Children’s Church: There’s No Place Like Home
By: Sherri Gragg
When it comes to reaching children in a diverse, apartment dwelling community, Fairbanks UMC finds there is no place like home.
In the spring of 2017, Elizabeth Gallardo arrived in Houston with her husband, Frank Acosta, to serve at Fairbanks UMC. Acosta and Gallardo had previously served as pastors for eight years in their home country of Cuba. Now God was calling them to a new season of ministry in Texas. Acosta would fill the role of Pastor of Hispanic Ministries, beginning a new Spanish language service at Fairbanks. Gallardo became the church’s Pastor of Youth/Children’s Ministries.
Hispanic Ministry at Fairbanks UMC
As Acosta began working to establish the new Spanish language service, Gallardo turned her attention to the children surrounding her new church home. She found that the community was incredibly diverse. Sixty percent of the families in Fairbanks UMC’s neighborhood were Spanish speaking, but there were other immigrant families as well; A significant number of them were African. The large number of apartment complexes in the area meant the area was population dense. So, there were children. A lot of children, all of whom need to hear about God’s great love for them.
But how to reach those children? How could she somehow break past the barriers of countless apartment walls to forge relationships with parents so that they felt comfortable allowing their children to go to church with a stranger?
Then, Gallardo envisioned a solution. She wouldn’t begin by taking those children to church. Instead, she would take children’s church to them.
Children’s Church To-Go
Gallardo’s first step was to make a list of every apartment in the area, and cold call them to find out whether or not they had a community room or clubhouse. Once the list narrowed to include those that did, she called again. Would the manager allow her to host a monthly children’s event in their common area? Time and time again doors shut, but eventually two apartments said yes to the children’s ministry of Fairbanks UMC.
On two Saturdays each month, Gallardo leads a team of volunteers from the Spanish speaking congregation of Fairbanks UMC in taking church to the children. They teach Bible stories, play games, and lead in crafts and worship. And they always, always feed the children a meal.
As the children’s ministry of Fairbanks UMC has faithfully tended this mission field, God has opened other opportunities for ministry. Many of the children’s parents have agreed to allowing the volunteers to take their children to the church campus on the first and third Tuesday of each month for a similar service to the one held in the apartment clubhouses.
Moving to Sundays
Whenever she can, Gallardo now gives the children she serves the opportunity to attend Sunday services at Fairbanks UMC. Due to the lack of any other transportation, Gallardo, who is expecting her first child any day, makes multiple trips to and from the apartments in order to bring as many children as possible to church. She is earnestly praying that God will provide a more suitable source of transportation so that more children will be able to attend Sunday services.
“When we arrived at Fairbanks, I realized that the children in the community needed something,” Gallardo said, “and I believe that if we reach those children, we will reach their parents too.”