A letter from Kari Nicewander in Zambia
“I am thankful to be here learning.” Her tiny voice traveled up to my ears, and I repeated her words in a booming tone, to a hundred children, gathered in a huge outdoor circle. “She is thankful to be here learning,” I proclaimed. “We thank God!” One hundred voices responded in unison.
After six months of writing, meeting with colleagues, researching, creating, editing, and using my children and neighbors as guinea pigs, I was in Eastern Zambia for the first curriculum trial. In a 10-hour drive from Lusaka I brought along my curriculum draft, a children’s Bible, and nothing else. The curriculum is meant to be accessible in resource-poor settings. So I would not be using crayons and paper, puppets or playthings. I would just use the curriculum we are creating, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s children’s Bible, which will accompany all the lesson copies when they are distributed.
I expected 30-50 children; our congregation in Lusaka is one of the larger churches, and we generally have fewer than 40 kids on any given Sunday. And so I got ready, chose a lesson, prepared to teach it, and waited for Sunday to arrive. The lesson would take place after worship; the teachers were prepared, and we were ready to give it a try.
I walked into the building, reminding myself that this is a trial. It is meant to expose the weaknesses so we can improve the document before it is approved, finalized, translated, printed, and distributed. Therefore this should not be smooth, I reminded myself. I breathed deeply as I went through the door. There were over 100 children gathered, ranging in age from 4 to 15. Not exactly what I had expected.
A big part of my job lately has been the development of a holistic Christian Education curriculum to be used for children, youth, and adults. The Synod leadership requested that I write three different curricula, one for Sunday School, ages 4-9, one for Hearers, ages 10-12, one for Catechumen, ages 13-15. The ones for Hearers and Catechumen also have modifications so they can be used for adults as well.
The curriculum is meant to be used in resource-poor settings, using only items that can be easily procured. All of the lessons include an application that is specifically African, lifting up people, practices, organizations, or cultural issues that relate to the Biblical theme. Finally, the lessons address challenges that students in Zambia face, from poverty to domestic violence to HIV/AIDS to hunger to gender issues. In all of these lessons, a Biblical theme is proclaimed and a holistic, relevant message offered. The curriculum will have 52 lessons for each of the three age groups.
Back to the trial: the lesson on Jesus healing 10 lepers, on showing gratitude. The little girl, thankful to be there, learning. One hundred kids, listening, responding, laughing, acting out the story. And toward the end, as I told them the Zambian application story, all of the children created a tight crowd, quiet, listening. It was the most attentive they were during that hour. Hearing a story of their people, and their relationship to God. It was not all smooth, that is for sure. It was loud and chaotic and hilarious and crazy. It did involve at least one little girl in tears, and it ended with me having a very hoarse throat. But after the lesson the teacher told me how much he wanted a curriculum, a simple children’s Bible, a bit more training. He loves to teach, he told me. But he needs a little help; he needs something to work with.
The lesson would have been a complete failure without the teacher and his assistants. They were remarkable teachers, and the students were full of energy, because these adults emanated joy and love. They already have the church, already have the students, already have the faithfulness, already have the gifts. They just want a few resources to help them do the work that God has called them to do. And I have the blessing and privilege of working with them to create and provide these resources. A curriculum, a children’s Bible, a training.
The children’s Bible, which will accompany all the curricula, comes from the Presbyterian Church of Okemos in Michigan. That church decided that they wanted to help with the curriculum, and when one of my Zambian supervisors mentioned that he wanted something beautiful, illustrated, to go with the curriculum, the church stepped up. They offered to provide Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook Bible, full of beautiful illustrations from all around the world, full of the stories of God. That congregation raised money, through their Sunday School, to buy enough children’s Bibles for every congregation in CCAP Zambia.
It is such an exciting partnership! The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Synod of Zambia, identified Christian Education materials as a priority in its holistic ministry. I was asked to create materials, with help from my Zambian colleagues. And our partner church in the United States offered to walk with us, sending along beautiful Bibles. “I am thankful to be here learning,” said the little girl. And I was thankful, so thankful, to be there learning, too. We walk together, we love together, we learn together.
For those of you who are supporting our ministry with your financial gifts, prayers, and correspondence, I want to thank you deeply. I am so grateful for what I am learning here in Zambia, and that we get to be a part of other people learning and growing in Christ. I pray that you, too, are able to learn and grow through your partnership with us, that you are blessed by our ministry, as we are blessed by you. We ask that you do continue to support us, so that we can continue this work, proclaiming God’s love in a holistic way, assisting the church in transforming the world.
That little girl was thankful, and we are thankful too; thankful to God, thankful to you, thankful to our Zambian partners. What a wonderful gift, what an amazing world, where we all get to learn and grow together! Thanks be to God!
Kari, Joel, Frankie, and Johnny
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