Sunday, December 29, 2013

Capacitación Christmas and Recovering from a Volcanic Eruption

Today the San Miguel volcano spewed forth a great cloud of smelly gas and hot ash.  Tonight, families from the small towns, little farms and coffee plantations on the sides and the skirt of the volcano are sleeping in nearby shelters.  As the next few days pass, assessments will determine the status of crops, of trees, of animals, and of homes.  At this time, thanks be to God, there has been no word of human casualties. In the dark night, away from their familiar beds, children and parents and elders are no longer planning their New Year's Eve fiestas, but instead are worried about the added economic strain that this disaster will have upon them and are no doubt fearful of additional volcanic or seismic activity. 

When we celebrated Christmas in El Salvador in 2005 (see Capacitación Christmas I and II), one of our goals was to work with Salvadoran Lutheran Church leaders to develop fun and meaningful Bible School experiences for kids using music, art, drama and games.  One day we traveled outside of the capital city to the countryside near the Santa Ana volcano.  A couple of weeks prior to our arrival, the volcano had erupted, raining hot ash upon farmers and farms, and driving families to seek shelter.  We visited with children at a small shelter where families lived in tents, and the children participated art classes.  The children were encouraged to illustrate their experiences and to express their fears through painting.

Back in 2005, celebrating Christmas, learning and growing through Vacation Bible School, and living moments with children whose lives were turned upside down by a great cloud of hot ash blended together in a way which somehow changed each one of us forever.  As I reflect on this final installment of the Capacitación Christmas series, the news of today's volcanic eruption brings to mind the faces of the children in that refugee camp, of the little girls playing with dolls, of boys being silly while sitting on rolled-up mattresses, of youth sharing their stories of the volcano through fire and ash-cloud paintings created on simple wooden crosses.  As I reflect, I am thinking:  We should have brought the drums.

Part IV:  Music
We did not have actual drums.  We made them.  One of our sons is a drummer, and in Blue Man Group fashion, he can turn anything into a drum set.  We hunted through corners and back rooms and garbage piles and gathered up the biggest plastic buckets, paint cans, and good-sounding metal stuff we could find.  A couple of our team members brought guitars and we had put together a participant song book filled with local favorites and some US Bible School songs translated into Spanish.  We had included thematically appropriate songs such as Sois la Semilla (You are the Seed). One of the favorite tunes was "Psalm 150" (Praise the Lord with Trumpet Sounds - complete with actions).  

Salvadoran Lutheran Church gatherings never lack for a couple of talented guitar players and perhaps some of the most memorable music moments took place during the informal guitar and drum jam sessions.  

Part V:  Recreation
The absolutely most memorable moment of recreation was this:  the Bishop's wife, dressed in her slightly-tailored suit complete with pantyhose and sensible shoes, running a very competitive relay race with a balloon tucked between her knees.
 A close second might be the image of Pastor Matias wandering off into the sunset while playing pin-the-seed-on-the-flower (the goal being to get the seed onto the center of a paper flower which we hung on the side of a truck in the parking lot.)  Other team-building games included "human knot" and "don't let the balloon touch the ground".  We also had some fun with Tierra-Mar and soccer relays.

We closed our Capacitación event with a large group gathering, offering thanks to all who had a hand in bringing the day together.  Before sharing a late lunch, we sang with great enthusiasm some of the songs we had learned during the music sessions, complete with impromptu drum set and guitar band. 

A couple of days after the Capacitación we traveled to the refugee camp.  Although we visited and met with families, I think it could have been really helpful to have shared some singing and played some games together. As families spend the next few days or weeks seeking refuge from the San Miguel Volcano, I am hopeful that maybe somebody will think to play some games or bring out the paint or maybe even build a drum set from some old buckets and paint cans.  

May God bless the families near the San Miguel volcano with peace and rest, quick relief, and many friends who can offer love, friendship, prayers and support.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Capacitación Christmas II

This is a continuation of the story Capacitación Christmas . . .

During the registration process, participants had been divided into four groups.  Following worship, the groups each went their separate ways, to each of four different activities.

Part II:  Story Time
Story-telling with illustrations
Story time included three different ways of experiencing the Parable of the Sower from Luke 8:11-15.  The team first introduced vocabulary from the story, talking about words like "parable."  This was fun for the team because while teachers in the US usually need to explain what the word "sower" means, the Spanish translation used the word "farmer" which is a familiar word.  We really learn a great deal from each other when discussing vocabulary!

Acting out the story
Next, the story was told in simple language, using large illustrations which the team prepared ahead of time.  As a reminder that the story is more than just a tale but is the
Word of God, the group read the passage from the Bible, using volunteer readers.  The leaders asked questions about the story and how it applies to our lives.  Participants were encouraged to share and to talk about ways they plant God's word in their hearts and can help each other and their communities to be "good soil."

Then, the group was asked to dramatize the story.  This was pretty fun - to see the adults interpret the story by being seeds and growing or wilting or being eaten by birds.  They were very imaginative!!

After experiencing the story in three ways, the group shared ideas about other ways in which Bible stories can be taught to children.  Ideas included using action figures, having the kids draw their own illustrations, and providing coloring pages which illustrate the story.  Participants were each given a little stack of coloring pages which illustrate the "Parable of the Sower."

Part III:  Arts & Crafts
We thought a great deal about ways in which communities could provide the items needed to make craft projects.  Children can use corn husks, cobs, bottle caps, recycled paper scraps, fabric scraps and sticks from frozen treats, along with easily purchased or donated items such as tissue paper and yarn for their artistic creations.
Participants work on their seed cross designs

Finished crosses and tissue paper ready for making papel picado
The project used to reinforce the story, "The Parable of the Sower" was made from corn husks, dry beans and dry corn, and recycled cardboard.  Each participant traced and cut out a cardboard heart (we had some pre-cut for children of participants) and used a hole punch to put one hole on each side of the heart.  We had pre-printed "May the word of God be planted in your heart.  Luke 8:11-15" as the story-reminder on small pieces of paper to save time.  Participants glued that paper and the seeds onto the hearts.  Then, corn husks were glued onto the back to create a cross, with the heart at the cross's center.  Yarn was added so that the cross could be hung on a wall.

After participants finished making their crosses, they were able to fill extra time by making papel picado, (cut paper - like paper snowflakes) from recycled tissue paper.  We used the papel picado to decorate the art area as the day went along.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Capacitación Christmas

For my kids, "Take Your Child to Work Day" was not a unique and rare occurrence.  Back in the days when I served on a church staff, I depended on my kids to help out - a lot.  No doubt they have fond memories of getting dizzy going round and round big tables collating and stapling documents and setting up classrooms for Vacation Bible School. I recently found a video of the boys as young teens marching in a local July 4th parade.  They were dressed as Moses and Joseph.  "I can't believe you got them to do that," my husband said. year...when we suggested to the kids that we spend Christmas vacation in El Salvador where they would help to run a Vacation Bible School Training seminar for Salvadoran pastors and lay-leaders, they stepped up to help.  And they were not alone -- a group of youth ages 10 to 20 joined adults from our church to put on a big Salvadoran escuela bíblica.

We arrived in our sister church community on Christmas Day and shared a big feast together in the church.  The Sunday School kids presented a little Christmas pageant.  Our week together included fun at a swimming pool park, visiting with kids and families who were living in a camp after they had lost their homes in a recent volcanic eruption, an impromptu afternoon at a small beach and crazy fireworks at the Lutheran guest house on New Year's Eve.  Between events and fun times with our Salvadoran friends, the team spent some late night hours preparing for the Bible School training event.

The event was entitled Capacitación II (Training II).  The Capacitación series of workshops had been developed as a joint plan of the Ministry of Children of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church and our congregation in the US.  Our sister church pastor, Santiago, had served as a member of our US church staff one summer and participated and led events at our week-long Vacation Bible School.  He noticed that we used a daily rotation schedule, moving kids from music to art to Bible class to recreation with different kids doing different things at the same time.  He also noticed that we used teams of high school and college youth to lead classes and activities, and with about 200 people on site, things ran very smoothly.  In his church (our sister church) in El Salvador, Pastor Santiago taught about 80 kids every Sunday in one big group. The idea of breaking kids into groups, of training youth leaders as teachers and of rotating kids among different activities which happened simultaneously was not used in Salvadoran Lutheran Church congregations.  Could we help him to share these methods with his colleagues in El Salvador?  Yes -- with the help of our youth!

Capacitación I was led by my friend and I one year prior to the Christmas event.  It was held during a Mission of Healing trip and consisted of a one-day event at the Lutheran Church office complex (where the guest house is.)  Pastors and young leaders from all over El Salvador (and a couple from Honduras) came to discuss child development and teaching methodology and strategies.  The discussion was very lively and the abstract concepts were well illustrated with practical examples and ideas.  The "homework" was for each pastor and leader to share their insights and training with youth leaders in their home communities and to implement at least one new strategy.  A few months later, everyone gathered together again to report back to the group on how that implementation was working.  This was part of an overall 5-year church-wide plan of training and development in the area of children's and youth ministries.

Capacitación II was the next step in the plan.  The idea was to put on a one-day Vacation Bible School experience during which pastors and teachers would "be kids" for the day.  They would participate in all of the activities as children would, and then discuss their experiences at the end of each rotation, offering their ideas and additions, based on their experiences in their own communities.

As we enter a new Christmas season, a time of vacation in the US and in El Salvador, a time during which many Salvadoran churches are running escuelas bíblicas, I give renewed thanks to my kids and the families of our congregation who spent Christmas vacation in El Salvador and helped to cement the tradition of annual Capacitación events which are experienced by youth leaders from our US synod and the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  The next few blog posts will highlight the different elements of Capacitación II in the hopes that the stories will inspire or encourage others.

Part I:  Registration & Opening Worship

Opening Worship
We set up the worship area with balloons and samples of different art projects from Salvadoran Lutheran churches.  The suggested plan for  a 15-20 minute worship (provided in a handout) included a theme-based song, words of welcome, a skit or socio-drama, a quiet or prayerful song and a closing prayer.  We created the worship around our Capacitación II theme:  "The Parable of the Sower."
One late-night prep session:  assembling gift bags for all of the participants,
each bag included a rainbow of tissue paper for making papel picado