Every Tuesday and Thursday we have the privilege of sharing the love of Jesus with children in our neighborhood. We do this through stories, songs, conversations, games, and more, and I am responsible to develop the theme and biblical story for each gathering.
I recently finished telling the story of Joseph, who rescues his family and tribe from death by bringing them into Egypt. When I tell the stories, I follow the visual aids from a book called Godly Play, an approach to storytelling based on Montessori pedagogy. For the story of Joseph, I used little cardboard figures to represent the people and animals, and felt for the land. It was all very simple, but I told the story with much more emotion than the authors of the Godly Play method recommend.
Why? Because so many kids in our context have stifled their emotions. Trauma has taught them to shut down their feelings and live in a more constricted way. With little validation of the wide palette of emotions they experience, shutting down is how they’ve learned to cope.
When the story about Joseph came to the point where he reveals himself to his brothers, I asked the kids, “What will Joseph do?” A little boy answered, “Kill them.” He knows the reality of such conflicts and the deadly solution he’s seen in his own neighborhood. Surprisingly, Joseph explains that he is not going to do that, even though he could. Knowing God's goodness enables him to do good to his brothers and, because of this, Joseph desires a family reunion instead of bloodshed.
What the kids do not know, but what they see in the last scene, is 12 people gathered around a table eating together. In a few weeks I will talk with them about Jesus and his disciples eating the last supper together—12 people, gathered around a table. The same image and the same message: God is doing good for us in a surprising act of forgiveness that changes our lives so we can be that blessing to others.
I see it as a great privilege to create spiritual formation dynamics for these children. I call it spiritual formation because it is more than Christian education; I carry each lesson in my heart and mind throughout the week in anticipation of the class, and the story that is ultimately created overflows with life, pointing toward Jesus but also directing them to themselves. Each story gives hope, affirming the living God and his work in us and in all the places in the world.
What I try to communicate to these kids is that there is hope for a life transformed by God. In this particular story, my point for the kids was not so much their need for salvation, but to simply help them discover how God acts in their everyday life.
Just as God put people in Joseph's life to help him out of his dark place, I asked the children, “Who are the people the Lord has put in your life to help you?” It was a question they had never considered before, and it was hard for them to answer. Yet, the answer holds the key to feeling cared for, to recognizing God's tangible love, and to believing in a hopeful future. It is a building block for a life with Jesus.
Birgit Funck Shorack