Acres of farmland surrounded the white concrete block meetinghouse which sat behind the church cemetery. Woods to the east and a few live oaks dripping Spanish moss around the building were the only trees on this rolling green landscape. The farmer who owned the surrounding land alternated each year between corn and pasture, so it wasn't uncommon on the alternate years for cows to add their lowing to the congregation's hymns drifting out the windows.
Although you would think no one lived within twenty miles in the unpopulated countryside, every Sunday 80 or 90 souls swarmed out of the woods and down the dirt lanes between sections. Yet even with that many, children were scarce. When we first arrived, there were only two Bible classes—one labeled "children" and the other "teens." After a few months we had grown to over 120 on Sunday mornings and had added a third Bible class. We now had "toddlers," "grade school," and "high school," but attendance in each was six or less and the grade school class age span ran from 7 to 13.
Most of these children were woefully ignorant of even the basics—Adam and Eve, Noah, Daniel, and Jonah. Together, Keith and I put together a teaching program designed to cover the Old Testament in 6 months before moving on to the New. As you can imagine, we were whizzing through. I needed some way to keep these narratives fresh in their minds week after week until they finally became entrenched. That is how our "Museum of the Old Testament" came about.
I explained to the children that as we learned about Old Testament events we would be designing and creating exhibits for a museum. After six months, we would open our museum to the congregation and they would be the tour guides for our visitors.
With a lack of money and a talent-challenged non-artist for a teacher (me), our exhibits were simple and crude. What did we have? I cannot even remember them all, but here are a few:
A wall map. Somehow, somewhere, I managed to find a map geared to children—bright primary colors, simple line boundaries, large bold print for places that covered the gamut from the Garden of Eden to Egypt to Canaan to Babylon. This became our "tour map," giving people a quick overview of where they were going. We also graced our walls with large arrows to direct traffic around the room in a one-way traffic pattern that made for smooth entry and exit without running into one another.
Stone tablets. I managed to find two appropriately and similarly sized flat chunks of concrete on which we printed the Ten Commandments. Somehow during the handling, a small corner broke off of one. We just propped it where it went, but as we ran our tours six months later, I overheard one of our more creative students telling his tour group, "And this is where it broke when Moses got mad about the golden calf and threw them down on the ground."
An Ark of the Covenant. A kids' size shoebox with dowels through rings glued on the sides, cardboard "crown molding" and cherubim on the top, all spray-painted gold. Inside we placed small replicas of the tablets, the pot of manna and Aaron's budding rod.
A Judges' mobile. The point in the book of Judges is not really the exciting stories—it's the continuing cycle as the people refused to learn from their history. Se we created a mobile out of coat hangers, yarn, and construction paper. Around the top ran the cycle in a circle: SIN>>OPPRESSION>>REPENTANCE>>PEACE>>, and it hung so it turned constantly at any passage of air through the room. Hanging from the circle on separate strings were paper man cut-outs with the names of the judges, Othniel through Samuel.
The handwriting on the wall. This was the easiest one of the bunch. Put some art paper on the wall and have one of the students finger-paint MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN on it. Then draw a large hand with a pointing finger and hang it by a stiff wire from the ceiling so that it touches the wall at one of the words.
The Minor Prophets sheet game. This one served as both a lesson activity and an exhibit. Very few adults really know the Minor Prophets, so this was impressive to the parents. I cut out about half of a full size sheet. Then I wrote on it with a permanent marker the names of the Minor Prophets in a column on the left. Across from that I wrote 18 things I had taught the children about those 12 prophets. By the names of the prophets I sewed on a length (or 2 in some cases) of yarn. By the identifying phrases I sewed a button. The point of the game was to match the prophet to his identifier by wrapping his piece of yarn around the appropriate button. As the tour group reached our game, the students had learned it so well that they could go through it in just minutes, showing the adults which prophet went with which description or activity. Then it had to be "undone" before the next group arrived and everyone helped with that.
I am sure we did more "exhibits" than these, but they have slipped my mind. The last two classes before our "Grand Opening," the students took turns giving the tour to one another—once again cementing those facts in their minds.
Finally the day arrived. With the closing announcements, the congregation was invited to tour the "Museum of the Old Testament." After the amen, the children rushed to our classroom and stood ready to be matched with a tour group of 3 or 4 adults. You might think that only parents came, but you would be wrong. Nearly every adult member showed up that morning. It took nearly an hour to get everyone through and each child led a tour three or four times, but no one complained. In fact, several adults thanked me in the next few weeks.
These children had never learned so much in such a short time, and not because of me. These were starving little minds, like baby birds with their mouths open perpetually, waiting for food. I hope this gives you a few ideas to use in the future. There are hungry nestlings everywhere.
And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say… (Exod 12:26-27)
And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say… (Exod 13:14)
“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say…(Deut 6:20-21)
And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know… (Josh 4:21-22)