Mary Nelson is the friend of a friend of World Convention. We haven’t met face-to-face yet, but because Doug and Linda Foster have shared their friend and her work with me, I can share her Christian mission in children’s education with you. I hope you enjoy her story and her website, www.MissionBibleClass.org
Julia Keith: How did you become interested in children’s Christian education?
Mary Nelson: The church I attended as a child did not have a Sunday School but every summer my aunt would take my younger brother and me along to the VBS at the church where she was a member. I thought that was an amazing and wonderful experience. I had my first opportunity to teach a children’s Bible class when I was a teenager. I’ve been teaching children ever since.
Julia: I appreciate the encouraging support you offer your site visitors and the wealth of information available. How long has it taken you to bring MissionBibleClass.org to what we can see today?
Mary: The short answer is “over 20 years”. The longer answer…
As the new “preacher’s wife” in the late 1980’s I was asked to clean out and organise a teacher’s supply room that, over many years, had become a graveyard for all sorts of old Sunday School material. Seeing all those stacks of good teaching materials that had only ever been used once and then discarded made me very sad for the waste. That was when I first began a chronological Bible story filing system that would help me retain good teaching ideas in a way that allowed me to put my finger on them the next time I taught the same story.
When my husband and I moved to New Zealand in 1997 another missionary and I decided to build a curriculum for the church we were with. We began by using the lessons that I had in my filing system. She collected visual aids and I wrote the actual lessons. That major project took us about 5 years but we produced a curriculum for our church that covered the Old and New Testaments.
Even after the project was done I continued to work on the material and gather more ideas. In 2011 I extracted my original writing and moved 170 Bible story lessons onto a free WordPress site I called www.missionbibleclass.org . I published it “as is” and have continued to write and complete the lessons. I keep telling myself I’m ALMOST there!
Julia: MissionBibleClass.org has a large and varied following. What do you think has contributed most to building this community of Christian teachers?
Mary: “Mission Bible Class” has been created with a heart for missions. My observation is that most people around the world who are sharing God’s Word with children are not necessarily professional educators or theologians. They love children and want them to learn but they often just don’t know where to start. Keeping that “target audience” in mind I’ve kept the website basic and try to choose teaching tools that are effective yet easy to do.
I also attempt to steer away from brand names, worksheets and too many purchased items for crafts. My intent is that someone without resources and money should never be excluded from sharing Christ with a child. Hopefully, getting away from a scripted and paper-based teaching attitude better equips Christians to teach in a way that fits their own cultural setting.
I think teachers use the site because it is Biblically based and they can find what they need very quickly. I have streamlined the lessons so that it only takes a short amount of time to read the pertinent Scripture and basic background information and then choose from a list of learning activities. That makes it adaptable to any number of teaching situations. It is a place to begin for some and for others it is an additional resource to supplement curriculum they are already using.
Julia: Are there other insights God has given that you would like to share?
Mary: I’ve learned so much about myself and others through this ministry but I’ll just share a couple.
Firstly, older teachers have a lot to offer new teachers. Any idea is a new one if you haven’t heard about it before. Good methods and learning activities are really worth sharing with others. Once you release that knowledge people will use it in ways you never imagined or dreamed possible. Nothing I have provided on www.missionbibleclass.org is, of itself, particularly cutting edge or revolutionary. But equipping people to share the Word of God with the next generation is simply freeing them to do the very thing that God is calling them to do.
Secondly, hearing from other teachers around the world provides encouragement and a kind of natural fellowship. We all have so much in common. Put us in a room together and we immediately begin speaking the same language. The challenge is that we are hardly ever in a room together. We are in churches with only a few children or in churches with more children than we can handle. We pray fervently for children living in a world full of spiritual danger and often in families struggling to cope (families that have too little or families that have too much). We are sharing God with people at the time in their lives when they are most open to Him. They are open but they are young so we are often taken for granted or seen as child care providers while adults are doing the “important stuff”. Yet, we continue because we are convicted by God and energised by the hope we feel when we help a child take steps forward in an eternal journey.