Little gifts, big lessons

By Josie Oldenburg
Tags: Children's Ministry, Refugee Work, Europe, Macedonia, US Office, Story

When she’s spotted at church in Maryland, the kids yell, “Auntie Isabel, the missionary.” 

In a hot refugee camp in Macedonia, she hears “my friend, my friend” as the Syrian and Afghan children try out the few English words they’ve picked up.

Isabel Lee, who serves on SEND’s US Council, formed a bridge between these two groups of children when she led a team to Macedonia to minister to refugees.

Her church, Chinese Bible Church of Maryland, is offering an Awana program for the first time. For February’s Missions Month, the kids collected pledges and memorized Bible verses to raise funds for the refugees.

The kids raised about $1,500 — with donations ranging from $2 to $200 — for Isabel and her team to use as they carried the gospel message to people in Camp Tabanovce.

The kids in Maryland know Isabel as “the missionary” because she visited the Awana program twice, at the beginning of the fund-raising project and at the end. She shared pictures from the Macedonian camp to give the children a sense of whom the donations they raised would benefit.

“It was good for the kids in four ways,” Isabel said. “They were memorizing scripture, learning about the plight of refugees and sacrificially raising funds, and they could have contact with me throughout the project, from beginning to end.”

The refugees the Awana kids learned about live in temporary housing or pup tents alongside the train tracks in the Macedonian village. There’s a sign nearby: 400 meters to Serbia. But for many, it’s an unpassable distance.

Isabel’s team worked at the Mercy Café, serving tea and coffee to the refugees. Before long, they noticed that little kids would come to the café to ask for coffee.

“At first, we told them that they were too young to drink coffee, but then parents in the camp started asking us for milk,” Isabel said. “And we realized that the kids really just wanted the milk in the coffee. So we’d pour them a ‘coffee’ that was mostly milk.” 

The week Isabel was there, the temperature sometimes hit 90 degrees. Many of the refugees arrived during colder months and were uncomfortable wearing winter shoes. So, the money raised by the Awana children helped pay for hundreds of rubber sandals.

“The people in the camp asked for something that would allow their feet to breathe,” Isabel said.

Now that Isabel is back home in Maryland, she’s staying connected, especially with one family with four boys who were living in pup tents. They recently sent her a video message.

“My friend, my friend,” one boy said. “I love you much.”

And she’s also, of course, still present at Chinese Bible Church of Maryland, where the children now have first-hand experience with giving to God’s work around the world.

What inspired the Awana kids?

Their efforts were personal: The kids got to know Isabel.

They were informed: The kids saw pictures and learned about the refugee situation. They knew who would benefit from the pledges they were collecting.

They were scriptural: The kids memorized verses that teach about reaching the nations with the gospel. They learned, for instance, Isaiah 45:22: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”

And they were fun: The Awana teams have a friendly competition to see which team can raise the most funds.

Summer’s a great season to let children’s creative minds experience stewardship in practice. How could donating to missions be personal and fun for your little ones? What scripture or knowledge would prompt them to consider giving their hard-earned dollars to God’s work around the world?

Perhaps your family would like to join the Awana kids in giving specifically to refugee work in Europe. Click here to donate.