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Into Africa

Bonnie Doughtie

Meet one children's minister who's making a profound difference sowing God's Word in a continent short on hope.

Why South Africa? For me, it goes back to a story that gripped my heart -- and would eventually change the course of my life -- a story I heard about a young South African child. An adult had casually asked the boy what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"I may be a gangster or a missionary," the boy mused seriously. "It depends on who gets to me first."

Gangs are a major problem for children throughout the Cape Town area, so this boy's statement wasn't for shock value; it was the simple, telling truth that reflected the crossroads many young children here face.

I was so impacted by this boy's words that I decided to leave my ministry position in North Carolina and move across the globe to serve in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1998. In the years since, my ministry has expanded and transformed; I've gone from ministering directly to children to multiplying my efforts by equipping children's ministry leaders and teachers, as in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:14-20). Directly and indirectly, children play a vital part in my life and ministry.


Teaching the Word

My ministry today includes lecturing at the Cape Town Baptist Seminary. I helped the seminary develop and initiate a children's ministry educational plan -- including courses ranging from evangelism and discipleship to teaching and curriculum -- that's designed to equip seminary students to minister to children throughout South Africa and the world.

Currently the seminary has students from all over South Africa, Nepal, the Netherlands, Italy, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, America, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola. It's truly become an international seminary equipping children's ministers.

Along with a course schedule of classes that equip future children's ministers to effectively reach their unique populations, we also teach a strategy called storying. I share about 20 basic events from the Bible with the seminary students-it's a natural fit since storytelling is a prevalent tradition among many of our students' cultures. We give the students multiple in-class opportunities to practice retelling biblical events, and their assignment is to go out and retell them to five others during the week. We ask our students to debrief each time they retell an event, asking their audience questions about what the event says, what there is to obey from it, and what there is to tell others about it. (For more on storying, go to www.chronologicalbiblestorying.com.)

As educators, we realized during one evangelism and discipleship class that our seminary students -- all from varying backgrounds and cultures -- needed a dictionary they could share with their children so they in turn would understand the meaning of key words and phrases used in church. We searched and soon realized that no such tool existed. So together with my students, we developed a Children's Bible Dictionary. The dictionary includes definitions that enable a children's leader to explain God's Word so a child can understand. The beauty of the dictionary is that it's in the children's heart languages -- English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa -- so all the churches in the Cape Town area can use it effectively. 


Planting the Word

Another aspect of my ministry is training and equipping churches that have little or no experience with children's ministry, but who recognize the importance of this ministry. Children's ministry and Sunday school are two key areas where churches in the Cape Town area increasingly want and need training. Many churches don't have a Sunday school and need to know where to begin to organize, prepare, enlist, and train leaders and implement a Sunday school.

The growing needs for children's ministry training have prompted me to serve as a trainer in the Western Province Baptist Association, as well as other Great Commission Churches, in church leadership development and discipleship. I organize regional training for churches. Many churches contact me with their individual training needs, and I'm able to meet their specific training needs with customized information and resources.

Throughout my nine years of ministry here, I've longed for the day I'd have materials that are culturally relevant and in the heart languages of the children. God answered this prayer a little more than a year ago when South Africans worked with Gospel Light Worldwide to develop iVangeli Materials (translated to mean "Gospel"). The teacher's book is in English, and the reproducible children's book is translated in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu. So these cash-poor churches can buy one children's book and make as many copies as they need for each child to have a copy. This is a true blessing because many churches simply can't afford materials. Many Sunday school teachers don't even have a Bible. 

At a regional meeting of churches some time ago, a pastor approached me for assist- ance. He confided that he had a Sunday school teacher who verbally abused their children. My heart stopped as I listened to his story. He desperately wanted a manual to assist his church leaders in selecting teachers and a guide to help with classroom discipline. The pastor's story brought yet another need to light, and I felt compelled to begin work on a manual to equip churches in this area.

The result of this pastor's request was the manual Protecting Today's Children and Church -- a resource for churches ministering to very poor and at-risk children. The manual has guidelines for enlisting leaders and teachers, how to check for a criminal record, discipline and behavior guidelines, safety and security issues, explanations of all types of abuse, contact details for organizations that can help when a leader discovers a child has been abused, and forms to use in children's ministry. The manual is now distributed to the churches in the Cape Town area and throughout the Baptist Union of South Africa.

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