In a poor village south of Ensenada, Mexico, a group of children sat in a semi-circle listening intently to one another. The 10- to 12-year-olds were being taught about giving from Matthew 6. They had already spent make-believe pesos buying items they considered important. Then the leader started a discussion about how giving is a matter of the heart. Their conclusion?
When God comes first in your heart, you want to give to Him.
These kids didn't have much, so as a small basket was passed around, one little dark-haired boy looked deeply concerned, said Daniel Watts, president and founder of Every Generation Ministries. The boy rummaged in his pockets, then turned them inside out. Suddenly his big brown eyes lit up. When the straw basket was handed to him, he grinned and placed his only stick of gum inside.
In 14 countries around the world, children become Christ's disciples through dramatic lessons like this, Watts said. Rather than use an "old-school approach" that emphasizes information, memorization and repetitive storytelling, Every Generation uses an approach set forth in Scripture.
According to Watts, Jesus demonstrated the crucial steps that the ministry adapted for its own children's leaders.
"Children's ministry should mimic Christ and follow the Deuteronomy 6:4-10 principles of teaching God's Word, using experiential activities, leading discussions to connect the Word to real life, giving children a practical life-application activity and doing everything in a warm, relational environment," he said.
The conversations must be honest, Watts added. If, for instance, when a ministry teacher says, "God's a loving God. What has that to do with your real life?" a child might wonder openly why He let her dad die. She'll be encouraged to express her feelings and discuss her experience.
"That becomes part of the transformational process," Watts said. "A loving instructor then applies God's Word saying, 'You do have a father. You do have a family. You're part of God's family. Adopted into God's family, you have brothers and sisters.'"
However, sometimes there aren't good answers. When appropriate, Watts said, ministry leaders are encouraged to say, "I don't know, but I care."
Watts said that when children are given opportunities to apply biblical principles, they learn even more. Leaders teaching about how Peter found forgiveness in Christ will have children pick up a heavy load and carry it. In Egypt, the kids might collect bricks; in Poland, wood; or two-liter bottles somewhere else. Every child will carry that heavy load concealed in plastic bags. They'll walk until everyone's complaining. That's when they can drop their burden.
During the discussion that follows, Watts said, the children are asked "How do you think Peter felt the day after Jesus was killed? Have you ever felt guilty like that? Have you ever tried to keep something secret that no one knows but you?"
According to Watts, the children don't leave feeling guilty. They are encouraged to write down things they've tried to hide from God but want to tell Him. Then using a little hammer, the kids nail those slips of paper to a small wooden cross. During prayer they receive God's forgiveness.
One life at a time
Watts said that Every Generation has discovered that the best people to train in other countries are national Christian leaders.
"Some of the most gifted, highly educated, competent and skilled leaders are serving within their own cultures in churches worldwide," he said." They already have God's vision for seeing children come to know Christ and become part of His family in the church."
The ministry partners with those leaders to develop an Every Generation ministry that is funded, governed and staffed by Christians in that country.
Last year, the ministry worked with 3,700 churches around the world, most of them seeking resources. When Every Generation officials learned about a church plant in Chile ministering to children in a large public bathroom, "we went to them and asked if we could help," Watts said.
His ministry has worked with churches in Chile, Argentina, Peru and Mexico for close to a decade. In addition, Every Generation distributes curriculum and video training modules in Spanish over the Internet.
"We had about 15,000 visitors in the first 24 hours," Watts said. Now Hispanic churches in Southern California have begun asking for help. More than 55 percent of children under 18 in this region speak Spanish as their first language.
No matter where kids are, the lessons remain the same, Watts said.
"The Bible transcends culture," he said. "Love your neighbor is the same in Uganda as it is in the U.S."
Or in Poland, where the ministry started in 1991.
That's where Watts said he met Fabian, a 10-year-old who came to summer camp. When the message of salvation was shared, Fabian gave his life to Christ. The following day while getting ready to perform for local residents, Fabian was nowhere to be found. However, when the show was about ready to start, they found Fabian out among the villagers sharing the Good News.
About three months later, Watts said he went to a city in northern Poland where he told Fabian's story while training volunteers. Afterward a woman came up and said, "That's my son." Fabian had come home from camp and shared the gospel with her. She came to Christ and wanted training so she could work with children.
Last year, Watts said Every Generation discovered Fabian, now 30, working as a camp counselor with kids from Belarus who have health problems. Using Every Generation's resources, he's helping children come to know Jesus and seeing their lives transformed.
For more information, visit www.egmworld.org