Some years ago, God gave us a vision to create an after-school program that would bring together children from our diverse community in a fun and creative atmosphere. Since we started in 2012, over 100 children from 10 different congregations all over the Western Galilee have participated. In any given year around 40 children attend, both Jewish and Arab.
One of the main reasons we wanted to set up a program like this was to provide children from believing families with a midweek “oasis” – a safe place of fellowship and unity. They all attend different schools and are isolated in their day to day routine from other believers. (In Israel it is rare for there to be more than one or two believers in an entire school.) The congregational fellowship on the weekend is simply not enough.
In addition, our hearts have been broken to see division in the body of Messiah. We want to be an agent for unity. Children are a great place to start because they don’t have prejudices towards each other’s “worship style”, theology or ethnicity.
During the first year we developed the paradigm with children from our own congregation. Then we started to invite kids from other local congregations. When the new children started attending they recognized fellow students among the other kids and realized that they were not the only believers in their school!
Light to the Community
Over time, several children from unbelieving homes have begun to join us (after their parents hear a clear explanation regarding our beliefs so there aren’t any misunderstandings). They are attracted to the light and the love with no strings attached, and the culture of mutual respect.
Jewish and Arab Children Together
In the majority of Israeli towns, Jewish and Arab children study and live in separate neighborhoods and schools. This means that in their day to day life, they rarely meet or interact. As we bring Jewish and Arab children together with a common denominator of faith, we are seeing stereotypes broken before our eyes. In the weekly meetings they discover common ground and even become friends. This is probably what amazes us the most – to see children coming together in fellowship from backgrounds so completely different. Over time they develop a true regard for each other.
Through the various activities we also seek to instill Biblical values such as courtesy, love, looking out for the good of others, how to defer and how to forgive. Opportunities often arise to practice these qualities and to pray through conflicts among them.
We retain the services of professional teachers who provide each child with weekly lessons in 2 out of 6 “electives” of each child’s choosing: choir, classical guitar, robotics, art and table tennis. The children are encouraged to learn these new skills for the purpose of serving and blessing others via the knowledge they have gained. We have already been able to give them the opportunity to serve the elderly and Holocaust survivors in several different settings, including secular day centers for the elderly.
It is our desire to create an environment in which the kids can try out new things. Some had no idea that they had a gift in a certain area and as they participate it suddenly becomes obvious. Many of the families come from challenging economic backgrounds and would not be able to afford weekly music or art lessons for their gifted children. Participation in the program is granted to the children free of charge (this includes dinner and transportation).
In the future, we hope to purchase more instruments and equipment and to broaden the variety of activities to include new areas such as dance, drama and additional musical instruction. At this point we are already using our space and budget to its full extent. So we are also praying regarding expanding our facilities.
All of this has been accomplished through God’s grace. In ourselves we don’t have the strength and resources, but He is at work through us. We enthusiastically look forward to seeing how He will continue to lead us.
In conclusion, we also want to say a great big thank you to those who have been supporting this project financially and prayerfully!