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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Children at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City are learning kindness by showing it to others


The church has a bus to ferry children around the neighborhood so they can practice random acts of kindness

July 8, 2023

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A bus takes the youth of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church to deliver Andy’s ARKs (for Andy’s Acts of Random Kindness) around town in Iowa City. St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, Iowa, is a Matthew 25 church addressing issues such as mental health, particularly in youth, and using its new property to benefit its neighborhood. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

The children of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, Iowa, are “growing up in the church and learning how to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” says Nichole Hoffman, children’s ministries outreach coordinator at a church that’s living out its Matthew 25 ministry among members and friends of all ages.

“We work on teaching kids how they can help people who are struggling,” said Sara Penn, children’s ministries activities coordinator. Both sat for interviews at the church recently. “For us, to focus on Matthew 25 seems to be right on par with what this church has always been about.”

A central lesson the children’s ministry, Live25, seeks to impart is, “Our actions affect everyone around us,” Penn said. A church-owned school bus transports children for “Andy’s ARKs,” for “acts of random kindness.” Children use their creativity to spread some of their money and the love they harbor around the neighborhood, including a neighborhood grocery store and laundromat.

“It teaches kids that a little kindness goes a long way,” Penn said. For the children, “it can seem costly at the time, but in God’s economy it’s incredibly worth it. It’s priceless.”

St. Andrew has worked with partners to help teach children mindfulness practices from tai chi to controlled breathing. On the day of the interview, some of the children were undergoing standardized testing in school.

“I was telling my daughter, ‘What do you do?’” Hoffman said. Her daughter told her, “I know I can take deep breaths nice and slow, especially when I’m nervous because I don’t know how to answer a question.” Children are taught those skills in fun ways, including blowing regular-sized bubbles and those that are long and must be formed slowly.

Even a game like doc ball can boost mental health among children.

The game, a takeoff on dodgeball, is played in darkness with squishy balls. Once children are on the ground, they must ask for help to get back up again.

Nichole Hoffman is the Children’s Ministries Outreach Coordinator and Sara Penn is Children’s Ministries Activities Coordinator at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

“That’s huge in mental health,” Hoffman said. “People think it’s a weakness, but sometimes you just can’t ask [for that help]. … It’s important to go where kids are and meet them in their own space.”

Last fall, the church hosted an all-abilities art show featuring poetry, welding, birdhouses, painting and other creative outlets. An art teacher who’d been teaching his daughter scribbling as a calming technique held a workshop for the children, telling them that what looks like scribbles is in fact “a skill you can build on. All of us have scribbled,” Hoffman said.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox that goes along with their breathing,” Hoffman explained. “It’s cathartic. God doesn’t need the words. God knows the words.”

The culminating service project for the year was a fundraiser for Cedar Rapids-based Deafinitely Dogs, which trains and places service dogs for people wanting to be more independent. A church member discussed how his service dog has improved his quality of life, and another told the children about her therapy dog. It turned out a third member needed a service dog, and so the children got to work helping make dog toys out of recycled materials, decorating boxes to hold dog treats, and enlisting the help of the Sewing for Others circle at St. Andrew to create bandanas to sell. All told, the children raised $400 to help Deafinitely Dogs.

They’ve also participated in a mitten tree project each Advent, held “competitive” food drives and packed backpacks for others full of everything from food to period products.

Andy’s ARKs seem to inspire the most creativity. Hoffman’s daughter once left postcards with kind messages along the medicine aisle of the neighborhood grocery store, figuring people searching for medicine need a word of encouragement. One child paid for another’s carnival wristband. Another left chocolates along with positive messages on a bench for another child to find. One message assured the recipient: “I love you whoever you are.”

For Penn, doing the work Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 “has always been part of my core belief. I know my grandma always taught me to treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: St. Andrew Presbyterian Church’s Children’s Ministry

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Denise Gray, Accountant, General Ledger Office, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Bridgett Green, Vice President/Executive of Publishing & Editorial Director, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation

Let us pray

Gracious and Loving God, we are mindful that you are calling us back into the work of bringing hope to your Kingdom, wherever it may be. We are thankful to be able to support congregations who embrace this calling. Amen.