by Colin Sheldon
Colin Sheldon lives in south-west Dublin with his wife Rosemary. Here he shares about his work with the Bible Explorer course, as he spends time ‘walking through the Bible’ with children in Dublin primary schools.
In the late 1990s, after Rosemary attended a Walk thru the Bible seminar in Dublin, she told me there was an opportunity to teach this programme among children in a primary school setting. I looked for ways to show I was not interested! Weeks later, David Stevens put the same thought to me and the seed germinated. In the spring of 1999, I went to the UK for training to teach Bible Explorer and, since that time, I have faithfully taught this programme to boys and girls, aged 10-12, in primary schools in south-west Dublin. Looking back, Rosemary was right all along; the Lord had to deal with me and I am so glad He did!
I still remember that first school I visited in April 1999. The principal knew that extra space was needed, so the children sat on the floor in a cold school hall. Just a few seconds into the first programme, I heard a girl say to her friend, “I am going to like this.” This was the impetus I needed to spur me to teach over 5,000 lessons, making the Bible interesting and meaningful to boys and girls. Each Bible Explorer lesson lasts for one hour, with no time to overrun. The Old Testament is taught over five hours, one hour per week, and a similar time for the New Testament. This programme is taught voluntarily in each school and, since 1999, the total number of children receiving teaching from the Old Testament is 16,390. Within this number, 11,643 have been taught the New Testament as well.
On several days, I have three or four classes, sometimes in the same school, but usually in two or three schools. There is quite a bit of travelling involved during the week. Most of the schools in which I teach are within a six-mile radius from our home. Only once, in all the years I have taught this programme, have I turned up late for class; for which we praise God!
Each morning, I sit in the staff room and go through my notes before school commences. Some teachers remark to me, “You surely know the material anyway?” My reply is, “I want the lesson to be fresh for the children today.”
In the early years, a typical lesson comprised use of an overhead projector. However, I now plug a USB stick into the class computer. Each lesson is self-contained and very interactive, and I encourage a lot of participation from the children. A great motivation for the children is the use of hand signs in each lesson. Each story told within the programme has a unique hand sign. In the Old Testament, they learn 77 and in the New Testament 54 hand signs. The lessons follow the timeline of the Bible, so it is easy for the children to follow.
Within the space of one hour, a lot of things happen. There is a map laid out on the floor of the Bible lands, which helps the children imagine where the places are on the map – there is a lot of movement in the lesson as we ‘travel’ over its topography. We begin with a review of the hand signs from the previous lesson. Then we talk about some of the issues which may arise in the lesson and see how they pan out as the lesson unfolds. We could spend up to five minutes thinking through what they mean to us today. There is, of course, plenty of narrative and sometimes a little drama to help explain the truth. After the lesson, worksheets are distributed, which are a revision of what has been taught. In each lesson there are ample opportunities to use up-to-date illustrations to explain the truth of God’s Word. Many of the issues raised through the stories are not a million miles away from everyday situations which any child may face, so they realise the Bible is relevant. It is always encouraging to hear the comments children make in the light of what they have been taught and it shows how much they understand.
Usually when I walk into a class, there is a lot of excitement. On some occasions, just before I start the lesson, a sudden hush falls upon the room, as if something special is about to happen. This happens because faithful people are praying.
At the end of the fifth week I invite the principal into the classroom to watch, as the children put all the hand signs together that they have learnt over the five-week programme. It is encouraging to see the enthusiasm of the children. On many occasions the principal gives an opportunity for the children to say what the past five weeks have meant to them. Many will speak and I realise that God’s Word has made a special impact in their lives.
Over the years, these lessons have impacted the wider community. The teacher in one class was the mother of children I taught in another school, and in yet another school, the teacher in the class was the father of these same children! Some of the student teachers on placement remarked that they were taught Bible Explorer by me when they were in primary school. In one school, three of the teachers are Bible Explorer graduates. For the last three years, I have taught one of these teachers’ classes; she is excited as I teach her boys the same lessons! Moreover, it is not unusual, when I am in a shopping centre or elsewhere, for young people to stop me and enact some of the hand signs from Bible Explorer.
This current academic year I am teaching 305 hours of Bible instruction in 21 schools. Most of these schools are affiliated to the Roman Catholic Church, with the rest linked to the Church of Ireland. The schools are situated in different areas and it is always exciting to see children from various socio-economic backgrounds getting excited about the Bible.
Principals will often speak of the impact this programme has in their schools:
“One of the reasons we like Colin in this school, is that he is able to teach a programme none of us would be able to teach. He teaches what he believes.”
“Colin is as fresh today as he was 19 years ago, when he first taught this programme
and I was a teacher in the class.”
“Colin is part of the team, as he is interested in more than just teaching in the class.”
“I was very impressed, as were the other teachers, with Colin’s energy, love for his subject and dynamic teaching style. The pupils were riveted and learnt such a lot.”
“Children said the programme is fun.”
When a deputy principal asked the children for one key thing they learned through the stories, one boy said, “Always trust God.”
I was speaking with a priest after a church service, and he said, “I know who you are. You are the person who takes the children on a walk through the Bible.”
A principal, just before he retired, asked me to distribute a Bible to each class in the school. There were 16 Bibles to distribute. There was a little ceremony in the school hall, and I was asked to say a few things about the Bible. He then presented me with a Bible, with a notation inscribed that I had been an inspiration to a whole generation of boys in the school. Incidentally, a few years back, this same principal told the boys in class, “God sent Mr Sheldon to your class.”
A teacher, whose class I taught at least nine years ago in a Dublin school, is now a principal in a small rural school. He recently telephoned to ask if I would be willing to teach in his school. When the local priest heard about the programme, he made arrangements for me to teach in two additional rural schools. The priest said, “The village one of the schools is in, you will never find on any map.” I told him this is interesting, teaching children in an area not on any map. It is like the Lord Jesus who spoke with people who were not on ‘anybody’s map’. The priest said, “God has sent you to these rural schools.”
• that God will bless His Word as it is taught day by day
• that God’s Word will have an impact in the lives of principals, teachers and children
• that He would help me remain true to His Word, keeping what is taught simple, for all to understand, and for the Bible to be presented in a fresh way each time
• for health and strength to keep the schedule, and for safety as I travel between schools.