In early November 2021, the Confessional Lutheran Synod of South Africa welcomed a team of supporters - pastors and friends - to their churches and school in Middelburg and the surrounding areas. The goal was to teach and encourage a church family that had lost two of its leaders in recent months. Visual Faith co-founder, Pat Maier was among the travelers. During the 17 hour plane flight, she put finishing touches on several Prayers For My Children projects to give as gifts to SA friends.
Pastors, seminarians, church leaders, teachers, and church members had been invited to a teaching conference. Pat was privileged to be invited to speak to the group about visual faith practices. Time allowed for a brief definition of what "visual faith" means and offers, as well as some experimentation with visual prayer and devotional journaling. A special welcome had been extended to other women members of the churches to come and learn about visual faith, and some were able to join for this session.
It became apparent that prayer was not a problem for these Christian brothers and sisters! A life of challenges, deep faith and a hunger for hope perhaps explain why South Africans are adept at auditory learning and verbal and creative expression - they speak freely about their faith, have an amazing recall of God's Word, and are not shy about expressing their faith through spontaneous prayer, song, dance, and traditions deep with spiritual significance.
However, distraction - especially from cell phones, social media, and life circumstances - did resonate with them.
Life is not easy. Jobs are scarce, families struggle to provide for their children, and the church community searches for ways to support each other. Many participants agreed that visual prayer and even simple Scripture coloring would be a great way to create opportunities for faith conversations with children, grandchildren and students of all ages. We were meeting on the campus of the preschool and spotted these ladies with colored pencils, joining in from the hallway! Simple tools + simple process = visual prayer.
Our schedule was purposefully unscheduled in order to let God guide our plans for each day according to the needs of our South African friends. Female team members were asked to return a few days later to spend additional time with more ladies of the church and to help each one make a Prayer for My Children tag project. We had a supply of colored pencils, but relied on local helpers to locate paper and make copies of Prayers for My Children https://www.visualfaithmin.org/product-page/prayers-for-my-children from the Visual Faith Ministry website.
We decided to begin by inviting conversation about the hardships of the past "pandemic year" - a chance to allow these sisters to express their losses or grief. No one spoke, so we started by sharing some of our own losses - death, disappointments, uncertainties. We asked again and the room was still silent - but then, nothing is hurried in South Africa! After a few moments, our ears were blessed with this amazing gift: as is their tradition, when someone is to speak, they "sing praise" as an introduction for that person.
And so we listened - and prayed - with several women who shared their heartbreak at all the pandemic had robbed them of - loved ones, jobs, normalcy, etc. We then explained that we would help them create a daily reminder for purposeful prayer - specific blessings to pray over their children day by day. As women who lean heavily on prayer to move through each day, they were excited!
Since this had not been planned ahead, we only had simple supplies that had been gathered for us: colored cardstock, scissors, glue sticks, a hole punch, yarn, and the copied resource from this website.
What we did not have was a space with tables and chairs! "Making do" was a skill these women possessed and church pews were transformed into work tables. Cardstock was folded twice and cut into 4 "tags" with small school-sized scissors. Our helpers had already cut out each prayer prompt, so these had to be sorted and put in order -- younger gals helped the "grannies" who had more difficulty with the English words. The Prayers for My Children gifts that Pat had brought came in handy to use as examples. Once in order, the cards were punched and tied together with a piece of yarn.
Though we lacked pretty scrapbook paper, stickers, and other embellishments, the beautiful promises and Gospel grace of this project brought grateful smiles to the faces of everyone.
In the days following, we shopped for pretty paper, stickers, markers, and gel pens to add to the supplies we used and leave with them in a large bin for future gatherings. The ladies plan to share this project with more friends, and several of the women leaders were excited to explore this website for Bible studies, coloring resources, and other projects.
Although the goal of this trip was for us to teach and encourage, time spent around the Word and in prayer with these sweet sisters taught us much about being grateful for what we have, finding hope and joy when life is hard, and ... that when sisters get together, you ALWAYS take pictures!
If you are interested in learning more about the ministry that supports these churches in South Africa, you can visit the Christian Outreach for Africa website: https://africaoutreach.org/