Briercrest College and Seminary partners with Compassion to teach students about ministry to children through a life-changing trip to Ecuador.
"I can fall into that mindset that children's ministry is to entertain kids because their attention span is short," admitted Ramsey Klassen, Student Body President of Briercrest College and Seminary in Caronport, Saskatchewan.
Klassen isn't alone. Children's ministry can easily become shuffled to the back of our priorities in favor of ministry to adults. So Briercrest has partnered with Compassion Canada to deepen students understanding of what children's ministry means with a week-long course in Ecuador. Eleven students traveled to Ecuador in January to take Child, Church, and Mission, a course led by Barry Slauenwhite, president of Compassion Canada and Myra Daugherty, Briercrest’s instructor in Children’s Studies. Students learned what "holistic child development" means not only in the classroom, but also through visits to Compassion centres in Ecuador.
When many people hear the words "holistic child development," their brains start to tune out. But this concept is key to Compassion's ministry. It means that we don't simply respond to a child's need by handing out food or by simply giving them a Bible. It means that we seek to develop a child in all the different aspects of their life—spiritually, socially and cognitively.
For years, Compassion has been partnering with seminaries and theological institutions to offer training in Holistic Child Development around the world, primarily in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Now this training is available to students in Canada at Briercrest.
The students learned why children need advocates and how poverty affects them. They also learned how to minister to children with the love, dignity and nurture they need. But above all, these future leaders learned how Jesus should be the centre of all we do—and is the ultimate solution to poverty.
"Holistic Child Development means introducing kids to Jesus. The answer to the problem of poverty is always Jesus," said Klassen of what he learned from the course.
Instead of seeing children's ministry as just entertaining kids, Klassen and his classmates—future ministry leaders in Canada—started thinking of the potential in children.
"What if children's ministry was more about seeing kids as really huge potential kingdom servants," he said. "[Children are] fertile ground for the gospel to take root and grow."
Students didn't only learn in a classroom, they also had the chance to visit Compassion centres and experience the ministry firsthand. They visited Otavalo City in northern Ecuador, which is mostly inhabited by indigenous people and is one of the poorest areas. The students participated in the children's classes—colouring, making crafts, and just playing together.
Students also had the chance to visit the children's homes and experience how they live day to day. They ate with the families and participated in their daily activities. They were confronted with the harsh reality of poverty, many for the first time in their lives, and they left changed.
Before his visit to Ecuador, Klassen hadn't ever really thought about God's concern for children. But after his visit, he was convinced. “[This concern] needs to work its way into how I think about ministry.”
This is exactly what Slauenwhite hopes.
"Spending the week with these students was a kingdom investment," he says. "We want to educate Christians in Canada so they become advocates for children. We hope when they return to Canada, they would become advocates for children in Canada, in Ecuador, in Africa or all around the world."
If you are interested in receiving academic credit for this experience, you can read the course syllabi: