Cross-Cultural Kids Ministry: 10 Lessons from the Field

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In my first article on cross cultural kids ministry, I included ways to prepare you and your team for serving.  This post will address things to consider while you are on the field.

You’ve packed your bags and you’ve no doubt had a journey to get where you are.  Maybe airplane turbulence has got you wondering how you’ll step on the plane for the return flight or maybe you have driven over potholes at lightening speeds with a quirky taxi driver.  Now it’s go time!
You have landed in an environment much unlike your own.   So the question is, how can you best relate to children of a different cultural background than yourself?  How can you clearly communicate the universal message of the gospel without getting in the way?  Included here are suggestions as to what to do now that you’re in place to serve.
1.  Welcome with Warmth and Communicate Joy:  Immediately get on the children’s level and look in their eyes.  Extend a hand for a high-five or handshake.  Smile, let loose, and be silly.  Exaggerate movements to act out a funny scenario.  Laugh. Perform an outlandish feat like a cart-wheel.
2.  Ask Questions:  If a translator is present, ask the children simple questions about their favorite sport, food, color, or school class.  Ask about their personal life with open-ended questions, like, “Tell me about your home, church, school, or family.”  Come equipped with basic sentences in their language, in the event that a translator is not present with you at the time.  A basic phrase such as, “You like ________?”  or, “You don’t like________?” can carry you far.  Draw pictures or pantomime possible choices for answers.
3.  Create Artwork Together:  Use chalk, paint, crayons, ink pads, yarn, or any other medium that you have decided to bring.  Sketch out the gospel message for the children to visualize.  Create something that tells a story or is just simply beautiful.  Consider creating a mural with the children, recycling trash into artwork, or teaching them a skill or craft that they can use to generate a small income after you have gone.
4.  Play Together:  Play a team sport together.  Consider soccer first, as it is an all-time favorite and requires little equipment.  We usually bring our own soccer balls to donate to the ministry.  Goals can be marked off by tape or spray paint if no nets are available.  Also consider playing with a parachute (also brought and donated) and playing a game of tag (with multiple variations).  Games like rock/paper/scissors, hopscotch, and thumb wars can be played in pairs.  In addition, have them teach you their games (either made up or cultural favorites).   Play with the toys that they have created, whether it be a taped plastic bag ball, a soda bottle car, or a cloth doll.  Recognize the creativity behind each of these toys!
5.  Sing Together:  Learn simple gospel songs in their language, especially active songs with movements included.  Get kids up and involved with a high level of energy.  Prior to going, ask your contact about specific kid favorites.
6.  Be a Servant Leader:  Work hard to serve God by serving the missionaries, the partnering organization, the ministry’s children, and their families.  Recognize needs and be responsive to meeting them on a long-term basis.  Treat everyone with the utmost respect and love.  Do not pity others, but hold them in high regard because Christ would.
7.  Take Care of Yourself:  Take care of yourself so that you are in the best condition to serve.  Watch what you eat and drink and be attentive to how much sleep you are getting at night.  As best as you can, eat what is served you, as a way to honor your hosts.  However, your digestive system may have issues with the unfamiliar food or the way that it is prepared.  Sometimes, a regimen of acidophilus is helpful to prepare your stomach before and during the trip.
In addition, drink lots of water to prevent dehydration, but make sure that it is safe for drinking and brushing teeth.  Ensure that you are getting enough sleep at night so that you are fully rested to serve and to prevent a weakened immune system.  Wear sunscreen in warm weather climates and re-apply continuously.  Be attentive to other safety concerns like dangerous swimming areas, traveling at night, protecting your passport, wallet, or camera, being alone, etc
8.  Look Beyond their Surroundings:  In many parts of the world, what you may see will bring you to tears.  Cry later.  Do not make your focus their physical surroundings, but pay attention to their spiritual condition.  I have learned valuable lessons from the wealth of poverty-stricken, Christ filled homes, brimming with hospitality.  Learn from these local Christ followers how to praise God, how to trust Him to provide, and how to live a life of gratitude.  Remember that families will be proud of their meager homes and they have worked hard to maintain them.  Be proud with them.  Instead of looking at their surroundings, focus on loving the families and bestowing dignity in them, as Jesus would.
9.  Go to Learn.  God always has more to teach us than we could ever teach others.   Learn from the Word and through every victory, defeat, and bump in the road.  Learn from each encounter with another.  Learn from the missionaries, the partnering organizations, and/or the nationals doing the work of God in that place.  Be flexible and change your agenda accordingly.
10.   Trust in God:  Let Him do the work that He intended through you and your team.  Things may not always go as you had planned.  Trust in His plan, whatever that may be.  Remember that God is not safe and there will always be risks in following Him.  But, we can be assured that He is good.    What else can be done to minister to kids on the mission field?  What recommendations would you add to relate to children of a different cultural background than yourself?

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