Several weeks ago, our church started collecting money to send to the school we support in Liberia. The money will buy a new outfit for each child, a drinking cup for each child who is new there (and didn’t get one when we did the same thing last year), and provide a community Christmas meal. Collecting money for these gifts is emphasized especially in the children’s classes, because they can relate to the idea of giving money to meet the needs of other children – and even the small amounts they give can make a real difference in the lives of Liberia children.
Last year leaders in the children’s classrooms made various offers of what they would do if the children met a particular monetary goal. One man in our K/1 classroom had his head shaved. Other leaders kissed a gerbil or a snake (though they only “kissed” it on its side, not its head). One leader made what I thought was a more sensible offer, to match the amount given by the children on one particular night.
This year the children’s ministry director offered to sleep on the church roof if the goal was met. When giving this year was clearly way down from last year (no doubt due to the poor economic conditions), he cut the goal in half. Even so, it didn’t look like the goal would be met. But last week there was apparently a big push, and giving went over the goal by a comfortable margin. I don’t know how comfortable he will be – he is already in his tent (festively lit by Christmas lights) on the church roof. I hope his sleeping bag is warm – right now it’s 30 °F (23 °F with the windchill factor).
Each classroom also has their own goal, and the leader in our K/1 classroom offered to eat worms if the goal was met. The large group leader and one of the small group leaders offered to join her. Of course, what she told the leaders, but not the children, was that she hadn’t specified what kind of worms they would eat. Tonight she showed up with a flowerpot, showed the children the dirt in it, and used a pair of tongs to start pulling out worms.
The large group leader went first, and appeared to have a bit of trouble getting the thing down. The teenage small group leader went next, and then bolted to the trash can and doubled over. I had planned to be taking pictures, but discovered too late that I had left the memory card at home. (Grrrrr!) So instead I decided to get in on the act. Taking a different approach, I asked if I could please, please, please have a worm, and stood there with my mouth open (like a bird, as the leader put it).
After all, some of the children had already guessed that we were eating gummy worms. Coated in chocolate pudding and Oreo crumbs, they looked vaguely realistic (though one girl hid her eyes in disgust so she didn’t notice). I would rather eat the “dirt” than the worms, but I was hungry (the worst thing about Saturday evening class is that it’s too early to eat dinner first but I get really hungry before it’s over).
What I can’t help wondering, about all the head-shaving (one of the leaders in another classroom got shaved tonight), roof-sleeping, and worm-eating, is what lesson the children really learn from it all. I remember attending a church back when I was in Bible school (we were assigned churches where we were involved in ministry every weekend), where they had a contest to increase Sunday School attendance. They gave prizes to children for attending, and the teacher of the losing class had to kiss a dog.
Does that teach children to love God and to be generous? Or does it teach them that church is fun and you get prizes for doing what is good? And then what happens when it’s not fun and you don’t get prizes? As it happens, I’m currently working on an article for the church newsletter on what’s going on the children’s ministry. Some of the questions I will ask the ministry director will be his reasons for using these kinds of incentives.
By the way, did you know some people eat worms for their health? Being the sort of person I am, I had to google “eating worms.” The article I found is several years old, so I don’t know what researchers have learned since then. But there is evidence that having some worms in your gut is good for you. Live ones, that is. So you don’t take big squiggly worms, chew them up and swallow them – you take a drink containing worm eggs, so they can grow inside you.
It beats dealing with bad allergy symptoms, I suppose. But unless my doctor recommends it (my allergy symptoms are mild), I’ll stick to gummy worms.