Friday, February 27, 2015

The Multiplying Bento

Today’s coffee: Dominican Republic

It’s already melt season. I suppose we could get another round of snow storms, but already we can see the road outside our house. Usually we would not expect this for another month. My friends (in this area) are posting pictures of crocuses on Facebook. Global warming?

I want to write about some encouraging things that have happened in the last few weeks… besides the melting snow.

Keith and I were away from home for 3 weeks during the end of January and the beginning of February. As often happens when we take time off for a conference or vacation, appointments and responsibilities got crammed in before and after we go. The day after we returned, I was scheduled to give the Sunday school message.

The usual pattern for the Sunday school message has been that the children sit in chairs in rows while one of the leaders stands at the front and gives a talk or tells a story. Keith and I have been trying some different models. If it’s a story they know well, we get them to tell the story. That worked well on Easter Sunday. Once, Keith had the kids act out the story of the good shepherd as a play. That time the story got a bit out of hand—the so-called “good shepherd” let the robber into the sheep pen and the sheep were overjoyed to be “attacked.” Oops.

The shepherd and the thief "fight" while the "sheep" enjoy the show
I have read to the kids a few times from a children’s Bible story book that I like. Usually I have them sit on zabuton (cushions for sitting on the floor) in a circle, and I ask them questions and interact with them as we read through the story. This seems to keep them engaged (and sitting still), while being a good option for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy public speaking.

To return to the Sunday school message a few weeks ago, I was assigned the story of the feeding of the 5000; thankfully, this story was included in my book. Unfortunately I didn’t have sufficient time to practice reading it aloud—I was busy preparing my visual aid: a bento. (As a cultural aside, this story is a favorite among children in Japan, since they love going on picnics and eating a bento lunch.)

Opening my bento box. That day I had yakiudon. What story does this remind you of, kids?
I stumbled over an unfamiliar word in the first paragraph. I apologized for my lack of preparation and just as I was going to continue reading, one boy snatched the book out of my hands and continued reading where I had left off, perfectly expressing the nuances of the story—the disciples’ doubt, the small boy’s faith, and Jesus’ sense of humor shone through. (My young helper’s brothers were also eager for a chance to read—my role switched from reader to supervisor as I made sure everyone got their turn so that we didn’t end up with a riot…) After the three brothers (and their older sister) finished reading, I wrapped up the story by talking about how God can use even the small and insufficient to do amazing things—he can even use us!

Reading the story together
This development was completely unexpected, and I felt like the story was playing out right before my eyes. Here were three squirmy boys vying with each other for a chance to help. God was using my insufficiently prepared children’s message and making it so much bigger and better than I ever could have imagined.

Last Sunday, another encouragement: our budding middle-school musicians accompanied the Sunday school worship time. I think it’s no surprise that one middle-school girl brought a friend for the first time on this particular occasion. It’s as if she was saying to her friend, “This is my family, my church—I belong here.” This makes me want to give each of these children more opportunities to contribute their gifts to the life of the church, fully expecting that God will make their contributions bear fruit.

A-chan on piano, Ko-kun on guitar, Ke-kun on cajon. (A-chan's friend in the foreground.)
My friend, Izumi once told me that if you want a person to come to your church and stay there, don’t treat them as a guest. Treat them like family—give them something to do; give them a chance to serve. Let them know that they belong. Good advice, I think.

I like to help people find their “bento”: what is God asking that person to contribute? What is it that God has given her that she needs to offer back to him? What is it that God wants to multiply? Our offerings may seem as insignificant as a small child’s bento, but God uses them! I trust that God will continue to multiply the eagerness of each of these children to serve—and use this eagerness for his glory!

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