Saturday, May 5, 2012

Godly Play in Belarus

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the First Belarus International Godly Play Conference in the capital city of Minsk. I met some amazing people, had excellent food, and got to share about Godly Play in one of my favorite languages. It was a gift from the Father and a weekend I will never forget. You will see some beautiful photos below from Alyona Jasuk, who photo-documented our time together.

Over 50 people from at least four different churches attended. The main speaker was Peter Privett, an authority in the field of children's spirituality, who along with Rebecca Nye, is a sort of Godly Play "apostle" to Europe as he has helped bring GP to Germany, Finland and now Belarus. Peter began our time by teaching on the theological and pedagogical principles of children's spirituality. This was so important, since without an adequate understanding of children's spirituality in the Christian context, Godly Play can be reduced to just another  cute way of doing children's ministry with expensive 3-D materials. 

Here is Peter with Tanya, who gets a medal for tirelessly translating the entire weekend. 

Peter came prepared with his presentations in Russian. Here, he is teaching on an idea from Jerome Berryman about the ethics of blessing. According to Berryman, to bless means to "call out everything that is good" in a person and that this understanding should permeate everything we do with the children we shepherd. 

This is Olga, who graciously opened her home to me and introduced me to some Belarusian culinary delights. She is chatting with Helen Spencer, who along with her husband, Nigel, organized the entire conference. 

After the sessions on children's spirituality and an introduction into the theory and practice of Godly Play, it was time to experience Godly Play. After all, what good is talking about GP if you can't get inside one of the stories? The conference participants could choose two of four stories to attend. Below, Peter presents "The Holy Family".

Anita, a guest speaker from Latvia, presented "The Exodus".

I did manage to learn "The Faces of Easter" in Russian and had a blast presenting it. Funny, it didn't seem nearly as long of a story as when I was learning it! I told the story twice. In the first group, most of the Wondering was non-verbal, and in the second, the group was much more chatty. So interesting how the Wondering was so different each time, but equally valuable. That is the beauty of God's narrative - though the biblical stories themselves do not change, they speak to us differently each time we hear them. 

Helen told the parable of "The Great Pearl".

Afterwards, I gave a workshop on Godly Play at home and at school. One of the things that I emphasized is that with a little planning and prayer, you can do Godly Play anywhere. Many people were relieved to hear that one doesn't necessarily have to have a Godly Play room in order to create spiritual space for children. (Peter also did a great job of explaining how to implement GP in small steps or phases, so that it is not overwhelming for a church to start moving in that direction.)

Another thing that we strove to communicate is that Godly Play doesn't require buying expensive materials. All of the speakers brought things we had made to demonstrate this. I showed a lot of pictures from Storyteller in Finland and Asmic in Moscow, who have made their own materials.

Here are People of God figures that Helen made out of polymer clay . . . 

And here are Anita's 10 Best Ways to Live in Latvian made from thick cardboard. (Isn't it thrilling to see Godly Play materials in other languages?!!)

I was very encouraged by the number of young women  . . . 

and young men that attended the conference. (The average age of the GP circles that I run in tends to be a little older!) Wish I had discovered Godly Play at their age, but better late than never.: )

Here Pastor Dima gives Helen a rose in thanks for her hard work in organizing the conference. I was impressed by this man, who recognized the importance of the children in his congregation and fully supported his children's workers in implementing Godly Play. So important for the children in any congregation to have a wise leader who values them.

I left with the feeling that this was not the last time that Godly Play will bring me to Minsk. In the meantime, I will be praying for these dear brothers and sisters as they journey with God, the children in their care, and Godly Play.

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