Editor’s Note: Below you’ll find an article from two young people from Bethlehem Lutheran in Dorothy, Gabriella and Isabella DeStefano. In it, they articulate something that I witnessed after worshipping with them: how the Sunday School at Bethlehem is an amazing witness to how Christian Education can connect young people to their neighbors and the realities they face, whether in their immediate communities or around the world. They spend time learning about the struggles and hurts of others, and seek out ways to bond with them in a spirit of interdependence and generosity. Over and over, they have witnessed to the connections they share with others through Jesus Christ, and provide an example that no matter the size of your congregation, God’s love and compassion can be shared. - Pastor Aaron Richter
Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dorothy, New Jersey has a small congregation and only ten students in its Sunday School, ranging in age from four to thirteen. However, this small church, led by Pastor Richard Holzer, has displayed mighty fundraising prowess and the ability to affect lives globally and locally.
For several years, the Sunday School practiced stewardship by donating goats, cows, bees and chicks through God’s Global Barnyard. The students would make and sell crafts, Christmas cards, and snacks to raise funds. The “Buck a Chick” program was very successful and the students learned to appreciate the small role an egg and chick could play in combating global hunger. The students also worked toward eradicating hunger on the local level through donations to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and Atlantic City Public Schools following Hurricane Sandy. The congregation and Sunday School also donated labor and materials toward a local Habitat for Humanity home.
Some Sunday School students were fortunate to meet a recipient of ELCA’s goats and other animals. Gabriella, Isabella and Alex DeStefano met Amalia, a native of Namibia, whose village benefitted from ELCA’s God’s Global Barnyard program. Amalia also told them of the dire need for clean, safe water in Africa. After sharing Amalia’s story with the congregation, “Project Clean Water” was launched. The Sunday School worked with the congregation and South Jersey Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to raise enough money to fund a well in Namibia.
Once the fundraising goal was reached, the Sunday School contacted ELCA and learned that the World Hunger program builds wells around the world. While there were no current well projects in Namibia, they could provide a well to a village in Tanzania. The Sunday School students then decided to “Catch the Buzz” and raise funds for Namibia’s malaria prevention program. They gave shirts designed by Justin Haye to the congregation featuring a well and a malaria mosquito. The Sunday School also hosted a coffee hour with mosquito cookies and themed decorations.
Bethlehem Lutheran successfully raised $2,500 to fund a Tanzanian well and $1,000 for malaria prevention in Namibia. While the Sunday School program may be small in size, the efforts of the students have affected lives on a big scale! The children were inspired and guided by the quote from 2 Corinthians 9:6-7: The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.