By Stan Friedman
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND (March 8, 2013) – Years ago, when Margie Swenson wrote the comprehensive Sunday school curriculum “El Pacto con Dios” (The Covenant with God) in Spanish for Latin American children, she never imagined it might be taught in Thailand to children being rescued from a life of exploitation.
“It’s amazing,” says Swenson, co-director of missionary personnel and a former missionary with Covenant World Mission. “I am so humbled to see the magnitude of God’s purpose for what began as a three-page outline written in pencil.” Covenant church leaders in Colombia had told her that a new curriculum resource was needed.
Last summer, short-term Evangelical Covenant Church missionary Heather Askew had a desperate need for material to use in an after-school program. “When my co-worker, Ahna, and I started teaching Bible stories to the K-2 class at TawSaeng (To Shine), we quickly realized it was not quite as easy as we thought it might be.”
Then she heard about Swenson’s curriculum and that it had been translated into English. Askew began using it during the winter quarter and exclaims, “So far, the kids love it!”
Learning about the curriculum “coincided nicely with the discovery of a huge felt board set from about 1972, so we have been able to use visual aids to tell the stories,” says Askew.
Ahna and Askew teach the stories and concepts in Thai and then have the kids read the Bible verses in Thai. “The spirited discussions that ensue could be a reality show of their own,” Askew says.
“The structure allows for a lot of child participation, so we get to hear how the kids have experienced God when they were scared or far from home,” Askew explains. “The art activities are a form of art therapy as many of our kids come from broken homes, have experienced abuse, or come from Buddhist families that live in fear of evil spirits controlling their lives.”
TawSaeng works with Chiang Mai’s most vulnerable and unprotected children, Askew adds. “All of the children in TawSaeng live in the dangerous red light district of Chiang Mai and are in danger of being exploited or abused by foreigners or nationals.”
Many of the parents never attended school and don’t understand the importance education plays in protecting their children, Askew adds. “This results in more children staying on the streets to sell flowers or dropping out of school to support their families by working in the sex trade. We promote education, family unity and every child’s worth. We teach the love of Jesus to every child who walks through the door.”
It is a place of hope. In recent weeks, Ahna and Askew have enjoyed hearing the students share their plans for their futures. One declared, “I want to be Superman and then a policeman.”
Then there are the questions about God being “with us,” says Askew. “He doesn’t come in the bathroom with us right?” one child asked, before continuing. “ Well, I guess it’s okay ‘cause he made our bodies, but he still has to close his eyes, right?”
Others asked, “How can God be in all of our hearts all the time and go with us everywhere and see us everywhere?” And, “If God is in our hearts and we are children of God, why can’t we walk on water like Jesus?”
Askew says, “I look forward to the coming weeks and seeing what kind of challenging questions we will get to tackle as the kids grow in their spiritual understanding and curiosity.”
Being able to use the material in Thailand is another sign that it can be used anywhere, Askew says. “The great thing about the curriculum is that it’s big enough that if you have all the aids and a classroom at a church, you can really do it to the fullest, but even if you just have a multipurpose room and some cotton balls, you can still teach the core lessons.”
Swenson started planning the original material in 1989. The writing process extended over 10 years and included two writers’ conferences sponsored by the former Department of Christian Education (now Christian Formation). In 2000, the final lesson was sent to the printer.
“None of us ever dreamed of the impact the curriculum would have in the Spanish-speaking world, from Latin America to Spain to Equatorial Guinea to Spanish-speaking congregations in places as far flung as England and Germany,” says Swenson. “Now, to see the curriculum being translated into English and made available to folks in places like Chiang Mai, Thailand, makes me say, once again, to God be the glory.”
Click here to read a previous story on how the curriculum originally developed and expanded. The downloadable material is free. Click here for the Spanish version and click here for the English translation, which is entitled “Adventures with God.