Stories in Children’s Work

by Sam Donoghue August 8, 2019 A

I recently heard an interview with one of the engineers working in the control room of Apollo 11; the mission that took humans to the moon for the first time. Once they had landed and decided that they were safe to stay there was a lull while the astronauts began to prepare to step out of the craft and walk on the moon. In that time some of the flight control team were sent to speak to the press and as they walked out to meet them, they realised that they probably wouldn’t know the answers to any of the questions! They had just used loads of the equipment for the first time ever and really at that stage didn’t really know how well it had gone other than it must have gone reasonably well as the Lunar Lander was sat on the surface of the moon in one piece.

When the press conference began however, they soon realised that none of that mattered as the questions were completely different to what they expected. All that the press wanted to know about was about how people were feeling not how well the equipment functioned. Of course the journalists knew what the people at home wanted to know and they wanted to connect people to the stories and the way you do that is not with concepts and facts, it’s with people and feelings.

A key to good work with children and young people is just the same, how do we help them connect with sacred stories? The same rules apply; there will be a deeper connection if we focus on feelings and people. While it’s important that we don’t forget to mention that Jesus was a real person and not just an idea from ancient mythology there is a deeper power that comes from the connection with the people in the stories.

Let’s take a Kids Bible classic as an example; David and Goliath. I’m going to trust that you know this one, if you don’t it’s in Chapter 17 of 1 Samuel and it’s a cracker. It’s got everything you want from a kid’s story. Scrap that, actually it’s got everything anyone wants from a story; a hero journey, a giant, a beheading and taunts alluding to foreskins just enough to make you regret reading it straight from the Bible in an assembly (I may have done this). However, the temptation with it is to get too excited about Goliath. To be fair he is big and the Bible goes to town with facts. Verses 4-7 are a pretty complete run down of his size, the weight of his sword and anything else you’ve ever wondered about the armour required for the oversize champion of the Philistines. Many children’s work sessions focus on this, we make exact size replicas of his shield or maybe we do a group activity where we somehow recreate the sheer size of him, but by doing this we miss the points where children and us too might actually find ourselves in this story and find the story is us.

Having worked with many children on this story many times I can think of several places where different children have connected with it. For example: David being left behind as he’s too young, Saul hiding and trying to get David to fight dressed as him when he should have been fighting Goliath, David’s brothers being overshadowed by a young sibling, Goliath being all set up to win and then it was all going wrong, or even David seeing something that needed doing and no one having the faith to go for it.

All of these are examples of how the children were taking this story and connecting it with their own but in all the cases the connection was to feelings and moments. Unsurprisingly no child I’ve ever worked with has drawn link to the time they encountered a 9 foot tall warrior from antiquity, but they can still find themselves in the story and it still has power to speak into their lives. Sacred stories are one of the most amazing resources you can offer a child, they are gifts that can help sustain their faith for a lifetime.