by Ruth Swartley, Deep Run East
“Deep Run Mennonite East is a congregation that welcomes children,” a parent from our Deep Run East preschool observed after attending our Preschool Sunday service. We at Deep Run have a desire to share God’s love with our own children as well as those in the community. This is reflected by the many programs we have to offer. Our Bible School is well-known in our community as a great place for children to gather as they study the Bible, sing, work on crafts, and play games. Sunday School, Boys & Girls Club, JMYF, and MYF are additional opportunities for our children to grow in their love for God.
While we have many good options for our children to learn and grow, we realized that many of those opportunities were carried out in a rather drab physical environment: our church basement. Sedate blue-gray walls, broken up by white doors, did not reflect the joy and enthusiasm of the children who gathered within those walls. However, that was about to change!
In the fall of 2009, Mae Kulp, then chairperson of Christian Education, called together a small group of women to begin brainstorming ways to transform the drab basement into an inviting place for our children to gather. We began with the idea of converting our rarely used basement kitchen into the “His Kid’s Café,” complete with a striped awning, “stone work” on the café front, and round tables. This has become a great gathering place for the children to enjoy a snack with friends before Sunday School.
While the newly painted café walls brightened the area up a bit, we had a sense that we weren’t finished. And so, that is how our dream began, a dream that seemed almost impossible to carry out. Why not bring scenes from the Holy Lands into our children’s area? Could we do it, did we have people who could sketch and paint the designs we had in mind?
It was at that point that we really began to see the work of the Spirit in providing people all along the way who had the skills and enthusiasm to make the dream come alive. A friend of Mae Kulp, retired art teacher, Mary Blough, listened to our ideas and sketched them on paper. A group of ten DRE members, many of them grandparents, painted walls which would be the canvas for the paintings. Kathy Moyer, Sharon Leatherman, and Kirsten Rice, our fine artists, spent countless hours painting the scenes on the walls. Junior-high student, Katrina Rice, painted a wall outside of her classroom. Our gray children’s area was coming alive with shops and scenes from the Holy Lands. A town street with terraced homes, trees and flowers emerged first, followed by a carpenter’s shop where a whimsical mouse plays among the wood as a cat snores nearby. A small gray donkey laden with a cart of fresh vegetables makes its way to the fresh vegetable and fruit shop. The pomegranates, apples, lemons, and bananas, displayed in the shop, look so life-like one can almost taste them. Across the room in the bake shop a loaf of brown bread bakes in fire-burning stone oven. Beyond the shops, on the outskirts of town, a cow, sheep, donkey, rooster, and doves, all contentedly share a stable.
What a transformation our children’s area has undergone since 2009, from gray walls to colorful scenes of places where we envision Jesus walking! The children have enjoyed watching the painting progress from week to week and each has their favorite. This is their space to learn more about the Jesus who loves and welcomes them.
See the photo gallery on Deep Run East’s website!