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Southbroom Church Worker in South Sudan

by glynch — last modified 25 Nov, 2014 01:23 PM

Devizes families worker finds herself speaking at a South Sudanese conference for Sunday School teachers

Southbroom Church Worker in South Sudan

Becky Sedgwick teaching at a Sunday School teachers' conference in Kajo-Keji, South Sudan.

by Becky Sedgwick, Family Life Co-ordinator at St James’ Southbroom, Devizes

A few months ago, our vicar Jonathan asked me if I’d like to go to Kajo Keji in South Sudan – and before my brain engaged, my mouth said “Yes!!!”   I had no idea what I was going to do there and thought I’d just be sort of hanging around being a good helper – but a few weeks later, an email came from Caroline Lamb, leader of the team, listing the team and to my surprise I saw the words ‘conference speaker’ next to my name.  It turned out that because I was going they had decided to put on a conference for Sunday School teachers as well as the clergy conference already planned.

So it was with some trepidation that I started to plan.  There would be six teaching sessions, 1-1.5 hours long each, over two days, and of course everything would have to be interpreted.  We ended up with two introductory sessions – one on discipleship and one on connecting children to God, and then some practical sessions – games, storytelling, praying with children and how to structure a Sunday School lesson.  I found it really difficult to write the sessions because I knew that the teachers would be coming from a very different context and culture, and probably had no access to any sort of resources.  So I did my best and simply had to depend on God for their being right.

At the conference, we had 35 Sunday School teachers from various parishes in the diocese. The delegates were thrilled to be there and it transpired that simply to get to the cathedral had required considerable effort for many of them – very few people have transport, so many had walked and one young man had cycled 45 miles over two days to get there.  They were housed in the college and fed three meals a day – which in itself was a luxury for people who are more used to two or sometimes only one daily meal.  Most of the delegates were relatively young – some in their teens, and there were a handful of older teachers.  Some spoke very good English and some barely had any English. Some had received a good primary education but some, like many South Sudanese, had received a very interrupted education because of the wars.   But what they all had in common was a heart and passion for children to know God and many of them were intelligent, quick and hungry for new ideas.

The day before the conference began I was introduced to a man called Francis who was to be my interpreter – and it turned out that Francis, whose English was excellent, is employed by an organisation called Children’s Evangelisation Mission to work with children and train up children’s workers and teachers.  Francis is intelligent, articulate and passionate and was an excellent translator. 

What I quickly learned was that in this very poor country, most of the teachers had no resources at all – you don’t have picture Bibles, pens and paper, glue, scissors, balls – all the things we normally rely on.  Sunday Schools take place under the mango trees outside the churches, with the children sitting on heavy benches, as I was able to see for myself when I went to Francis’ church that Sunday.  There is no curriculum with helpful suggestions.  So even Francis, with access to some resources, just has some large sized picture books to help tell Bible stories – but these are too expensive and simply unavailable for most.  The majority of teachers only have a Bible as their curriculum and resources.

But what surprised me most was that they had been so under-exposed to ideas that we take for granted – but as I realised during the week, South Sudan is so isolated in many ways – internet access in the rural areas is rare (and you have to be able to afford a computer even if it is available, which is well beyond most people’s reach) and access to education has been very patchy.  So the idea of telling the week’s Bible story in any other way than simply reading or telling it was new – so in our storytelling seminar I introduced them to some simple ways to involve the children by acting out the story.  We had such fun retelling the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den using ‘human photos’! 

Similarly, games aren’t used in teaching contexts – so I explained how we use games (just for fun, as a way of including children in a group, to teach specific points) and introduced the delegates to some we use.  The games I suggested could all be played with either no equipment or very simple equipment: for example, Simon Says to help children think about listening carefully, or Hot Potato to help them learn a memory verse.   The delegates loved the games!  There was much laughter and at the end of the conference, the delegates demonstrated ‘Simon Says’ to the Bishop and the clergy and it was lovely to hear laughter echoing all over the cathedral.

Although South Sudan is in many ways a million miles from us, it turned out that they face exactly the same challenges as we do in keeping children in church, so just like us, they need to find ways to make faith stick.  So during the two days we thought a lot about how important it is to introduce children to God, not just teach them about him, using concepts from Rachel Turner including her ‘chat and catch’ approach to prayer.  It was inspiring to see how some of the delegates lit up at these ideas, recognising how they could revolutionise their ministry.  We drew everything together in the session on planning a Sunday School lesson and the delegates were tasked with drawing up and then presenting a lesson plan to the conference.  It was most moving to see how diligently they worked at this in their small groups, many of them working well into their lunch break, and when they fed their plans back, every group had included at least one of the key concepts we’d learned about during the two days.

The feedback from the delegates at the end of the conference was lovely to hear.  They felt affirmed in their calling and seemed determined to put some new things into practise in their own Sunday Schools.  So at that level the conference was a success – but we recognise that in order for the new ideas to embed in such difficult conditions, one conference is not enough.   We are exploring with Francis ways for him to continue the training with the teachers throughout the year, with the hope that in time, the ideas I shared can become adapted to the South Sudanese context and further developed by the South Sudanese teachers.   With Francis ideally placed to do this and providing the funds can be found to support further training, it is possible that whole new models of effective child evangelism and discipleship could be developed and shared across the nation.  How exciting that would be!

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