Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Sowing Seeds: Joys, Challenges and Lessons Learned

I told you in plain Russian, Nyet! You're not going!

At that announcement, four children's faces fell.
Our sister Nina had run up the block to check on a family we'd met when giving out invitations for our upcoming vacation Bible school.

Sister Nina giving out invitations to our weekend children's program.

The mother had been pleasant enough with four children, school-aged and younger, milling around the doorway to their home which reminded me of the entrance to a cave. The children had been excited about something to do, all the better since it was free. But that was Sunday and now it was Friday and their dad was home.
Oh Papa, please can't we go?
I've already told you twice in plain Russian, we're Orthodox! And you are not going!
A similar scene played out in the courtyard just behind our church building. Days earlier, Danila, 10, had been excited about joining. Then on Friday our sister Lena went to check on her.
Please can I go, Babyshka? Danila called up to the 2nd floor.
Nyet! Grandma hollered down.

Back at the church gate we were waiting, balloons in hand and smiles ready, to welcome a flock of children. We were hoping for 10-15 children but, in the end, three children came, all our own. Friday night, it was 18-month-old Pasha. Then on Saturday, Daniel, 5 and his sister Madelyn, 6, joined us with their mother, our sister Lyda, who drove to Rostov from Kyshovka, their village, 75 kilometers south.

Our theme was Miracles of Jesus: Better than Magic!

While we were taken aback with such a response, we were hardly discouraged because from this first effort of reaching out to our community, we learned so much. See, we moved to the neighborhood less than a year ago. In fact, our church sign isn't out front yet. But before that can happen, our building must pass several inspections. . .

In all fairness, I can understand how a dad might be hesitant about allowing his children to come. Same with the grandmother. A cautious parent would want to know more before allowing their young ones to some activity with a group they don't know. And often it's just easier to say Nyet, you're not going than to get more information.

The Sea of Galilee, a favorite song.

As we reach out to our community, Jesus' parable of the sower and types of soil comes to mind as it represents sowing God's word and types of hearts. Of course, we hope for fertile soil. We hope for hearts open and ready to receive God's word.

Still, the response to our invitation tells us something. It tells us that first, the soil needs to be prepared. And we need to cultivate relationships, build connections and develop trust with neighborhood families.

Craft time: Amazing what can be done with berry baskets.

Another issue, in the Russian culture, our church is rather peculiar. Most folks are connected with the Russian Orthodox church, at least on a cultural level. Thus, they associate church with cathedrals and golden cupolas. Our meeting place is rather different. We meet in a modest property, one that could pass for a single-family dwelling. It includes a cafe out front but for now, we meet behind that in the 3-story house accessible through the courtyard.

* * * * *
The Saturday morning of our program, while children were upstairs in their Bible class, dear sister Lyda and I sat down to process our results and look ahead. Lyda has a background in marketing and works in mass media, so when she has suggestions, I take notes. We came up with two ideas t0 help us connect with our neighborhood.
First, we can offer cooking demonstrations such as how to bake muffins. When I whip up a batch of zucchini-pineapple muffins or carrot-raisin muffins, for instance, there are questions galore. We can capitalize on that interest. We can go door-to-door with samples and invitations. People can come for a demonstration, get the recipe and we meet us.
Secondly, we can use English for outreach. Two blocks from our building is a school where English is emphasized. I can visit the school regularly and offer homework help and conversation at our building. We could meet regularly at the church building once or twice a week.

The whole gang: What a great memory!

So while the turnout for our weekend event was less than we had hoped for, we made progress in other ways. Our teachers got more experience in planning lessons, crafts and activities. We made big progress in our classroom area. Our dear brothers hauled heavy cabinets from storage in the cafe up the narrow, steep steps to our 3rd floor classroom area.
And thus we count our efforts a success. We do what needs to be done, we learn the lessons that are to be learned. And we leave the outcome to God.
How about you, dear blog reader? Have you had an event where the turn-out or results was different that what you had hoped for? What lessons did you learn? Please share so that we can learn from your experience.