s is for sunday

my words shared this morning:

 

new creation fellowship church mission sunday • november 14, 2010

 

what if you were given 826 dollars?

826 loaves of bread?

826 gallons of milk?

826 houses?

826 cars?

 

there is no doubt that receiving 826 of anything would present you with an opportunity.

 

in the same way that i look for my favorite translation of scripture, i am guilty of looking for my favorite versions of  definitions.  the definition for “opportunity” according to my computer’s dictionary is:

 

a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.

 

acquiring 826 of anything can be considered a set of circumstances making it possible to do something.

.

since 1994 we’ve been given 826 children.

 

to be fair to this analogy, these 826 children were not actually given to us, they did not simply show up on our doorstep.  but in 1994 a vision came clear and then there was a mission.

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when i added up the numbers of children enrolled since 1994 and got the sum of 826, my body literally slumped back in gratitude for the safety we’ve experienced.  aside from a couple of close calls, bumps and bruises, we’ve escaped injury requiring emergency care, we’ve been spared accusations, we’ve not known overwhelming illness.  it is with humble gratitude that i’ve had the honor of working for the church in this capacity.

 

i was invited to direct and teach a summer day care program here at new creation fellowship church as part of bethel college’s ministry inquiry program.  i went back to bethel in fall of 1994 and finished my degree in elementary education with an emphasis in early childhood education.  after graduation, i was invited to begin a school year preschool program here at new creation fellowship church.  after hours of discernment as a church community, many times around the circle sharing, hesitations expressed, in fall of 1995 we began new creation preschool and with minor changes here and there, we’ve continued on for the last 15 years.

———–

the apostle paul is credited with giving instructions on living a christian life.  part of those instructions can be found in colossians 4:5-6:

 

be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

 

if, for the sake of this morning, we consider those outside of our immediate congregation as the “outsiders,”  we’ve had them in the past and we have them now.

 

of the 792 children already through our program and the 34 currently here, the vast majority have been outsiders.  only a fraction have been from new creation fellowship church, most have not been from any other mennonite congregation or background and while it is not our practice to formally inquire about a family’s church participation, i think it is safe to say that about half of our families have not been connected to any church community.

 

while it isn’t a primary goal of our mission to recruit families from the preschool to come to our church, it brings me great joy when that happens. there have been over 20 children who have been in the preschool classroom and the sanctuary  so far.

——————

when our church decided to begin this ministry and every year that we continue the program, we are, in a sense, opening ourselves up to outsiders.

—————–

if 826 is the number of children that have come through our program since 1994, this means that at least 1600 adults have come through as well.   it is a great opportunity.   when i began our preschool blog as a way to give families a peek into the classroom, i didn’t expect the connection with other preschools and teachers across the world.

 

it is written in my job description as preschool director that i am to “maintain a presence in the virtual world.”  as with many areas of my job description, this leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation.  for the last two years i’ve been committed to updating our preschool blog several times a week. as many of you know, when a young child is asked what she did at school her reply will often be,  “played.”  when asked the question that many parents like to ask:  what did you learn today?  i know they answer is often “nothing.”  our blog gives a depth to those answers that children often can’t provide.  our blog provides the proof of learning that i struggle to pass along to parents who aren’t in the classroom.

 

the surprise is how this preschool blog has extended into a professional connecting place as well.  i can track the number of visits to our website and with an average of over 600 hits a day, it is clear that our preschool is extending far beyond the community of newton.

—————

our mission statement reads that our purpose is to provide a christian atmosphere for young children where they can grow physically, emotionally, socially, creatively, and intellectually while best preparing them for kindergarten.

 

you can see evidence in the basement of us doing this through a project based curriculum, healthy snacks, outdoor experiences, neighborhood awareness, music and movement, reusing and repurposing, creative conflict resolution, a safe place for growing older, and lots and lots of messes.

 

i can’t and don’t do this alone.  while my name may be most often associated with this program and while my voice is most often heard in speaking of this program, i consider myself a spokesperson, whose hands and feet work for the church.  twice this past week, my co-worker mr. rob said, “i wonder when i’ll grow that third arm i need.”

—————-

in calculating the number of children that have come through our program, i couldn’t help but recall the other staff members who at one point or another were employees of new creation fellowship church:  kathy wiens, aimee mock, beverly baumgartner, sarah roth-mullet, kendra neufeld, shannon olson, angela ellis, katrina toews, kathy landis, jill schmidt weaver, treye wulf, deb goering, joseph lambert, clark baldwin, kara zonnefeld, diana kuhn, alisa dineen, and most recently our mcc workers carol and viliya joined rob masem and me. claiming this as one of our church’s missions has also provided the opportunity for jobs.  what an extended gift we’ve given in the form of work.

—————-

a driving and unique purpose of our program is to provide a quality preschool experience regardless of what a family can pay. our reduced tuition places us in the ranks with only three other programs in the newton community who offer financial assistance.   it is hard to share with you adequately the tear filled gratitude that has been expressed by families.  it frees me to care for the needs of children knowing that as a congregation we are caring for the financial needs of the program.

a mom came to me recently, huddled in the kitchen doorway, shifted on her feet, and told me that her husband’s hours got cut and they didn’t know if they could afford preschool anymore.  they have been in our program for three year.  i have the blessed luxury of being equipped to ask the simple question:  can you still get your child to preschool?  she says, “yes” and i say, “we’ll talk about the rest later.”

—————

whether it be on line or in real life, much of what happens in preschool can fall in the category of “planting seeds.”  we make graphs, we use big words, we describe peace makers, we suggest alternative language, we show math problems, we write full sentences knowing no one can read them, we send children back to their families after debates over santa or questions about the resurrection of christ.

 

when one considers planting actual seeds, if the conditions are right-if they are a favorable set of circumstances- something will grow.

 

when i think of these seeds being planted, it can be frustrating to not see what grows.  to not see how well it thrived.  to not see the color of the bloom.  to not see if it was a plant that grew tall and neat or if it needed pruning.  more and more i find myself looking in the face of children who are becoming men and women.  i marvel when they remember this place.

————–

i was out for lunch with a friend last week and noticed a couple of young men at a booth near us.  who left the restaurant at the same time we did.  with the engine humming, music blaring and smoke billowing out one of the guys leaned through the window and said, “hey – are you kristin?”  i looked at this man and saw the blond child who used to come into our church basement.  he was the quietest of his brothers and spent his days doing what he needed to do.  he was one i used to wonder about.  he was one i’d forgotten.  but in a blessed flash of memory, my eyes got wide and i said, “are you justin?”  he smiled the smile of being recognized and said, “yeah.  hey – are you still at that church?”

————–

be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

i was presented with a set of circumstances and i wish i’d done something more.

 

i wish i would have invited him to come back to that church.

 

i wish i would have asked him how he spent his days now.

 

i wish i would have asked about his brother, his mom.

 

dear community, whether you’ve been here since 1994 or just since this morning, you’ve joined this mission.  you’re called to make the most of every opportunity.

 

what are we missing?

 

what seeds can we sow?

 

what plants need tending?

 

which need pruning?

 

dear community, i commend you for your work in this mission.  with every chair put away, every tithe given to the church, every bit of grace extended, you are helping sustain the ministry of new creation preschool.

 

 

————–

 

 

17 thoughts on “s is for sunday

    • Kristin Neufeld Epp

      thank you for your encouragement!

      i’ve enjoyed your comments tonight…it seems we have similar things going on in life.

      eager to visit your blog,

      kristin

      : )

      Like

  1. mkpoggie

    Amazing. I’m one of those frequent online blog readers. As a teacher, you completely inspire me. I get such a kick out of seeing what goodies pop up. I steal from you A LOT. :) Anyway, I remember my childhood preschool experience very clearly, and, apparently, that’s not very common. When each batch of kids leave me, I remind myself that it’s likely that many of them will forget me. But their hands will remember me every time they tie their shoes. Their voices will remember me every time they absent-mindedly hum “Leavin’ on a Jetplane” (a class fave) and their, well, brains will remember me every time they spell their names. Teaching IS a mission of influence. It’s fantastic.

    Like

  2. katiecl

    giving your gifts to the world is surely something to be proud of. so many times people walk through life not seeing their gifts, or for some reason, not finding ways to give them. you are inspiring because you give your gifts so well.

    Like

  3. kristin

    just this morning i found this quote in my inbox (from gratefulness.org):

    Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

    Robert Louis Stevenson

    there we are.

    Like

  4. LaQuetha

    This post is very inspiring and sums up my answer to the questions I walk away with everyday. Am I really making difference and I would say the yes. Last week a parent told me her daughter was talking about me to her aunt and the aunt said she loves her best friend laquetha and the most replied well laquetha is her teacher :). It makes my heart smile. We are making a difference in the lives of our children.

    Like

  5. Ruby

    Thank you for this write up. I have been a preschool teacher for 22 years now, the last 6 of which are in a christian school. You summed up how I feel so adequately. There are days that I feel I’ve really connected and days when I wonder if I’m doing enough. Am I really making a difference in their lives, am i planting any seeds of any worth, what else can I do? And like your experience with Justin I think about the ones that I feel I didn’t work enough with. It’s nice to know that other educators share the same feelings AND also great to realize that we have to keep plodding on and caring and taking advantage of our opportunities. Our job is to keep doing God’s work, the rest is in His hands.

    Like

  6. Vilia

    How beautiful ans inspiring!

    I am so grateful and proud to be a part of this special mission.

    As I finished reading this, I think you are my favorite teacher (even though you never taught me in the classes i had).

    Let’s keep on doing the good work! :)

    Like

  7. Luanne

    Thank you. I am sitting in my public school kindergarten classroom and what you wrote holds true for me too. I am going to remember your words as I navigate through my day.

    Like

  8. Anna Dick Gambucci

    Wow. That’s about all I can say is, ‘wow.’ And I keep wishing to plant (with others) such green grass in my own community. Or to move to such a community so I can more fruitfully participate. It is hard to do this–the metaphorical ‘astroturf’ of the suburbs is hard to penetrate, the unwelcoming concrete of American culture, pervasive. What is required for the realization of a vision of strong, supportive, child (and adult)-nurturing community, Kristin? What have you found to be the crucial ingredients in the recipe?
    Anna Dick Gambucci

    Like

  9. naomi findlay

    hi Kristin
    I am in oz and read your blog – lots of wonderful ideas. i am a Christian studying EC teaching.
    God bless you! and thanks for the reminder to make the most of every opportunity :)
    naomi

    Like

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