A second grader wandered into Sunday School with fuzzy cloth kitten ears perched pertly on her head. She looked at the teacher and said, “Meeow.”
The teacher looked up and waited for the child to sit down. Kitten sat, reached for an activity sheet and insistently purred, “Meeoow!”
“You have cat ears,” the teacher observed. Kitten smiled and did not meow again. She joined another generation of elementary aged children whose parents had decided to make Jesus a priority in their lives.
The class comes with mixed abilities. Some read easily. Others need help. Typically girls work quietly on worksheets and sit while listening to the lesson. Recently, two girls connected the dot-to-dot picture of robes that the Bible character Dorcas made and then spontaneously designed unique patterns for each. Boys hastily finish the worksheets and used the time and space to draw superheroes and video game characters.
Often one eager little girl recognized the story of the week and burst out telling her one minute version. That may have been all the third grade boy remembered. During story time he slid off his chair and under it, pulled himself up and straddled it for five minutes before tipping over sideways.
One week, two visitors entered. Same size, same age, same dark blonde hair. The taller one asked, “Can you read?”
“Yes,” the second visitor shrugged, of course she could read. She was in second grade after all.
“I can’t.” the questioner declared, astonishing everyone.
In years to come, the non-reader advanced to the fourth grade unable to read. She could only watch during simple Bible drills where children are challenged, “Find Genesis. That’s the first book of the Bible.” or “Find Revelations. That’s the very last book of the Bible.” Others flipped easily to the front and back and pointed to the word Genesis or Revelations. She watched.
Another child with more advanced reading skills abruptly changed the class routine one Sunday. The teacher said, “find the story of the parable of the sower in Luke 8:4. Look for the big number eight and the little bitty number 4.” Having the children do this emphasizes that the lesson comes from the Bible. Usually, after the passage is found, the teacher presents the story, but not that week. That week the third grader began reading the passage aloud. She read the entire story as the teachers listened with raised eyebrows. After that the children read the scripture for the week’s story.
Sometimes acting out part of the story helps focus attention. Before the lesson on David and Goliath each student received a sticky paper wad to toss at the wall marked with Goliath’s height. Sticky wads hit Goliath’s belly and chest before one boy smacked Goliath in the head. His wad stuck. Everyone clapped.
Children this age celebrate newly acquired skills. The most emphatic was the first grader who sat down and announced, “I know just about everything.” The teacher simply diplomatically said, “I want to tell you a bit more.”
Children know the classic stories and assume the answer to every question is “Jesus.” That was true until the week siblings visited for the first time. They heard the questions and simply stared blankly. They did not know what to say when the teacher asked, “Who loved you enough to die on the cross for you?”
The sister and brother had no clue. Their parents, who had known those answers at age five, had not conveyed the information at home nor taken their children to church to learn it. That day served as a vivid reminder of the importance of Sunday School and that it only takes one generation for Biblical truths to be lost.
Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times.”