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Attitude of Gratitude

Valerie Van Kooten

Meet four ministries with extraordinary service projects that reach people in need -- AND their own kids.

We all want the kids in our children's ministries to cultivate thankful hearts -- especially at Thanksgiving. Yet that can be incredibly difficult in a culture that's telling them they should need more, want more, and demand more. Preteens spend $51 billion a year on their own from gifts and allowances -- and all kids have a great deal of say about the additional $170 billion that's spent on them, according to Alloy Media & Marketing, an umbrella organization for various youth marketing groups. Advertisers know the power kids have in the market, so they intentionally hammer home the "me first" mentality of our gotta-have-it culture. And this generation of kids has experienced amazing technological advances and has been conditioned to believe that the newest is better.

So much of what the children in our ministries are hearing is in stark contrast to Jesus' teaching that "the first will be last." So how can we swim against the tidal wave of culture and instill an attitude of gratitude and service into today's kids? We do it by giving them meaningful, creative ways to experience the wonder of impactive service. Four churches across the nation have done just that by developing extraordinary service projects that reach people in need--and their own kids.

The Power of Prayer

At Southpoint Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida, what began as a prayer ministry to teach kids to strategically pray for the nations ended up with kids sponsoring an entire South African orphanage. Kim Bogart, the children's director for the past eight years, says it's a passion of hers to establish a "house of prayer" in her children's ministry. The kids in her ministry did just that by praying for specific nations. That led to them seeking permission from Christian publishers to send used curriculum to a program in South Africa, where Bogart had connected with a missionary.

The prayer ministry in turn spurred a fundraising campaign. Kids took M&M Offerings each week -- they ate the candy in M&M's candy containers and then filled them during the week with silver coins.

"When we told this missionary we were going to support him in South Africa, I'm sure he was saying, 'Oh, great, it'll cost more to send the materials to me than she's going to make,'" Bogart says. "He was astounded that our children's department was funneling thousands of dollars his way." Bogart even promised to dye her hair pink if the children could raise $3,000 in a three-week period. They did (Bogart kept her promise).

The village where the orphanage is located had been practicing a Christianity that was mixed with bigamy and ancestor worship. "There was no pure gospel there, and when we sent over that curriculum, we had no idea whether or not it would bear fruit," Bogart says.

But it did. Bogart's congregation members have since taken four trips to the South African orphanage and have helped them purchase a stove, carpeting, clothes, blankets, and school supplies, among other items. The children at the orphanage used the curriculum the ministry kids had sent -- and prayed over. This was especially poignant to Bogart and the rest of the congregation group, which ranged in age from 12-year-olds up to great-grandparents.

"I believe that families that serve together are stronger families," she says, "and if we want to make a lasting impact through service programs for the world and in the hearts of our children, we should start with strategic prayer in which we can feel a glimpse of how God views his creation."

An Eye Overseas

The children at the First United Methodist Church in Paris, Tennessee, chose a project that would help children on the other side of the world. They collected a mile of pennies that they then donated to the Kissy Eye Clinic in Sierra Leone, which provides basic care for acute eye infections and diseases.

Their inspiration was the post-resurrection story of the walk to Emmaus, where Jesus encountered two men on the seven-mile journey; however, they didn't recognize him. When they reached the village and broke bread together, their eyes were opened and they realized they'd been with Jesus. They wanted to make this event very real for their congregation.

"This seemed like a meaningful way to teach the children a lesson in sharing that they could understand," says teacher Elyse Bell. "A realistic goal for our small class was to begin by collecting one mile of pennies."

The children of the church now celebrate the Penny Trail once every three months, beginning at the altar in their Sunday school room and laying down pennies, end to end, across the room, down the hall, down the stairs, and as far as they will extend. A mile of pennies equals about $844.80. Bell's kids have now raised more than $1,000, or about 11/5 miles of pennies.

Bell was part of a volunteer mission team that delivered the money personally to the Kissy Eye Clinic in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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