Temple El Shadai, in Lomé, Togo is under construction. The church building is currently a corrugated tin roof held up with unfinished tree-limb posts. Woven reed mats make a wall behind the platform and the floor is a raw cement slab. The church will be built bit by bit as the offerings come in, but even under construction, 250-300 adults come every Sunday to worship.
The church, led by a pastor who is a former Muslim, has a heart for children’s ministry. Despite their lack of adequate facilities for adults, they had still managed to put up a few lean-to shelters for their congregation of about 100 children. But they wanted to do more and they were asking their national leadership for help. The Togo Assemblies of God Children’s Ministry Department forwarded their request to us.
With the help of a visiting team, and with funds already had on hand, we were able to help them put up a larger, sturdier, and more permanent structure. It may not look like much, but it is enough to shelter as many as 250 kids for a Sunday school class, and as the church is able, they will replace the wood supports with concrete posts and enclose it. In fact, the day after the shelter went up, the church members themselves had already poured in the concrete floor.
A few days after the shelter went up, the church hosted a mid-week children’s outreach event and invited us to speak. Around 150 children, many of whom were neighborhood children who do not regularly attend any church, heard the Gospel message. When an invitation to accept Christ was given, a large number of hands went up.
The following Sunday, the church reported that their children’s congregation had grown from 100 to 150. This week, just four weeks after the event, the church welcomed 175 children. That is 75% growth in just four weeks, just by providing space and inviting kids to come.
In the coming weeks, we will lead a training event for the teachers in this church to help them better manage the sudden growth in numbers and to help them disciple the children as effectively as possible.
Temple El Shadai is a good example of the Sunday School Shelter project in action. Across West Africa, churches consistently respond that their three biggest needs for children’s ministries are:
- Training for teachers and leadership
- Curriculum and resources appropriate to their culture and context
- Physical space for children’s ministry
The Sunday School Shelter Project isn’t just about building shelters for children’s ministries. It’s about building children’s ministries. In addition to providing funding and manual labor as needed for the actual shelter, the project provides training for the teachers and leaders, and works to provide curriculum solutions. Typically the construction of a shelter is followed by a seminar designed to teach teachers foundational skills such as how children learn and how to use creative methods to effectively teach. We also work with the pastor, children’s ministry director, and the national leadership, to provide Africa-appropriate curriculum according to the church’s needs.
How much does it cost to build a Sunday School Shelter?
Costs vary across West Africa according to location and availability of materials. On average, one shelter large enough to accommodate 100 children costs about $1,000.00 US. Included is the cost of hosting a teacher-training seminar and providing as much as eight years’ worth of children’s ministry curriculum. For $10/child, we can address all three of the children’s ministry needs consistently expressed across West Africa.
How do we decide where to build a shelter?
With so many needs, it is difficult to decide which churches to help. That is why the decision is left up to the leadership of the National Church. National Children’s Ministry Department leaders and General Superintendents know better than we do which churches need the most help and where we can be most effective. Often they have requirements which the local church must meet before we can help them. They look for churches that have already demonstrated a heart and a willingness to minster to children. Usually the church is required to invest financially in the project according to their own ability. When we have the funds for a project in a particular country, city, or region, we approach these leaders and let them tell us where it should go.
What are the shelters made of?
The materials the structure is made of vary. In coastal climates or places where availability of building materials is easy, they are made with a wood frame and a corrugated tin roof. In other locations, tin may not be available, but a thatched roof is a good solution. In still others, termites destroy wood in a matter of weeks, so we may use steel or concrete support posts. Occasionally, the church knows it will be moving to a new location in the near future, so the shelter is made with a tarp roof and wood supports that can be disassembled easily. All of these factors are taken into consideration when deciding what kind of structure will work best for a particular church.
Why do we build such a simple structure?
Sunday school shelters are simple structures for a number of reasons. First, the climate of West Africa does not require anything more substantial than a roof for shade and for shelter from rain. Second, some churches plan on enclosing the structure to make an actual building as they can afford to, so the design of the structure we put up keeps future renovations in mind. Third, the simplicity of the structure is a reflection of the culture. Structures such as in the pictures above are used all over this part of the world as vendor stalls, meeting rooms, or workshops. It is a common way to build a cost-effective shelter.
What are the long-term results of the Sunday School Shelter project?
In 2006 we started this project in Togo. We put up a few shelters in partnership with the Togolese A/G Children’s department before a health crisis forced us to leave the country. We assumed that was the end of the project.
Just two months ago, (October 2015) we returned to Togo as resident missionaries. We were overwhelmed to discover that the national church had continued the project on their own.
One of the churches where we built a shelter had grown their ministry to children to the extent that they had added a second floor to their building exclusively for children. They had disassembled their Sunday school shelter and given it to another nearby church. Other churches had been able to put up shelters thanks to an inheritance given to the Togo A/G for this purpose. And the children’s ministry leaders reported to us that as pastors saw these shelters going up, many had decided to do one on their own, so the project was growing organically.
The result, for the nation of Togo, is that where 95% of churches in Togo in 2007 had no space for children to meet, now only 80% of churches have no space for children to meet. There is still a lot of work to be done. But since space for children to meet translates directly into expanded ministry to children, that is good progress in eight years!
How can I be involved?
Thank you so much for your interest in the Sunday School Shelter Project! We would be glad to answer any further questions you might have about the project, and we appreciate your partnership. Together, we can build children’s ministry in Africa, reaching a generation for Christ and shaping the future of a continent.