Although the service of the Lord on foreign mission fields is often fraught with difficulties, there is one advantage at least that is not enjoyed so widely in the homeland; that is the ease with which the preacher usually can gain an audience. This is especially true with children. Primitive societies offer little or nothing for the pleasure or training of their young. An invitation to sit down in a sunny spot to hear stories and sing songs is regarded as pure delight by most youngsters. What an opportunity this is for the sowing of the precious seed of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ! How great is the need in so many unenlightened lands! The population explosion is nothing new in areas such as Central Africa, as far as the birth rate is concerned. Children abound in every village, but they go untrained, undisciplined, and untaught in every subject matter from A to Z. Where does the Christian worker begin in trying to reach these little ones for the Lord? Let us give you a quick sketch of a typical situation as might be found in any African or, for all that, in any rural, primitive Christian village.
The sharp clanging of two pieces of iron sounds the hour for “school” to begin. From a cluster of fifteen or twenty mud huts come running a multitude of little children. Some jostle along with a younger brother or sister strapped to the back while others straggle down the path, mute with awe and apprehension at the white visitor who has come to their village to speak to them. They all enter a larger mud brick structure, a school meeting room. It is a roughly built affair without doors or windows and well ventilated by the gaps left in the walls. The roof is grass and not completely water-proof. A locally made table stands at the front of the room to serve as a lectern. On the floor before the table are arranged in orderly fashion a dozen or so peeled logs which serve as benches for the congregation. The Sunday School hour passes in much the same way as it would here in this country. Once seated, the children begin to sing choruses in their own language. The tunes are western, not native to them. The missionary relates a Bible story, possibly with the help of visual aids, and teaches a Scripture verse to be committed to memory. When the time is gone the visitor takes leave of the village or returns to the mission station. He hopes to revisit them the next week. More times than not he feels that what is being accomplished is but a fragment of what should be done. Distances are long and time is short, and the villages are numerous and the workers so few, that many villages lie unvisited, unreached by the Gospel. The need that still remains is overwhelming!
Yes, one may very well ask the question “Does this begin to meet the spiritual needs of the little ones?” Another question also arises concerning the employment of the worker’s time. Actually there are problems encountered in that one hour of ministry which can be magnified many times by other varying related facts. Perhaps the greatest is the unfathomable need of one child. Let us explain briefly. Although the offspring of Christian parents, he goes untaught in the basic virtues of life. Dishonesty in word or action, for example, is considered no great sin in a primitive culture. After all, one serves well to hide the other. Such a child is lacking in the elementary teachings which seem to be the natural endowment of those born into a Christian society. There is not much self-discipline practised amongst such people. These basic elements that form the primitive way of life are a real detriment to the progress of the things of God and double the burden of the teacher. Add to this the further situation of the high rate of illiteracy that prevails in rural areas, and the irresoluble fact of the different skin, language and culture of the missionary which creates an instant barrier between races. The need is overwhelming indeed.
The solution to these difficulties is really quite obvious. The children are best instructed by their own people, of course. A born again national teacher with a first hand knowledge of their young, with the innate and much coveted ability to “think black,” and with a perfect command of his native tongue, would undoubtedly make a far better teacher than any foreigner. Where do such teachers of confidence come from? Some are produced by mission schools. Each Christian village usually has one or more young literate believers who have been educated in both secular and spiritual matters at a mission-sponsored school. In returning to their villages after completing their education (as far as funds will permit), they can easily see the need amongst the children, but very definitely require encouragement and instruction before they will do much about it.
This very situation has presented itself frequently in Africa, and has been met with some measure of success by the holding of training classes for prospective native teachers. The missionary meets periodically with a group of willing believers, each of whom represents a village. Bible lessons are previewed for the following two-week or monthly period. At these sessions there is also the teaching of new hymns and choruses, pointers in basic teaching methods, and, most important of all, suggestions are given on how to give a clear presentation of the Gospel. The national teacher goes out, in turn to his or her village class, teaching the lesson as it has been given previously to him. In this way many children hear the Gospel and are taught the Word of God, yet a minimum of the missionary’s time has been consumed, and that efficiently and effectively.
Wondrously, the Word of God is a two-edged sword that blesses the hearer, as well as the user. The blessings of such a procedure are surely of a double portion. The teachers are taught the Holy Scriptures through the lesson and thereby grow in their knowledge of the Lord and are stimulated in their service for Him. This, in itself, contributes greatly to the building up of the indigenous Church which is one of the long-range goals of most missionaries. The other blessing is for the little ones in their receiving consecutive Bible teaching.
Sunday School work in primitive countries seldom runs as smoothly as it does in the homeland. Time is of little consequence where people do not use calendars, much less clocks. Funerals, rain, or any other excuse will quickly cancel a children’s meeting, and an average of twenty-five sessions out of fifty-two per year is considered usual. The “do or die” attitude is not prevalent in tropical countries where humid weather fosters lethargy. A second or third repetition of one lesson may frequently occur, but this can be regarded as an advantage for repetition serves to impress a point in the mind of a child. Undoubtedly this procedure of teacher training is not flawless, but it does have merit and is being used to reach many who otherwise would know little or nothing of God’s great plan of free salvation.
There is a similar situation to be found in this country where a small assembly with a large Sunday School work must use, as teachers, young Christians who themselves are not yet fully taught in the Scriptures. Can parents be sure that their children are receiving clear and accurate Bible teaching while under the care of an untrained teacher? The teacher training method could be put into effect by the superintendent or any other able brother. The teachers also should be instructed in the use of visual aids, and how to reach the child at his own level, etc. Training sessions also stimulate and encourage teachers in this service for the Lord when spirits ofttimes lag, and enthusiasm wanes.
The most important facet of the teacher training program has been reserved for a closing point. Never should organized preparation be allowed to usurp the power of prayer in making God’s message to mankind a vital and quickening force. Rather, first and foremost, teachers here and abroad should be made aware of the great privelege that is theirs to commit their service to the power of the Spirit of the living God.
“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:8).