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The past, present, and future are female — Christian education at home

Last Saturday I shed a healthy dose of tears.  In part, they were tears of relief that the agonizing election cycle was finally coming to an end.  More than that, though, they were tears of joy — from seeing a woman of color elected as vice president.  Not to mention, a record number of women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  And it only took a little more than two centuries for it to happen!

God has always called people who identify as women to leadership.  We know this, but we don’t always name it and celebrate it.  Recent elections along with one of the Revised Common Lectionary readings for this week give us an opportunity to focus on the female leaders who serve as the hands and feet of Christ.

Begin the time with your children by asking them to list people they think are good leaders.  Then ask them to explain what makes these people good leaders.   If your children are younger, you may want to offer an example of a good leader in their lives (for example: a teacher, a caregiver, a coach, a pastor) and ask them what they like best about that person.  Call attention to the women your children list.  If they did not include any women in their list, encourage them to add some and explore what leadership traits these people exhibit.  Note that God does not call people of only one gender to lead.  Because all people are God’s children, God calls people of every gender to be leaders.

Deborah summoned Barak the leader of the Israelite and said. ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded, “Go and march to Mount Tabor with ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give you victory over him.”’

Prepare to share the Scripture reading with your children.  While the lectionary reading for this Sunday includes only verses 1-7 of Judges 4, you’ll likely want to read the entire chapter to your children so that they can hear the entire arc of Deborah’s story.  In fact, a children’s Bible that includes a retelling of Judges 4 is best for young children because it simplifies the complexities of the time period.  “Family Story Bible” by Ralph Milton and “Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible” by Elizabeth Caldwell and Carol Wehrheim include excellent child-friendly versions of the text.

Before you begin reading, explain that the reading comes from the Old Testament book of Judges.  This part of the Bible tells us about the history of the Israelites once they are living in the Promised Land.   Point out that these judges are a bit different than the judges we have in courtrooms today.  Biblical judges were people who handled legal matters for the people of Israel, but they were also leaders (usually military) who helped draw the people back to God when they strayed.  When the people started worshipping other gods or forgot the promises God made to them, they would lose the land they were living on and would need someone to lead them as they worked to regain it.  Judges describes the experiences of many of these judges.  Only one was a woman and her name was Deborah.  The story we’ll read today is about the period of time when Deborah led God’s people.

Barak and Deborah celebrated by singing praise to God (Judges 5)

Read aloud Judges 4 (or a children’s Bible retelling of the text).  After reading, ask your children what they noticed about the way Deborah led God’s people.  How did she help them make decisions?  Did she lead alone or did she partner with other leaders?  How did God help her lead?  Draw your children’s attention to the fact that God chose Deborah as the person to deliver messages to the people, including Barak, the leader of the army.  Deborah and Barak work together to reclaim the Promised Land for the people.  Then, ask your children to reflect on what Deborah’s leadership can teach us about how we can be leaders.  Encourage them to notice her willingness to listen to God and share God’s words, as well as her collaboration with Barak.

Continue exploring the idea of women as leaders with your children by creating a visual representation of past and present leaders whose work has influenced your family.  Begin by gathering the supplies you’ll need to create this piece of art: paper, glue, scissors and crayons or markers.  Ask your child to draw a large cloud on one of the pieces of paper.  It should be large enough to fill the paper.  Explain that this cloud represents the “cloud of witnesses” — people who are no longer with us who helped create God’s kingdom on earth during their lifetimes.  While there are many different people in this “cloud of witnesses,” ask your children to focus on the women.  Together brainstorm a list of people who are part of this cloud.  Encourage your children to not just think of well-known female leaders, but also those within their own communities and families.  They may also want to include women from the Bible who served as leaders.  Then, have your children write the names of these women or draw pictures of them in the cloud.  As they add each woman, talk about the ways she did God’s work.  When they have filled the cloud with names, ask your children to cut it out using the scissors and to glue it at the top of another, larger sheet of paper.

Repeat this activity focusing on women who are alive today and are helping to build God’s kingdom.  Have your children write their names or draw pictures of them in the space underneath the cloud. When the piece is completed, hang it somewhere in your home where it can serve as a reminder of the many women God calls to lead and nurture us.  You may want to periodically select one or more of the women to pray for during your family’s prayer time.

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.