Guest blog post by Karen Keller
But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and don’t try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom.” (Matthew 19:14 CEV)
When I was a child growing up in the United Methodist Church, I remember that my parents once got a little cardboard folder to put quarters in. Although I don’t remember whether you were supposed to put the quarters in every day or every week — or even what the project was for — it really made an impression on me that kids could be a part of giving.
A few years ago, when my husband and I were members of another church in a suburb of Pittsburgh, we saw the success of the children collecting money from the congregation and I thought we should try it with the Lenten Mission Project.
At first, when Pastor Nick asked Sallie Alviani and me as the co-chairs of the Missionary Support Team to consider a way of helping others rather than the gifts we might get at Christmas, Sallie and I felt that because December was such a busy time, we would need more planning time. Then, after looking through what the Presbyterian Giving Catalog had to offer, we decided to launch our project during the Lenten season.
And, of course, we planned to involve the children!
Not only is our pastor, Nick Marlatt, a young minister with three young daughters, one of the things that most impressed me about our church other than its friendliness is the number of children.
Our annual Lenten Mission Project of collecting money for water-related initiatives, which we started in 2017, has been God-directed all the way. At first, we had no clue how it would go, but this year —even during a pandemic — we raised more money than the last.
The Spirit moves people, and they give.
When we started, we had simply hoped to get enough money to build one well, and instead ended up expanding our project in the last two years to also help another church in our presbytery with money to distribute water to a group whose wells were ruined by what is believed to be water from the drilling of gas wells.
That we are helping to finance wells built in South Sudan and Panama fits well with the motto for our church, “Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Teaching Our Neighbors How to Love God.” With those words — and by our actions — we teach our children that our neighbors are not just the people we live around, but they are all over the world.
To generate excitement every Sunday, we had built a small well and purchased plastic containers and buckets as a way of including the entire church. The children and their families would place their loose change in the water bottle containers and drop their money into the well during the Children’s Time throughout Lent. The children also used the plastic buckets to collect from the congregation the first Sunday in Lent and Palm Sunday. We posted a chart on the wall showing our progress each week, and, with the Lord’s help, have far exceeded our goal each year.
Pastor Nick has used the Children’s Time to talk to the kids about the need people have in the world for clean and easily accessible water. He once showed them a bottle of dirty water and asked them if they wanted a drink. On another occasion, he read them the book, Water Princess, by Susan Verde. He does a great children’s sermon!
As we look forward to planning our next mission project for Lent 2021, the children will again be front and center. It’s organized chaos, but our congregation loves it. Whenever I look at those children, I think to myself, “We have little missionaries here!” We could all learn something from their enthusiasm.
Karen Keller is a member of the Ohio United Presbyterian Church in Aliquippa, Pa.