By Peter Mospen
As I launched into the training, I noticed a ten-year-old girl outside looking after a baby. I nodded at her and was instantly rewarded with a bright smile. She was soon sitting nervously behind our adult participants, clearly listening to everything. I needed such a child for an impromptu role-play and asked Giang*, our national director, to ask her privately if she could help. She said yes. So she became my child and responded admirably to the role-play.
When God used children
She was a skinny child who turned out to be thirteen. Giang asked her why she was not studying f. She replied that she had revised well but wanted to learn all she could about God and the Bible. Fantastic. She was a star and such an encouragement to all ! I had been speaking of how God in the Bible used children when adults were not quite up to it and referred to the little Jewish girl who had been abducted as a baby and could sort her high-ranking foreign owner out when he was seriously ill.
Later that day, she told me her name is Sri Xi Mai. But I can call her Mai*. She seemed to really be enjoying her time with us. She even gave me a small parcel wrapped in well-used Christmas paper. I accepted it with a smile and indicated whether I should open it right now. She shook her head to say no. I nodded and she was gone, as she had duties in caring for a little sister.
Golden pagodas and a floating corpse
There was one pastor on the course who was not local to the area who had a truly shocking story to tell. Giang retold the story as soon as he could. Some of the families there lived in abject poverty and one way to help out was to send a child abroad to work as a servant. A common practice. Clearly some of these children were used for sexual purposes. When they developed AIDS, the children would be returned home. The stigma is such that the child had to be hidden from all. A bamboo shelter would be made and they had to stay there until they died. Food would be handed to them but no physical contact made at all. One of the most heart wrenching things I have ever heard.
I pondered about it on the way back from training that evening. Gold painted pagodas punctured the skyline with their shimmering grandeur. Sunset on the river with the gondoliers and their banana-shaped looking boats offered a beautiful and relaxing scenery, only marred by a floating body upstream with the incoming tide. “Probably the victim of some crime”, Giang commented while no one around seemed particularly bothered. Western perspective barely scratches the surface of how ordinary people survive in this corrupt country.
A class of 50 children with an age range from 3 to 14
The following day, I was happy to see Mai, my stringy 13-year-old girl, keen as mustard, sitting in one of the groups. I knew from Giang that she was so happy to be here and it seemed she had a healthy balance between schoolwork and serving God.
Our Sunday school trainees had difficulty in one big area: discipline. The children would not listen long enough. I then asked the obvious question: could a trained schoolteacher teach a class of 50 children with an age range from 3 to 14 effectively, all at the same time and all in the same place? There were a few hesitant glances between people and then they looked back at me with hopeless resignation written on their faces: “No”.
I then suggested they could, first, have the 3 to 5’s dropped off at someone’s home (mothers to take turns), the 7 to 11’s occupy the room for Sunday School and finally use the 12 to 14’s as leaders of the 7 to 12’s, which meant the former had to stay for training after main Sunday school is over. I added that in Jesus’ time, a child of 13 was considered a morally responsible person. That seemed to be sensible and workable until Giang leaned over and whispered to me, “They never think of using such children in a teaching role”. Ah yes, the culture gap again.
Proving my point
I had to do something to show these folk children could take responsibility. But what? Mai was there and we were friends now. There were also about 3 children aged 6 to 8 floating around quietly in the back of the room. I then took a big risk. I had Mai come to the front. I gave her one of our paper balls and a paper hockey stick and I told her to go to where the children were and organise them for a sort of game. She obediently did what I had told her as all eyes turned to see what happened. She did well. I then had her back up front (had everyone clap). Patted her on the back and asked her if she knew any Christian children’s songs. She did. “Could you teach us one?”. Then the unexpected God thing happened; someone who knew her thrust a guitar in her hand, another offered a plectrum. She then took over and taught these pastors and Sunday school teachers the song, which she sang solo. I had proved my point. Children can be used and trusted to do amazing things if given the chance.
During a tea break, I noticed Mai talking to the smaller children who had gathered around her. She seemed to have memorised many of my stories. I was amazed. Soon after, I asked the participants whether they could use what we had together come up with. All agreed they could. I then added that when they got home the easiest thing would be for them to do nothing, particularly if the church leadership says, “But we don’t do Sunday school like that here!”. I added that if they did nothing, there would be no church in the future as the older children would have opted out already.