September 2021
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

The Route Less Traveled

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

It was eight in the morning, which meant it was time to wake up and go to church. Changing into that nice dress shirt and black pants, I asked my mom if she was teaching my Sunday School class. Sadly, she answered no. I quickly got on the defensive and told her that I did not want to go to class if neither she nor my sister were teaching.

My mom and I had already been through this numerous times, and she allowed me to stay with her and my dad during the service. I became the little boy who would clap along during songs and proclaim “aleluya” during the Eucharist. Anything to get out of going to class.

An unlikely candidate says ‘Yes’ to Children’s Ministry

Ten years later, I was approached by our rector’s wife, Mariely. She told me she was starting a new children’s ministry and wanted me to be a part of it. I was both excited and reluctant about joining her team. No one had ever given me a chance to be an actual leader in a ministry. My excitement won over, and I accepted her invitation. She continued approaching different youth and young adults until we had a solid team.

Well…in the beginning, our solid rock was more like sand. We were all individual grains of church newcomers and veterans, anxiously waiting to be molded into a cohesive team. Some of us had grown up reading many Bible stories, while others were learning the stories along with the kids. Regardless, Mariely brought us together, and with her uplifting and motivating speeches, she convinced us all to help.

One of these college students was Katherine Reyes, who says, “Mariely is always there when we have a concern or just need reassurance that we are doing a good job.” No matter what we needed, Mariely was there, uniting us all under the common goal of spreading God’s word to our church’s children and their families.

When it came time to decide what class we would teach, I was assigned to the fourth and fifth graders, along with David Medrano. It’s the class that no one wants to teach, and I commend all those volunteers and teachers who work with this grade level, because it is not easy.

Children in this age group have an internal conflict – they want to participate in the crafts and games, yet something inside of them says No! What are you doing? You are way too cool to dance and do crafts! Some of them were passionate about their own hobbies and didn’t want to talk about the lesson. Maria Celeste, one of our veteran teachers, said, “the challenge is to redirect the children’s attention to the lesson and away from a topic they like talking about.”

To make matters worse, the boys in this grade level adore running around and being loud. The girls, on the other hand, love judging the boy’s loudness. This became a problem, and we decided to separate them in different classrooms. David and I had a great time with the boys. They were learning and participating. Everything was going well until the girls noticed how much fun the boys were having. They complained to their teacher saying, “Why are the boys having fun in their class? I want to have fun too. This is boring!”

We reunited the class and never heard the word “boring” again.

And then along came the pandemic

If you thought that was bad, wait until you hear about this weird thing called a pandemic. When our team first heard of the virus, we weren’t too worried about it. “Eh, we’ll just make sure the kids use sanitizer, no biggy.” Then the services came to a halt, pausing Sunday School along with it. Was this time off for our team? Or a time to worry about our kids and their families?

Unfortunately, we did not get time off. Mariely called us together for a long meeting on the one thing I would learn to loathe and despise. You know it, you love it, that’s right – she called a Zoom meeting. I won’t bore you with all the details, but we came out of that meeting with a lot more perspective and a clearer head. Mariely urged us to continue fighting and helped us move our Sunday School online. Things finally began picking up. We were all doing better as a team, and a lot of kids were actually watching our lessons on YouTube.

Right before the pandemic first hit, Mariely had asked me to direct the 2020 Vacation Bible School (VBS). I was thrilled and excited to receive this amazing invitation – until the pandemic struck. Thoughts of canceling and safety protocols came rushing into my head. I was thrown into the deep end without knowing how to swim, and here came a big whale to gulp me up. But God saw my distress and freed me from the clutches of the beast. He helped me find purpose and sent in the cavalry, our amazing Children’s Ministry Director, Mariely.

Working together, we found the volunteers we needed and put on a live and virtual VBS for 80 children. I never imagined myself as a VBS director, much less hosting 80 children. I was not the only scared volunteer, however. Fellow team member Mayra Valiente recalls, “I was soooo nervous. Mariely and the team helped me to ‘trust Jesus’ and ‘be bold.’ She taught me to keep pushing forward, no matter what the circumstance, and to always put everything in God’s hands.” In the end, the program was a success, and while we all missed seeing the children in person, the participants and their parents loved what our team had done.

Early last summer, we were allowed to open Sunday School while continuing to post videos on our YouTube channel. This greatly boosted our team’s morale, which was perfect, since it was time once again to lead VBS. To give us time to decide whether to host the program in-person or virtually, we scheduled it to begin the first week in August. And that first week, I was given the opportunity to host my very first, in-person VBS. We were blessed with 30 children participants, and it was an amazing feeling to see the children there in person, learning about God’s love together.

One the fence? Buckle up and leap!

Children’s ministry consists of two sets of people – those with a strong vision and others, crazy enough to carry that vision out. Children’s ministry is a program that works. One of our volunteers, Heriberto Basabe, describes his experience with some of his team this way. “Some of those kids are my peers, working beside me in this wonderful ministry. But even after all this time, I see them as the eight-year-old children I remember; answering their questions, praying for them when they’re in trouble, laughing at them when they do something dumb.”

The students of the past have become teachers to the next generation. If you are debating whether children’s ministry could be your next step, I challenge you to simply buckle up and leap. I promise you, the road ahead is nothing like you have ever seen before.

Anthony Rodriguez is a Salvadorean-American, born and raised in Houston. He is a theology major at the University of St. Thomas with a passion for Scripture and the Classical texts. He has been a children’s ministry leader for the past three years, but he has served the Lord since birth. He loves soccer and is always ready to play outside.

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This article is part of the September 2021 Vestry Papers issue on Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month