Faith Matters: Youngsters benefit from props, activities in Jefferson Baptist class

Bible stories have a way of coming alive in Brenda Smith’s Sunday school class at Jefferson Baptist Church.

Like the times when Smith uses a cardboard box to help the 4-year-olds to pre-k students understand the story of Noah and the ark.

She asks students to bring their favorite stuffed animals to put in the ark and closes the windows to illustrate how God closed the door of the ark. Students then count to 40 while one of Smith’s adult helpers sprays the group with a water bottle.

That’s just one way Smith has tried to make Sunday school fun for children in about 25 years of teaching.

“I just love children, and what better to teach them about God and the love that He has for them than to teach about them in Sunday school,” Smith said. “This is such a trusting and loving and a lively little group. They just love hearing these stories. The more I could bring the stories alive to where they can connect with what happened in the Bible, the more they remember about the stories.”

Smith, 59, said she does a lot of hands-on activities with plenty of acting out and using props during the hour-long class.

“I have as much fun as the kids do,” she said. “I make it fun. It’s not where we sit down and they have to be quiet. With 4-year-olds, you can’t do that anyway ... . Everything, from the minute they walk into the door until it’s time for Sunday school to be over, everything pertains or points to the story.”

Sunday school has long been a passion for Smith. She started teaching when her three children were young.

“God just placed it in my heart where I could teach kids more of the Bible where they related their life to the story. It just drew out of me just wanting to make sure that my kids got what they needed,” said Smith, who has also volunteered and substituted in public schools.

Smith also draws from her own personal experiences — including the difficult times in her life.

“It just boils downs to me realizing what God has done for me, and it’s my turn to share that and to try to help them know that Jesus loves them and that they are important to Jesus,” she said.

Smith joined Jefferson Baptist four years ago. She was there four months when she heard from Pastor David Goza, who was told previously of Smith’s teaching experience.

“They were fixing to start this new class for the pre-K 4-year-olds that they had not had before and I got a call from the preacher. How can you turn the preacher down?” she said.

By all accounts, Smith has been a hit, drawing rave reviews from her students and parents.

“I have never seen a more dedicated person trying to teach little ones about the Lord,” said Melissa Johnson, whose 5-year-old son, Henry, is a student in Smith’s class. “She spends hours on her crafts for the children each Sunday.”

Johnson said her son comes home each week talking about the Bible story and “plays out what she has taught.”

While she has been lauded for creativity, Smith gives the glory to God.

“I’m not artistic at all but for some reason things work out when I have an idea or I think about some way to do the class. It seems to work but I know it’s all about God. It’s not me.”

She also credits her classroom adult helpers — Judy Watson and Andy Duckworth — for assisting her with the average of 14 or so students each week.

“There is no way I could teach and have so much fun doing it without their support and help,” Smith added.

She said the church’s whole Sunday school program led by children’s minister leader Laura Brown is “wonderful.”

The kids and the parents keep Smith going.

“It does my heart good to see the young couples bringing their kids to Sunday school at 9:15 on Sunday mornings,” she said. “With their work schedule and everything that’s going on, it’s hard to get kids up that early on Sunday morning. But that’s such an inspiration to me because it’s important enough for parents to have their kids there.”

Defending the faith

Shouts of “Sho nuff” were common during the Faith Defenders-Contenders Revival last week at New Hope Baptist Church.

“Sho Nuff!” is the signature phrase and the title of the book by the revival’s speaker, Bill Burwell Jr., of Knoxville, Tennessee.

“That’s my amen, y’all. Sho nuff,” said the 72-year-old Burwell.

Burwell said the theme of believers defending and contending for the faith comes from the book of Jude.

“You and I have to contend for the faith and the reason Jude said is because men have crept in unaware,” said Burwell, head of Burwell Ministries and a former pastor, university and seminary professor. “Certain men, certain women, certain individuals have sneaked into the church unaware. We haven’t noticed them because they look like us and they talk like us but in fact they are not of us.”

These people are bringing all kinds of strange doctrine into the church.

“It’s time for the church to wake up and put on boxing gloves and begin to fight for the faith,” said Burwell, whose book covers features two boxing gloves.

Burwell said his ministry offers a 100-hour discipleship training program, but churches are hesitant to make that kind of commitment.

“My whole ministry is based on contending for the faith, but you can’t defend or contend for something you do not know yourselves. One of the reasons that these men who have crept into the church is successful is because those of us who are in the church don’t know what we believe,” he said.

In three nights of dynamic teaching, Burwell taught on topics such as the uses of the word (written, spoken, living), the Holy Spirit (baptism, indwelling, filling) and common salvation (justification, sanctification, glorification).

“God provides salvation as a gift. The way you receive the gift is by faith. Faith is your way of receiving your gift,” he said.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Reach Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.