Tag Archives: Service

As for Me and My House…

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)


The theme for the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America’s 2016 Creative Festival is a good challenge for all Orthodox Christians to think about, regardless of jurisdiction. The theme is this verse: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15) This is a great verse for us to personally study and embrace. It is also a good verse for us to study with our Sunday Church School students. (Readers in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America will likely be studying this with your students later in the year, anyway, so this blog post can help you to begin thinking in that direction!) This blog post will help us to ponder this verse in context, and then think of ways to apply and teach it.

Study and think about the passage:

Take a moment to read the whole 24th chapter of Joshua to better understand the context of this statement of faith. In the verses prior to verse 15, we read that Joshua was reminding the Israelites of everything that God had done for them over the years. He told them to put away all other idols and serve only God. Then he made the bold declaration of his plan that he and his household would serve the Lord.

In the verses that follow, we read that Joshua carried on a dialogue with the Israelite people. As he was doing this, the people kept saying, “We will follow God!” and Joshua replied that God is Holy and therefore His people can not follow any other gods; only Him. This happened multiple times; it is almost as though Joshua was trying to talk the Israelite people out of following God; certainly he was testing their resolve; checking to see if they were sure of their decision. But the people insisted that they would follow only God. Finally, together they made a covenant to follow the Lord. They even set up a big rock to remind themselves of that covenant.

It’s interesting to note that Joshua didn’t force the people to follow God. He simply encouraged them to choose for themselves and then he set the example by choosing to follow God with his household. Orthodox Christian parents can choose that entire their household will follow God while their children are still under roof, just as Joshua chose to do with his family. But, in the same way that Joshua related to the children of Israel who were not in his household, parents cannot force their children to follow God once they leave home. Children are baptized into the Faith while they are young and parents can still set their course in the direction of the Church, but parents cannot force the children to continue in the faith. That has to be the children’s choice, and, God willing, it will be! So just as Joshua did for his fellow Israelites, let us invite the children in our care to follow only God for all of their lives. Let us lead the way by our own example, removing any idols in our life that could interfere with that complete following. While we follow, let us also keep reminding the children (and ourselves) of all that God has done for us along the way. Let us also remind each other that we need to follow Him without distractions. And the whole time, both when our own children or our Sunday Church School students are following Christ with their family at home, and when they have moved out on their own, let us pray for the children that they will always choose to serve the Lord!

Consider how to apply this passage (include your family, if you have children living at home):

  1. Study Joshua 24:15.
  2. Think about the verse and its implications. Consider questions such as these: In order to follow God more completely, is there anything that needs to change in my/our household? What are the idols – the things that I/we are allowing to be more important than God – that are keeping me/us from following fully? How can I/we really serve the Lord? What does serving Him look like in everyday life?
  3. Commit to serve the Lord with all of your heart. Make a plan for how to do that.
  4. Place a reminder, a “stone of remembrance” of sorts, somewhere in your home that will help you to remember this passage and your commitment to following God more fully. It could be an actual stone or perhaps an artistic rendering of Joshua 24:15.
  5. Serve Him!

Teach this passage to your Sunday Church School students:

  1. Find leveled ideas for teaching Joshua 24:15 here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/lesson-plans-2016
  2. Find ideas (including a short skit, a craft, and a snack suggestion) that you can incorporate into a lesson on Joshua 24:15 here: http://cciog.com/cckids/kids-bible-lessons/alphabet-bible-lessons/a-as-for-me/
  3. Print this free printable to use with a preschool or early elementary lesson on Joshua 24:15: http://www.christianpreschoolprintables.com/Pages/BibleCrafts/BibleCraftsJoshuaHouse.html
  4. This lesson is written from a non-Orthodox perspective, but can be used to help Orthodox kids think about who they will serve, and how they can show that they are choosing to serve God: http://hannapublications.com/samples/WS106L12.pdf
  5. Here is a printable primary-leveled story of the end of Joshua’s life, including a focus on Joshua 24:15. The pdf includes the story and related activity pages. http://www.godsacres.org/ss.Joshua.Goodbye.pdf
  6. Find a lesson on serving God, geared to older elementary students, here: http://ministry-to-children.com/bible-lesson-serve-god-joshua-23-24/ and another, here: http://www.jesusisall.com/pages/ss/092406b.pdf

HUGS: Hands Used for God’s Service

You know about hugs, but how much do you know about HUGS? HUGS, or Hands Used for God’s Service, is a step in the direction of living out Matthew chapter 25. This hands-on program with a specific “mission” for every grade level is practical, downloadable, and easy for a Sunday Church School to implement. The HUGS program will help your Sunday Church School students learn to serve others by actually serving them!

The program was developed by Khouria Gigi Shadid, who told the story of its inception in a recent interview: “My cousin, Georgina, is known for giving great hugs. One day… she began telling me about how much she wishes she could go to the NICU at a hospital and just hug on the little babies there. I told her that her loving hugs are one of the gifts that God has given her and that she should share those hugs with as many people as she can. As we talked, Georgina expressed a desire to do more with that gift… but what? The essential question here was: What else can I do with my hands to serve God and to spread His Gospel message of love to my neighbor?

“I got to thinking and praying about it, and this HUGS idea was born. We use our hands to give hugs, and we can use our hands in many ways to serve others and give them not only physical hugs, but spiritual hugs as well. Hence, the acronym “HUGS” was born: Hands Used for God’s Service. How can we all use our hands to serve others and embody Christ’s commission in Matthew Chapter 25, focusing on those who are: hungry, thirsty, naked, prisoners, strangers, and sick?

“The mission of the HUGS program is to engage our church school children in acts of service, both small and great, to those in need. We want to instill in our children a spirit of gratitude and service, for Christ said, “Do it to the least of these my brethren and you do it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).”

She goes on to describe the goal of the program, as well as the focus for each grade level: “Each year, we would like our church school classes to participate in a service activity that we have suggested below. It might be a one-time deal, or something a class can choose to focus on throughout the school year. We must repeatedly ask the key question: ‘How are we using our hands and feet to serve God?’ When we use our hands in various ways of service to our neighbor, we are seeing the face of Christ in them.”

Grade levels and their “missions” are as follows:

Pre-K/K: Give hugs to family and friends

1st Grade: Open doors for others (stranger)

2nd Grade: Classroom canned food drive (choose a month) (hungry)

3rd Grade: Serving drinks (i.e. at home, instill spirit of hospitality) (thirsty)

4th Grade: Phone calls to shut-ins during Sunday School (periodically) (sick)

5th Grade: Write letters of encouragement to those in prison (prisoner)

6th Grade: Clothing Drive (i.e. coat drive – choose a month) (naked)

7th Grade: Cleaning the church sanctuary after services

8th Grade: Serving coffee at coffee hour (i.e. once a month) (thirsty)

9th Grade: Shoe drive, new & used (choose a month) (naked)

10th Grade: Be a Greeter once a month/mentor with ushers (stranger)

11th Grade: Food drive (choose a month) – contest with 2nd grade (hungry)

12th Grade: Visit a nursing home or shut in from church; (sick); Bring that person holy bread and the bulletin

Khouria Gigi continues, “One goal is that from the time a child enters pre-school to when they graduate high school, they will have participated in a variety of service activities addressing various needs.” The HUGS program is an excellent way to help Sunday Church Schools meet that goal. Find an overview of the HUGS program, as well as the link to every grade level at http://www.antiochian.org/matthew25/HUGS-overview-chart. Every grade level has a printable poster describing the mission for the students, a letter to the teacher to help you know what your students’ mission is, a printable letter to parents to help them know about the mission, and a related craft or activity to complement the mission.

So, why is the HUGS program important for Sunday Church Schools? Why should Sunday Church School teachers implement this program? Khouria Gigi summarizes this well in the aforementioned interview. “Since we do not live in a country or age of persecution as many of the martyrs did, most of us will face the judgment seat of Christ answering this question: Did you love your neighbor? Education is so important, and understanding the teachings of the Church helps us to grow in our knowledge of our faith. But knowledge will not save us, love will. That is why teaching our children to have a servant’s heart and an attitude of kindness and caring is so important. We can help our children learn to be kind and caring by performing those acts as a class and by encouraging it at home and at school.”

Read the above-mentioned interview in its entirety here: http://www.antiochian.org/interview-kh-gigi-shadid-teaching-service-through-hugs.

The following are links related to the HUGS program:

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Listen to Kh. Gigi singing her song “The Least of These,” which perfectly accompanies the HUGS curriculum here: https://soundcloud.com/antiochian-archdiocese/the-least-of-these

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The HUGS Program is a great way to begin leading our Sunday Church School students in a life of service. There are many ways to continue that service beyond the SCS years! Here is one of them:

The YES Program helps to present to youth and young adults the one true Way of life in Christ by training them to practice dying to oneself in order to serve the needs of others.

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The HUGS Program is a great way to begin leading our Sunday Church School students in a life of service. Here is another way that they (and adults as well) can continue to learn as they serve:

Project Mexico & St. Innocent Orphanage builds homes for the poor in Mexico and provides a home for orphaned boys. Volunteer groups are welcomed to help with these ministries.

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The HUGS Program is a great way to begin leading our Sunday Church School students in a life of service. College-aged students can participate in this way:

Real Break offers students the opportunity to understand the true meaning of seeing Christ in everyone. Real Break teams travel to another part of the world and are given opportunities to deepening their faith, serve those in need, and cultivate relationships with like-minded peers.

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The HUGS Program is a great way to begin leading our Sunday Church School students in a life of service. Service opportunities “at home” can include helping with this project:

FOCUS North America is an Orthodox Christian organization whose purpose is to bring Matthew 25 to life. The organization serves the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned at centers across the United States.

“As the Father Has Sent Me, I Also Send You…”

During the Agape Vespers service, we hear this passage from St. John’s Gospel (perhaps even in many languages): “So Jesus said to them again, ‘…Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you…’ ” John 20:21 With this fresh in our minds, it seems like this is a good time for us to speak with our church school students about missions, if we have not already been doing so. Since Jesus has promised to send us, what/where does that mean?

Take time to teach your students about missions. There are a number of ways to do so:

Learning about missions/what it means to “be sent”:

  • Select a passage from scripture of one or more of St. Paul’s missionary journeys and focus on that story.
  • Tell the life story of a missionary saint, perhaps a “local” one (such as St. Herman of Alaska, for American children) and study the saint’s life.
  • Invite a missionary from your parish to speak with the class about his/her experience.
  • Visit the OCMC’s website for Sunday schools (http://www.ocmc.org/resources/sunday_schools.aspx) or the IOCC’s interactive world website (http://www.iocc.org/kidsmap_frameset.aspx) to see what Orthodox missions looks like today.

Practicing “being sent”:

  • Take the class to a soup kitchen or shelter to serve others food or other necessities.
  • Gather items for needy people (ie: food for a local food bank) and deliver them.
  • Help the students create a plan of action of how they will interact with their family members and friends in ways that will help point their family and friends to Christ.
  • Together, do a fundraiser to support your parish’s missionary(ies); or to send to the OCMC or the IOCC.
  • Help the children learn about missionary opportunities that lie ahead for them, in which they can participate when older (ie: RealBreak in college).

Let us be faithful in helping our students know how important it is that we as Orthodox Christians share our beautiful faith with others. Let us teach them how others before us have done so. Let us also show them the options of ways to do so, today. Best of all, let us take them by the hand and lead them into the service for to which we all have been sent by Christ.