ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Throughout his ministry, Jesus extolled the virtues of children, commending them as those to whom God has revealed messages hidden from the wise and learned (Matthew 11:25). Young Samuel Otto has already learned a lesson about sharing that takes many individuals a lifetime to master.
Otto, a 5-year-old from Orrville (Ohio) Mennonite Church, was so inspired by the stories he heard in Sunday school about children from La Casa Grande, a home for abandoned children in Benin, that he decided not only to collect money to support the children, but to donate many of his toy cars and trucks as well.
Otto told his parents that he wanted to donate his toys to the children at La Casa Grande because he thought the children would really like to play with the cars, and he did not want them to be “bored all the time.” And not only did Otto send his toys, but he also placed his birthday and Christmas money into his globe-shaped bank as well, inspired by the opportunity to do something special with his savings.
“It made me feel good that I was helping someone,” Otto said when asked about his generosity.
While Mission Network is not equipped to handle regular donations of toys, Otto’s gift was hand-delivered to the children at La Casa Grande by Nancy Frey and Bruce Yoder, workers serving through Mennonite Mission Network in Benin who were in North America on assignment during the summer.
Paulin Bossou, the acting father at La Casa Grande, stresses that gifts like Otto’s are important and make it possible for others to practice generosity. Bossou said these presents are a positive influence on the children. Not only do they provide them with toys to play with, they make it possible for them to learn the art of giving gifts to others as well.
Each December, La Casa Grande invites children from several other orphanages to join them for a Christmas celebration. As a part of the festivities, gifts that have been collected at La Casa Grande throughout the year, like Otto’s toy cars and trucks, are presented to each child.
“In this way, we teach them how to give as well as receive,” said Bossou.
According to Sandy Miller, director of church relations at Mission Network, the Mission Bank tools are developed to teach children a practical lesson in generosity. The tools invite children to engage in the mission and stewardship practices of their congregations by collecting money to support various ministries that Mission Network is associated with.
Thanks to the generosity of Otto and 22 other children who collected money in their mission banks, the congregation was able to raise $296.47 to support La Casa Grande.
But Orrville Mennonite Church is only one of nearly 350 Mennonite Church USA congregations taking advantage of the mission bank teaching tools.
Mennonite Community Church in Fresno, Calif., ordered enough banks so that every church family could participate. Member Sylvia Riesen notes that while mission banks started out as a tool that the children would be responsible for, the congregation decided it would be good to allow everyone to participate.
In order to provide a visual representation of where funds are going, Riesen and others created interactive bulletin boards that track the amount of money the congregation has made. Then, when the allotted time is elapsed, the congregation celebrates the funds that have been raised with a time of recognition during a worship service.
“There is always learning involved and when the kids feel like they’ve played a part in providing help, it helps them to understand that giving is not just right here in Fresno, but it’s worldwide,” said Riesen.
At Deep Run Mennonite Church East in Perkasie, Pa., Mission Bank tools were distributed to 42 children. Described by pastor Ken Burkholder as passionate about being part of God’s mission both locally and worldwide, Deep Run East distributed banks to each child at a back-to-school kickoff event.
Rachelle Trauger, co-primary superintendent for Sunday school, uses the mission bank tools to put together packets for children and their families to use at home. Trauger tries to emphasize to the children that although they may often hear stories of mission workers traveling far away to do God’s work, using the mission banks to collect an offering is work that they can participate in right now.
“You don’t have to go somewhere and do something huge to help somebody,” said Trauger.
Inspired by stories like these from churches that are actively engaging the Mission Bank materials, Miller suggests that Otto’s generous gift seems to be the embodiment of the missional mindset that these teaching tools are trying to cultivate.
“I was humbled when I opened the box and saw the pictures, trucks and cars. It says to me that it really made an impact on him and that’s what we’re all about. He really grasped how to share in a way that is hard for adults to think about,” Miller said.
For more information about Mission Banks and teaching tools, visit www.mennonitemission.net or e-mail MissionBank@MennoniteMission.net.