Editor's note: Brian and Dorothy Wingard are temporarily assigned to the OPC Uganda Mission (where they once labored), pending an opportunity to resume their work in Eritrea.
Things in this part of the world usually don't start on time. Weddings are a good example. They are all scheduled to start at 10:00 a.m., but 11:00 a.m. is about the earliest we've seen one start, and one even started at dusk! So you can imagine our surprise when we arrived early at a Sunday school seminar that we had organized and found the room more than half full of participants! In fact, they were already enjoying tea, bananas, and bread.
Eventually more participants came than the maximum for which we had planned. Even tiny, struggling churches in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Uganda were represented by a pastor and two teachers, as recommended. We had suggested that each church select a teacher and an alternate who would be both a substitute and a helper during each class, especially to deal with the problems of the youngest children.
The seminar was begun by Pastor Steven Hamya, who gave a message, starting from Deuteronomy 6, that focused on the need to teach our children the Christian faith, both in the home and in the church. The speakers, all experienced in teaching children, covered practical aspects of teaching. They emphasized the importance of knowing the God about whom we teach and living a life of faith consistent with what we teach. They also gave pointers on dealing with children, using the resources provided, and carrying out an actual lesson.
As for materials, we built on the resource packet that the women of the OPC Uganda Mission prepared in 2001. The big item in the packet was Catherine Vos's The Child's Story Bible, which serves to guide teachers in retelling the biblical account. Each teacher then has to rethink the story in words of his or her own mother tongue. (At least three languages are represented by the churches.)
Among the other resources in the packet were two Bible maps (laminated back-to-back), a song book, and a memory work booklet (Bible verses in large-print English, for teaching older children).
Two copies of A Catechism for Young Children were supplied, one in English and one newly translated into Luganda, with Bible references included. We hope that the Luganda version will aid the teachers in explaining doctrine and will give the option of memorizing the question and answer in Luganda. Luganda is probably not anyone's mother tongue in this area, but it is related to the local languages and is the language of the most commonly used Bible.
The final item in the packet was a curriculum guide, which included a suggested lesson format for a three-year cycle of Sundays, a chart giving Bible texts, corresponding chapters in Vos, some recommended story props that would be feasible in villages (such as a mud brick, a sword-shaped stick, or a baby doll made of paper or rags), some related songs, and memory work.
If you are a Sunday school teacher, you may be wondering, "Where's the hand work?" Except for the church in Mbale, the churches are in rural areas ("villages"), where it is a blessing just to have a mango tree under which to meet. Paper and pencils, and scissors and crayons, are just not practical. Thus, simple is the guiding word for Sunday school in the village. The teaching is focused on memorization, as it is in the schools.
Sheryl Rogers, who came to Mbale with her husband from the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ), gave tips on telling a story to children, explained how to use the second teacher to help with children who need special attention, and exhorted the teachers as to what behavior they should accept from children. Rachel Magala, a pastor's wife with experience teaching Sunday school in Kenya and Uganda, quickly engaged the teachers by asking them why we should teach the children in Sunday school and how we should prepare to teach them. With humor, she made the point that a teacher must not fail to prepare, for if the teacher answers a student's question with obvious ignorance of the Bible account, she or he will lose the respect of the student. Between speakers, we introduced songsin Luganda, English, and Kiswahili. Can you guess what the most popular English song has been here (and in Eritrea, where we labored before returning to Uganda)? The favorite song is "My God Is So Big"!
An actual lesson was demonstrated by Anne James. She and her husband, a retired pastor of both the Reformed Churches of Australia and the RCNZ, have spent much time ministering in Mbale with our Mission. She chose a critical Bible lesson on the origin of sin, from Genesis 3, in order to give explanations that might help the teachers as they begin teaching. Some participants warmed up to the role-playing and unexpectedly interrupted her with typical, irrelevant questions or by quarreling with another "student." Anne never lost a beat, but dealt with each adeptly and quickly. Since some participants may never have taught or observed a Sunday school class, this demonstration was most helpful.
During the lunch of rice and beans that followed the seminar, the pastors and teachers made a point to thank us for the instruction and encouragement that we had provided. What a joy that was to hear after spending hours and hours preparing the materials and feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of giving the seminar.
When you think about the difficulty of life in the village, the task that these teachers have undertaken is remarkable. A teacher with whom I worked several years ago had once been a schoolteacher, but now was a mother with many children, living in a mud-walled home, trying to grow the family's food, and struggling with an alcoholic husband. She served faithfully as a Sunday school teacher and appreciated our help. Although most of the teachers are women, it was good to see a few men among those who will be teaching. One, who was an outstanding graduate of the Mission's Westminster Theological College in 2001, is a very faithful man, and is very gentle with children. Also encouraging to see were two or three teachers who once were students in the Sunday school. They are among the few adults in church who know how to quickly find a book of the Bible!
They will teach many children of all ages. Girls as young as four years old will come with a baby brother or sister on their back. The children will sit squished together on a mat of papyrus, all (hopefully) under the shade of a mango tree. (Can you imagine the temptation to play and tease one another?) They will be memorizing Bible verses and catechism answers in a language not their own. And we pray that the Spirit will be working faith in the hearts of many of them.
Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2008.