by Joy Casey
For as long as I can remember I have attended Sunday School. Bible stories were taught with a fun craft to reinforce them; action songs were belted out with basic Bible truths engrained forever in my psyche. I still find myself humming the ‘books of the Bible’ song looking up a passage! I entered Bible college and then Discipleship Training School with YWAM with a firm Biblical foundation on which to build a mature spiritual life.
I had the advantage of a Christian heritage and attended churches with deep root systems. I was encouraged to pursue Christ, my faith rarely challenged. I have never been fearful to follow Christ.
The children of M*slim converts have a decidedly different background. Most of their mothers are illiterate, their fathers sustenance farmers. It is certain they will encounter intense persecution for their faith. At an early age they will discern that the little band of Christ-followers in their village offer strength and safety to a degree, but that they will need to grow strong to withstand the pressures as they grow up.
Statistics shout out amazing facts: 64% of Ethiopia’s population is under the age of 25. 44% are 14 and under! With Ethiopia’s population exploding at 108,000,000, that means there are 47,520,000 children under 14.
And if you walked into a village with me, you would not doubt those statistics for a minute! Sixty-five percent of Ethiopians live in the countryside which translates to 30,888,000 (thirty million!) rural children needing Jesus. Outlying villages where the Gospel has never before penetrated is where God has called NLE to spend resources and energy.
Nine churches have been built, two more are almost finished and four house churches are looking for property to build. Conservatively, the adult to child ratio is 1:3-4 in these churches, yet church services and evangelism are geared toward adults. But what about the kids?
This past year, Child and Youth Director, Mikiyas, brought curriculum and resources to five established church plants to begin the process of grounding children in their faith. Children’s leaders were vetted and selected, attending a 5-day workshop on effective ways to teach the curriculum developed specifically for rural settings. In one village the church meets in a storage shed and children are taught on Wednesdays and Fridays, consistently reaching about 34 children.
One of our larger churches offers children’s programs both Saturday and Sunday where 54 children receive Christian education. A smaller church with about 25 adults regularly ministers to 30 wiggly little ones on Sunday mornings.
This might not sound very exciting at first glance, but keep in mind there is no culture of Christian education for children in these new churches! Everyone attending is a relatively new convert from Isl*m. No one, not even the pastors (all former M*slim believers), have a history or experience with “Sunday school”.
Jesus certainly had a soft spot for little children, instructing His followers to not neglect them. I can imagine the innocent children vying for Jesus’ lap brought joy to His heart, generating a bright spot in an otherwise intense day. NewLife Ethiopia is committed to creating an atmosphere where children are a cherished and integral part of the church – a place to develop and grow into church and community leaders. Properly grounded, these children will be the future missionaries, teachers, moms and dads pushing boundaries further than we can dream.