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Educating children in a culturally appropriate way

Mary Ann Miller



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While we were missionaries in Congo for 23 years, my major heartache was the lack of Sunday school material in French that could be used to teach God’s Word to the many children in our area. There were adults interested in teaching Sunday school, but no materials suitable for African cultures. Before going to Congo, I had worked at Scripture Press as an editor of Sunday school material. BLF had translated their Sunday school materials into French, useable in Europe, but not in Africa. When I began working at BLF Éditions, I found that they were also interested in making their material useable in Africa. However, BLF Éditions was in debt at the time, and couldn’t take on a new project until they became debt-free. That took a few months.



Preparing a lesson

In the meantime, I received a letter from Andrée Loas, a French woman who had taught school in France before going to Chad as a missionary. She had been training women to teach Sunday school, but there was no suitable material for her to provide. She ordered a curriculum from a Canadian publisher and one from a French publisher, plus BLF’s curriculum, and found that none of them were useable in African cultures. The letter said that she had found BLF’s material to be the best of the three curricula in the methods used to teach the children as well as in its biblical content. She asked if she could use BLF’s material and adapt it for use in Africa, explaining that she’d soon come to France for a break and would like to come to BLF Éditions to discuss this with us. We arranged for her to come and meet with BLF’s editor, Yvonne Van der Does, and myself. When Andrée came, she brought several lessons from BLF’s curriculum to show us how she would adapt them to African cultures. As soon as I began reading them, I knew that Andrée understood African cultures. She had simplified the language (many don’t use French at home and don’t read much) and had fitted the applications of the Bible stories to African cultures. Instead of using worksheets, she had the children roleplay the Bible stories and the applications. Yvonne had spent a summer in a French-speaking country in Africa. She and I agreed to pray individually for two weeks to ask God if He wanted us to take on this project. When we came together two weeks later, both of us were convinced God wanted us to do it. BLF had just become debt free!


I spent days investigating how much it would cost to pay Andrée’s salary and prepare and print 15,000 copies of the curriculum: $350,000. I spent more days learning how to write and obtain grants from various Christian organizations. In the meantime, Andrée began to work on the lessons. We decided each teacher’s book should cover six months of lessons, or 26 lessons. I also began looking for artists to draw a picture for each lesson, one for the pre-school lessons and another for the elementary school lessons. The plan was to produce two years of lessons for ages 4-7, three years of lessons for ages 8-11, and three years of lessons for ages 12-15 (or older). There would not be pictures for the oldest group because they read well and could follow a different type of lesson, studying topics and not always Bible stories.


When the first book in each age level was ready to print, we decided to ask Sunday schools in various churches in several French-speaking African countries to test the lessons—some in the bush, some in cities, both large and small churches—then give us feedback. We had 31 churches willing to do the testing, sent them lessons for two months of Sundays, and a form to fill out for the feedback. The results showed us that the lessons were just what were needed, for both the teachers and the children.



BLF’s printer began printing the lessons, and teams from the USA put them into manuals. About this time, we were contacted by Emmaüs Bible School (EBS) in Morsbach, Germany. They printed and supplied Bible studies in French to many groups in Africa, but they were often asked if they had lessons for children. When they heard that we were producing a curriculum of children’s lessons, they contacted us to see if they could help us by doing the printing and then receiving a quantity of the teacher’s books and picture packets. This greatly reduced our costs, so we agreed. God was providing! BLF rented a big truck and drove to Morsbach (about a 4-hour drive) and brought back pallets of printed pages. The teams put them into picture packets and teacher manuals. The next time they rented the truck, they took more than the 10,000 copies that EBS wanted and brought back more pallets of printed pages. Just when we were ready to print the second year of lessons, the Morsbach area of Germany was flooded with heavy rains. Entire villages were washed out. The government asked the German population to fund those who had lost everything and help them rebuild. That ended our help from EBS.


God provided in other ways. We in Belgium never knew where the funds came from, but individuals gave monthly to the project, along with Sunday schools and VBS offerings. We never received a grant from any organization we had applied to, but every time a bill arrived for the project, there was enough in the account to pay it! We praised the Lord! Individual churches and groups of churches began to order the Sunday school materials, which we sent free of charge (except for payment for the transport). Then, we began receiving letters of feedback from churches that were using the materials. Various pastors wrote saying that the materials were not only helping their children learn the Word of God, but they were helping the teachers gain a better knowledge of the Bible. A message came from Adama Charles in Cameroon, “I couldn’t sleep the whole night before I went to the post office to pick up the package you sent. I was overcome with joy. I am 21 and work with over 90 Sunday school teachers who teach over 2,000 children. These materials are rich spiritual blessings for me, the teachers, and the children.”


Moulouk Mouzaoir in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso wrote: “We are a video production ministry, Procla Media, operating in West Africa, a ministry of Youth with a Mission. My wife, who was involved in the development of training the Sunday school teachers, used your Sunday School books, levels 1, 2, and 3. We procured this series at the bookstore of SIL here in Ouagadougou. We appreciate enormously this material. Procla Media is planning to launch very soon the production of a series of TV programs aimed at bringing children to have a personal relationship with God. We desire to use your lesson books as resource materials for this production.”



Letters came from two churches in different countries, but with similar stories. Both said that in the past, children came to church from time to time, but not regularly. When their church began holding Sunday school after receiving BLF materials, the children began coming to hear a Bible story and act it out. At home in the afternoons, some of them played with neighborhood kids and told the Bible stories and acted them out with their friends. The neighborhood children asked if they could go to Sunday school too. Because they now wanted to go every Sunday, the parents wondered why they suddenly were so insistent on going every week. They went to church to find the answer, began going every week, heard the Gospel, and received Christ. Along with the letters, they sent pictures of the parents being baptized. Then, in both churches, the parents asked if they could teach Sunday school!


Last year I heard from the woman who operates the Christian bookstore in the capital of Chad. She said that the Catholic priests in town had found the BLF Sunday school materials in the store, had bought them, and were using them in their churches. There had recently been a nation-wide conference of the Catholic priests in Chad, and priests from other places had heard about the effects of Sunday school there in the capital. They also wanted to buy the materials. Together, they placed an order with BLF Éditions in France for 100 copies of the entire curriculum. What a great opportunity! We praise the Lord for the many ways He is using these Sunday school materials to bring children and adults to salvation, to teach them God’s truths, and to establish them in His Word. Rejoice with us!

Mary Ann Miller


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