Teaching our children procedures for avoiding germs has always been part of being a parent. Wash your hands with soap for two rounds of the “happy birthday” song. Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Keep your hands out of your mouth. Until about six months ago, this was enough. Now we’ve added a whole new set of protective barriers to the mix. Make sure your mask covers your nose and mouth. Stay six feet away from others. While these practices are incredibly important, it can be difficult for kids to fully understand why they are so important. The more opportunities we have to connect them to other important aspects of their lives, the greater their acceptance becomes. In this lesson, your children will think about the protective measures they are taking to stay healthy during the pandemic through the lens of God’s protection of the Israelites as they escaped from Egypt in Exodus 14.
Begin the time with your children by asking each of them to get the mask they wear when going out into the world. Talk about how the mask protects not only the wearer but also the people around her. Then bring a candle and matches out. Light the candle. Ask each child to put on his mask and then try to blow out the candle. The mask should prevent the candle from being extinguished. This happens because the mask is preventing some of the air, including that which has droplets of saliva in it, from escaping from the mask. Explain that the mask is creating a protective layer between the child and others.
Read aloud Exodus 14:19-31. Because this text describes Egyptian soldiers drowning, the version in a children’s Bible may be best for younger children, as these usually soften the description of this part of the event. (The reading “Walking on Dry Land” in “Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible” is an excellent retelling of the Scripture in child-friendly language.) Before you begin reading, provide some context for the story. Explain that the Israelites have been slaves in Egypt for a long time. They were treated very badly and asked God to free them. God does. As this reading begins, they are running away from the Egyptians. The Egyptians are chasing after them. The Israelites ask God to continue helping them until they get to a safe place.
After reading the story, ask your children how God protected the Israelites in the story. They will likely hone in on the parting of the Red Sea which allowed the Israelites to fully separate themselves from their pursuers. Note that God also creates a “pillar of cloud” as the Israelites travel through the night that masks them from the Egyptians following behind (Exodus 14:19). Explain that in both of these instances, God is creating a protective barrier for the Israelites. God knows that they will be harmed if the Egyptians catch up with them, so God places first a pillar of cloud and then water between the two, so the Israelites can be free. God wants the people to be alive and well. Return to the earlier discussion about masks and other protective measures your family takes to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. Ask your children to consider how these are like God’s actions in the Scripture reading. Note that both help God’s people survive, so they can continue God’s work on earth.
As an extension of this discussion, you may want to create a family prayer to say when you put on your masks to go out somewhere, wash your hands or engage in some other protective practice. You may even want to use imagery from the Exodus reading to evoke the idea of God providing a protective barrier to allow the Israelites to move into freedom. Here’s a sample prayer to get you started:
Just like your pillar of cloud protected the Israelites as they fled toward freedom,
Let this mask be a protection for me and those around me from COVID-19.
Thank you for loving us and protecting us.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.