A Typical Sunday Part 3: Sunday School

This guy always comes with the best hats. He also closes and opens the building for us.

This guy always comes with the best hats. He also closes and opens the building for us.

We recently switched our Sunday service time with our Sunday school, so that Sunday school instruction takes place the second hour. The children have already sat through a 1 1/2 hour service by the time they come to my class. I have children ages 2-14. Seth takes anyone over or under that.


Borrowing a hat from the notorious hat-man.

Borrowing a hat from the notorious hat-man.

Since my husband is so kind as to “watch” Carson (19 mos) during Sunday school, I have Callie (2 1/2 years). I definitely have the better end of the bargain there. But it would be impossible for me to have Carson. My children’s class meets in a 10×10 room. We have a little window, but the room is usually dim and hot.

I have a homemade board with flannel on one side and pockets on the other. I usually print the words to the verse and cut the paper to fit in the pocket chart. After the lesson, we play review games on the flannel side.

During the break after our church service, Seth or I (usually Seth) takes whichever child we happen to be toilet training at the time to the outdoor toilet. I have also instructed the “regulars” in my class to use the toilet during the break, not during my lesson.

I set up my classroom with song and verse visuals and prepare my story picture flashcards. I also pick up the blankets Carson napped on and set up toys for toddlers in the back of the “auditorium” where the adults will meet for their class. Because we use my classroom as a nursery during the service first hour, I cannot do these preparation details beforehand.

I try to find time in the rush to greet the women who have come that day. I will ask how they’re doing, comment on their children/work/health/dress, whatever I can think of, and encourage them to come to any upcoming ladies’ meetings. Then I step out to the porch and yell, “Let’s start,” and wave at the children. The children come rushing in–all except my own, whom I have to call individually. Colin gets a quick reminder on how to sit still.

My kids! Love these guys!

My kids! Love these guys!

I try to turn away the one or two toddlers that were sneaked into my classroom when I wasn’t looking. The Africans tend to think of the class as a nursery for all children, not really important for instruction. I will take anyone who can sit still, but even then I end up with interruptions, either from my own small ones, or from pre-schoolers who want to meander in and out.

The door doesn’t shut, so a student sits in front of it to keep it shut to keep noise from each class in its respective place.

I love my class. I love to teach. The week before, I prepare my lesson, translating it word for word. I practice the lesson a few times and try to say much of it without looking, but have the paper in my hand the whole time. I usually have a teenager who I am training to help as well as to teach when I am not there, but currently I have no helper. My former helpers all graduated. 🙂

We sing, mostly in Tsonga, we learn a verse, catechism question, and hear verse recitations from the week before. Every verse memorized earns a piece of cheap bubble gum called “Chappies.” If the class is full (about 20 kids), it takes a while to get through the verse quotes.

We sing a bit more, and then we learn. I bribe them with suckers–the best two students, who sit quietly and listen, get a sucker. Callie also gets one. It gets her through at least 10 minutes of the lesson. (By that time, she’s already sat for two hours that day through teaching in Tsonga.)

The last few Sundays have been more difficult than usual during my lesson time. I usually think of African children as about two grades lower in attention span than I would consider the average American child in church (who probably also attends a private school during the week). That’s why I have children up to 14 years in my class. They are usually still in primary school, which goes up through 7th grade, and they don’t move up to secondary school until 8th grade.

Many of the younger ones (up through 3rd grade) are not used to sitting quietly for a 15-minute lesson. Beyond that, to be able to listen in order to answer questions for the review game afterwards takes practice. They have usually never been taught in quite the manner that I teach. And even beyond that, they have to learn how to hear my accent, which struggles with rolling its R’s and other issues. But I have seen great improvement in many of the regulars in attention span and ability to get the review questions right at the end. That is very rewarding.

The only time I feel really tried is if I have several interruptions during lesson time from little ones coming and going–which requires the person sitting in front of the door to move several times. It really stops the whole lesson and makes it hard for the children to listen. Even with my most energetic efforts, some weeks feel like a fail!

Sometime during the lesson, Callie comes to me with a dirty, chewed up sucker stick. I encourage Miss Sticky Hands to sit back down and wait– “We’re almost done.” Sometimes Colin as well has hit his limit. All of my breathed threatenings and English rebukings cannot keep him from either tears or falling off his chair anywhere from 2-4 times.

We end with a review game, which we all love, more songs, prayer, and an admonishment to pick up all the trash! No trash on the floor! “Litter” is not a concern here–I have had to take away the gum for a few weeks until they learn not to throw the wrappers on the floor.


Church ladies are sweeping the floor, while young men are stacking and putting the chairs in a closet. We shut the pre-school where we meet for church and head home. About once every month or two, we also have someone home to eat with us afterwards. By 2:00, the children are napping; I would like a nap; and the rest of the day is fairly restful, with only one men’s Bible study in late afternoon.

On Monday or Tuesday I begin translating my children’s lesson for the following week to start all over again!

And I bless American churches’ nursery workers on furlough for their very valuable ministry!

A Typical Sunday Part 2: The Service

A Typical Sunday Part 1: Pre-Service

About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and mother of four children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
This entry was posted in Missional Monday and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Typical Sunday Part 3: Sunday School

  1. Dana Jordan says:

    Hi Amy! I honestly just love getting your blog posts. Thank you for sharing what your life in Africa is like. It doesn’t sound easy, but you are doing very valuable things for Gd and for the people in your church. Your kids have a great mom too! Hang in there!! Even here, I can feel like a failure after teaching a group of “quiet” teens who seem completely bored and disinterested! Keep up the good work and thanks for taking the time to write to us!


    Sent from my iPad

  2. Ann Bedford says:

    Love reading you Sunday posts.

  3. Nicole says:

    I can relate to almost everything in this post:) Our class, however, is outside on a tarp. Every airplane (quite infrequent), car driving by, motorcycle, someone carrying water, etc. causing a disturbance. Hudson used to sit pretty well in a stroller for the lesson, but the stroller broke a little back. Now, he sits, then walks around, sits somewhere else, plops down in a lap, moves again . . .! My kids love the review game at the end as well. In fact, I saw one of the older girls writing down notes from the lesson on her flip-flop so as to get the right answers later:) Thanks again for writing!

    • Amy says:

      I am so glad we don’t have to meet outside! We are planning our new building, and planning to try to put a classroom inside right from the start. I don’t know how you do it with Hudson! That is so rewarding to see that one girl writing on her flip-flop, though. That would be picture-worthy!

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