Sunday, November 08, 2009

In His Image...

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
(Lester Kern)

I have been a Sunday School teacher for grade school children for many years and scarcely need to look at the curriculum to know how lessons will be presented. Some children like to colour pictures and do word puzzles, but many find the seat work to be boring. I have collected many games and crafts to supplement my teaching and have learned a lot about various learning styles through trial and error.

When I was a child, churches in North America collected old Sunday School materials and shipped them overseas to missionaries. People like my parents distributed Sunday School papers to children with few material possessions. I remember one little girl in Durban, South Africa who died from some illness. Her mother placed a few treasured Sunday School papers in the coffin before her burial. Mom taught Bible lessons with flannel figures on beautiful oil painted backgrounds. I loved those stories and bought the entire Bible in flannel figures twenty years ago. I use them regularly and children still enjoy them. In the past few years we have had more children from various racial backgrounds and I am very aware that all my flannel figures are Caucasian with no colour variations.

Jesus welcomes little children (Jesus Mafa)

This fall I have been using curriculum from the United Methodist Publishing House (Live B.I.G.) The lessons are creatively presented with many interesting activities and short DVD clips are provided for introduction and review. I played the DVD today and was introduced to some wonderful art portraying a black Jesus along with more traditional white images. Over half the children in my group were black or of south east Asian background.

The African village gospel pictures shown here were created for people in the Mafa region of Cameroon. These beautiful, culturally relevant paintings were done by a French artist in the 1970s. I found other sites on the internet featuring African American religious art including this one. God created man in his image and it was not an exclusively white likeness. The traditional art renditions we recognize as Jesus Christ are not what he really looked like either.

It is good to step outside of our traditional perceptions of God. Earlier this year I read The Shack by Willam P. Young. The book has its strengths and weaknesses but I enjoyed the author's allegorical approach to the image of God. Some people I know felt the presentation of God as an African American woman was heretical, but that characterization did change later in the book. God is a spirit, neither male or female, and exhibits the strength we associate with a man along with the compassion and tenderness of a mother.

Jesus heals the paralytic (Jesus Mafa)

I hope the children and grandchildren of the people my parents taught in South Africa now get Sunday School papers with pictures like these on them.


  1. Can I just best friend has adopted two children from South Africa...just outside of Durban, and we discuss on a very frequent basis, the representation of reality that is presented to them in a predominantly white city. I SO appreciate your awareness and sensitivity to this subject and I am refreshed by your post and the artwork featured! You are a FABULOUS S.S. teacher and I'm thankful for the time I had to find that out. :)

  2. Very thoughtfull. Our five year old granddaughter was born in Ethiopia and we try very hard to help our son and daughter in law help her retain her heritage while adapting to a whole new world. :)

  3. Maybe your Sunday school kids could send pictures to children around the world. Seems like it would be a good thing to share different cultural representations. I like that you're trying to do that.

  4. I remember hearing a prominent African American speak once (can't remember who it was now), but the topic was exactly what you've discussed. About how growing up, she never saw anything related to Santa, Jesus, Barbie dolls... anything.... that looked like her. It's so good to have variation and not put everything in a Caucasian image. How lovely that you were able to find these wonderful prints.

  5. You are so wise and kind to make sure your sunday school group sees Biblical images that represent different cultures. I'm sure your presentations are much more meaningful to them because of your efforts.

  6. DO you mean to say that He wasn't blondish as in the famous standing at the door and knocking picture? Shocking.

  7. Good job or in Maori, Ka pai Ruth.

    I used to teach Sunday school too, now I babysit little ones.

    In Borneo, I studied in Methodist school run by American missionaries, and the Biblical people are the conventional ones. But in the mountains, where my bro in law comes from, their Jesus and Mary were the natives. We thought it was quite funny.

    I also benefited from Bible studies sent from New Zealand.

    In Canada, I was a student eating caferteria food, so I didn't get to sample the fiddlesticks. I am sure I would love it. I did enjoy a great Canadian traditional Christmas. My room mate's parents invited me to join them in Kingsville. (I think that's the right name). I am forever grateful to her and her parents.

    Is the weather getting cold yet?

  8. I, too, have taught Sunday school for many years and I now teach two Good News Clubs, sponsored by CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship), at local elementary schools. I love seeing the newer curricula that show Bible times people as other than white caucasians. CEF's newest curriculum does so.

    It's nice to know another Sunday school teacher out there in the blogosphere. Great photos of the illustrations!

  9. Thanks for your interesting comments. Ann, we are experiencing "Indian Summer" here with warmer temperatures than we had in October. It won't last long though.


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