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Sep16WedA thriving Wednesday-night program at Saskatoon Temple gives children a safe place to grow in faith. September 16, 2015 by Kristin Ostensen
Walk into Saskatoon Temple on a Wednesday night and you might have trouble figuring out exactly what is going on. Full of ice cream and energy, young boys play floor hockey in the gym, while other boys and girls play word games on a chalkboard in a classroom down the hall. Upstairs in the church foyer, a tattooed teacher shows two girls how to make paper airplanes with bright orange paper, three pre-teens chat and text on couches nearby, and kids wander between activities, talking and laughing as they make their way around the building.
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“Beautiful chaos” is how program co-ordinator Vienna Sawatzky describes it—but that's not a bad thing. In fact, the program's inherent flexibility is one of its greatest strengths. Now running for 10 years, the program continues to evolve and grow, with 80 children attending each week.
A Purpose-Driven Program
The evening begins with a free supper, followed by free time and then a Bible lesson. When the program began, it was designed as a Bible study for children who weren't making it to the service on Sunday mornings. Around 30 children came to the program each week, which included band and timbrel practice.
But over time, the program's demographic changed, due in large part to the corps' thriving van ministry, and the program has changed with it. Today, two vans are used to transport more than 20 children and Sawatzky is hoping to get a third van this year.
“We have more and more kids that we drive here,” she says, “which means we've got more kids who aren't churched coming, so some of the activities we used to do don't work anymore.” About 75 percent of the children who attend are from the community, rather than the corps.
The van ministry is headed up by Debra Prosofsky and her husband, who have been driving kids to the Wednesday-night program since it began. Many of the children she picks up come from the inner-city Riversdale area, where the couple used to live before they became the site managers at the Army's Beaver Creek Camp.
Raised in The Salvation Army, Prosofsky understands the long-term value of the Wednesday-night program.
“I took my own venture away from the church and came back, so I know the importance of planting that seed,” she says. “To me, it's worth it to pick them up and get them here so that they get that experience—a relationship with people who care and a chance to learn about God.”
Fun and Flexibility
The meal at the beginning of the program is a big draw for many children.
“It's amazing!” says eight-year-old Leah Watt, whose favourite part of the meal is dessert. She attends the program with her four-year-old sister, Ali.
“A lot of us take having a family supper for granted,” says Prosofsky. “But some of the children don't get that.”
When dinner finishes, clean-up is a group effort. Younger kids clear plates and stack chairs, while older ones dismantle the tables and put them away so that the dining area becomes a gym. For the next hour, the children are free to move through the various stations in the building and find an activity that is fun for them.
“They definitely like that they have that time to play and to hang out,” says Sawatzky. “We try to make it work for each group, asking, 'What are your needs? What do you want?' and do that. Then they're willing to do Bible study.”
“I love doing art and stuff, so I'm always at the art table,” says Leah.
Jamis Benjamin, seven, spends most of his free time playing floor hockey in the gym. “It's fun,” he says. “I was kind of shy at first, but then I got friends.”
“We try to see what is and isn't working,” says Sawatzky. “At the beginning of last year, we found that we were getting more older boys than we had had in a while, so we swapped their free time and Bible study time, which let them have their own gym slot. That made them really happy.”
On the other hand, she notes, some of the younger boys were not interested in the gym, and so they gave them a box of K'Nex and their own Lego set.
Having a variety of activities not only gives the children many opportunities to interact with each other, but also gives them the chance to build relationships with the adults who help run the program.
“So it's not like they show up, spend an hour with one teacher, and go home, and all they've seen is that one teacher,” says Graeme Williams, who leads the class for boys in Grades 2-5. “They get to know a lot of the teachers, and that builds a more family-like environment.”
That support can be invaluable for children such as Lilea Yousif, 13, who has relied on the teachers and friends she met at the Wednesday program during difficult times.
“When I was younger, after my mom and dad divorced, they helped me get through that one,” she says. “Everyone's very supportive here.”
“I've made lots of friends, but I've also made friends with some of the adults, too,” says Brooke Sawatzky, 12, “so I'm not shy to go talk to them.”
The strong relationships built between teachers and children help make the lesson time more effective.
“I get to know the kids, what they're interested in, and then I teach based on that,” says Williams. “Last year, I taught 'gross Bible stories'—such as the hand writing on the wall in the Book of Daniel—because I knew that would keep them interested.”
“The teaching time is pretty good because it's always interesting,” says Leah. “It's not like, 'Ugh, I'm learning the same thing over and over again.' ”
For Lilea, who has been attending the program since she was an infant, the program is a safe place for her to explore her faith.
“Now that I've gotten older, I question a lot more about the Bible, which one's the real God, and they're showing me that our Bible is the real one,” she says. “I'm always asking questions, and they'll come back and have an answer, so that's a good help.”
“By the end of the night, I feel happy,” concludes Brooke. “Everything is a lot of fun. I look forward to it every week.”