For a couple of years now, Jana’s teaching responsibilities have been expanding. She started at Narnia Elementary School with after school English musicals (remember, English is a foreign language for these kids). Then they needed to fill in a gap and asked her to teach first graders English and then also Music (her Music Together training has come in handy for both of those classes). This year, Jana began teaching her first graders evangelical religion for the first time.
Kids Do Say the Darndest Things
At Narnia, some of the kids have grown up in a strong Christian environment but about 70% of the kids are from unchurched backgrounds. While some of them know all their Bible stories from left to right and right to left, some of them are completely in the dark. That’s OK, she just has to make sure she explains everything.
Sometimes, though, explanations take you down an unexpected path.
In the fall Jana taught her kids about Moses and the exodus from Egypt. Now, if you’re reading this in Illinois or Minnesota, Egypt is a far away exotic place. You might not know many people that have been to Egypt. But here in Slovakia nowadays, Egypt is more like Florida. So when Jana asked the kids if they had ever heard of Egypt, little Viki raised her hand and said, “I know! We went to Egypt for vacation last summer!” And then Adam gets a turn, “We did too! And I went swimming in the Red Sea.” And then little Veronika can’t wait, “We went to Croatia for vacation and I went snorkeling!”
Next thing you know, the whole room lights up and you’re five hundred miles and three thousand years away from the Israelite slaves in Egypt. Since you’re not even sure how you got from Pharaoh’s Egypt to snorkeling in the Adriatic Sea, there’s no real clear path back.
When kids change the subject they don’t go down rabbit trails they go through worm holes.
Making Not-So-Free Associations
Jana has found that kids’ ability to make connections that adults often miss can come with a big payback.
From the beginning, she’s put a lot of emphasis on the plot of the Bible from beginning to end and tension to resolution. As a part of that, she started the year talking about creation as a place where Adam and Eve lived in the presence of God. With the fall, they got kicked out of God’s presence.
The Bible’s big question from Genesis 3 on is, “Can we ever get back to God’s presence?” Jana is trying to show them how all of Scripture points the way back to God’s presence.
After God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he came to live in their midst in the tabernacle. God was present with his people in the very center of their camp. But still, because of their sin, no one could go into the inner room of the tabernacle, into God’s presence.
By the time Christmas was getting closer, it was time to switch over to stories about Jesus. One day they were talking about the time Joseph and Mary took the young Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. On their way home they couldn’t find Jesus because he had stayed back to be “in his Father’s house” (Luke 2:41–52). At that point, one student raised his had impatiently to ask, “Did he go into the inside of the temple, into God’s presence!?”
That young theologian had made the connection that most of us don’t. He knew that God dwelt in the temple and he knew that Jesus was God’s son. He couldn’t help but wonder if Jesus hadn’t waltzed right into the Holy of Holies to be with his father. Why not?
Young Minds, Big Decisions
Another amazing thing about teaching first graders is seeing what big decisions they have to make at such a young age.
Adam’s parents are not believers, so he hears one thing from his parents and another at school. At home he hears that the Bible is just a bunch of fairy tales, but at school he learns that he’s separated from God just because he doesn’t always do the right thing. Is there a God, or isn’t there? Should he be worried about sin, or is it no big deal?
For now, Adam tells Jana openly that he does worry about his sin and he’s worried about being separated from God. There’s a long road ahead of Adam and it will be a while before he’ll choose which path to go down. But what an amazing opportunity for Jana to share the gospel with both him and his family through these religion classes.
Pray for Jana and All the Teachers at Narnia
I hope you’ll pray for Narnia and for all the teachers of these religion classes. This is a great opportunity to give these kids, and their families, an opportunity to understand God’s love and sacrifice for them. Right now, teachers at Narnia are rethinking how they teach these classes so that they can more effectively reach these kids where they are, whether they are in first or ninth grade.