balls. "Our kids were so excited to learn about the kids in Haiti," Rabenaldt said. "They asked the best questions and really gave us a chance to have an honest conversation." The First United children also wrote cards with their pictures on the front. The cards were then hand- delivered by the church's mission TIM OVERBECK Families at Culver City Presbyterian Church participate in the Big Sunday Lemonade Brigade, selling lemonade to raise money for a community emergency fund.

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