Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Developing Local Leaders: Children's fellowship

One of my joys is working with Rev. Hong Phally as a co-facilitator of the Mobilizing the Church bible study for churches in Kampong Speu. She is an amazing young pastor (just 4 years younger than me) and I have learned a lot from her. While traveling to churches I hear bits about the other successful ministry activities with children that she has helped organize, and I wanted to share a bit about that here.

At the time we started working together two years ago, Phally was the Assistant District Superintendent for Kampong Speu and the chair of the Children's Committee for the Methodist Mission (Church) in Cambodia (MMC). Her committee had an annual budget of $100, but the committed pastors on this committee used their own meager resources to meet together and travel periodically to facilitate a "Children's Fellowship" at various churches around the country. A children's fellowship is the Cambodian equivalent of Vacation Bible School (VBS); it is a one day event where children can sing songs, learn a bible story and do a craft project. There is usually also a hygiene outreach such as to wash hair, remove nits and cut fingernails. Many of the pastors and lay people in the Methodist Mission in Cambodia have never experienced a Children's Fellowship, so they have no idea how to organize one on their own. Therefore, it is critical for the Children's Committee to go around teaching and modeling how to nurture and support ministry with children. Phally has also worked quite a bit in conjunction with the Christian Education Committee as they train Sunday School teachers for local Cambodian congregations.

Through my conversations with Phally, she shared that there is potential for volunteers from the USA to complement the work being done by the Children's Committee. Churches in the USA have great experiences to share with churches here about how to provide activities that nurture and enrich the lives of children. Pre-event planning between the UMC church in the USA (or elsewhere) and the Children's Committee can identify a core bible story or theme to be used during the event. Pastors here in Cambodia who are trained in biblical story-telling can prepare one version of the story and the Volunteer Team from the partnership church can prepare another using pantomime or puppets, etc. according to their gifts. The Children's Committee can select appropriate songs (some of which the Volunteer Team may even know already or can learn ahead) and the Volunteer Team can prepare an appropriate craft activity (or activities) for the children. The volunteer team can fund ingredients for a lunch and/or snacks to be prepared by volunteers from the local Cambodian congregation.

The volunteer team can also bring high quality nit (lice egg) removal combs from the USA and other hygiene supplies such as soap, shampoo, nail clippers, etc. can be brought or sourced here in Cambodia that would allow for a hygiene component of the fellowship time.

The whole day-long event can be repeated at several different churches throughout Cambodia during a week-long visit from a Volunteer Team in the priority locations identified by the Children's Committee.

This year, Phally has been appointed as the District Superintendent for the 28 churches in Kampong Speu and has stepped down from her roll as chairperson of Children's Committee, although she will most likely continue as a committee member. Rev. Lun Sokom is the new chairperson for the Children's Committee. He has experience working with volunteer teams from the USA, Switzerland and elsewhere to organize fellowship events for youth such as district and national youth camps and rally's. I am hopeful that United Methodist Volunteer (UMVIM) teams will now have an opportunity to bring their gifts and skills to work through the Children's Committee to organize more Children's Fellowship opportunities.

Esther Gitabu is the GBGM missionary who coordinates UMVIM teams in Cambodia and has worked closely with Lun Sokom for many years, so I am sure that she will help to guide many exciting potentials like this.

I'm just on the sidelines on this, but I get excited when I hear about things like this from Phally and wanted to write a bit about it. I'm so excited by the ways that MMC leaders are stepping up. I think that when Volunteer Teams plan joint events with MMC Committees that it is a really amazing way to support leadership development here. It is not just enough to train leaders or assign them to a committee, the committee needs to be allocated real responsibility and there also need to be events for the committee leaders to coordinate to practice their skills. Planning a joint event is really a great way to accomplish these goals. I've observed it work really well for the Youth Committee and I am hopeful that it will be repeated for the Children's Committee.

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