Julio is the one who does most of the traveling in our family these days. So, I was grateful for the opportunity I had this month to travel and visit many of our Covenant churches on the coast. It was an extra special trip as I was accompanied by two special people, Professor Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom and her 12 year old son. As I look forward to my graduation from seminary in 2 weeks, I’m forever grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to study and learn from professors like Michelle. And now I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to teach alongside of her.
The trip was planned in order to continue to encourage the churches in the area of incorporating children and youth into the life of the church. The Covenant recognizes the important task it has in mentoring, discipling, and raising up a new generation of Christ-followers. There is a strong movement among the youth leaders as they meet regularly for study and fellowship. One of my roles here has been to encourage the children’s ministry leaders and create awareness within the church leadership and pastors as to the important role they play in children’s ministry. So, Michelle and Johannes arrived and we celebrated Easter in Medellin and then left the next morning for the coast. Our first stop was El Hato, a rural area about a 40 minute motorcycle ride from the city of Monteria. Julio has been visiting here once a month for over the past year and there is a great group of youth and youth leaders that are taking an active role in the church. We spent the evening leading a workshop for the leaders and enjoyed the participation of a group of children. The children were excited to have Johannes there and he was an awesome teacher as he showed them how to do simple origami figures. It was encouraging to see the leaders recognizing that often they don’t take into account the children’s needs in the church, that often times they are overlooked, but that they are committed to changing that. We spent a lot of time asking questions and listening. We took advantage of having the children present and the adults and youth asked them how they wanted to participate more in church and how they would imagine the worship service to be.
The next morning we left El Hato and traveled to Monteria, where we were able to visit two Covenant churches and then lead another workshop in the evening. Participants came from the three Covenant churches in the city and it was important to see them sharing ideas and experiences and encouraging each other to take the next step in including children in worship. From Monteria we took a 6 hour bus ride to Barranquilla. In Barranquilla we led a workshop where all the pastors of the Covenant churches and children’s ministry leaders were present. Again, there was a heartfelt sense that God was challenging them to look at children as a gift to the congregation and find ways to incorporate them on a weekly basis. One of the churches shared that they always invite the children to share with the congregation what they have learned in their children’s ministry time. In addition, some adolescents are playing instruments in the praise and worship team. The next day we were able to visit several of the Covenant churches and elementary schools, visiting with teachers and students. They even found time to play a little basketball with Johannes. We were moved to hear of the ways that the schools have impacted not only the lives of the students, but of their families and communities.
From Barranquilla we made a quick stop in Cartagena and then continued on to Medellin where we had our last workshop with over 45 people in attendance. The workshop went a little long and it probably could have gone longer as people were so genuinely interested in talking about practical ways that the church can better welcome children. As we looked at Scripture together and as we looked at the reality of the church and how we want to challenge ourselves to welcome children and youth, there was a sense of God’s Spirit at work. We thank God for the time we had to learn from so many people and for the opportunity to help them think about ways that they can go even deeper in ministry with children and youth.