Vision for Anabaptist online curriculum springs forth

Detectives of Divinity created for midweek classes, vacation Bible school

Jan 7, 2019 by and

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NEWTON, Kan. — A couple of months after the 2017 wheat harvest, Carol Duerksen imagined a different kind of harvest, one that could yield a crop of Anabaptist online curriculum that was cost-effective and downloadable.

That spring, Bryan Moyer Suderman had planted the idea in the mind of Duerksen, a freelance writer, with his “Detectives of Divinity” song and Bible study at Tabor Mennonite Church.

Members of the creative team for the Detectives of Divinity curriculum, from left: Carol Duerksen, Katherine Goerzen, Susan Nafziger, Amy Nissley Stauffer and Aaron Ratz­laff. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

Members of the creative team for the Detectives of Divinity curriculum, from left: Carol Duerksen, Katherine Goerzen, Susan Nafziger, Amy Nissley Stauffer and Aaron Ratz­laff. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

Using Suderman’s song, Duerk­sen cultivated Bible stories for Tabor’s summer faith formation for children. When the trial run proved successful, a team galvanized by Duerksen worked with Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA to expand the Detectives curriculum into 13 online sessions available for other churches.

But Duerksen knew there was still more fruit to be gleaned from this experience.

“I wished for more work to do together without having to always find a new funding source,” she said. “The idea of a nonprofit came to mind, because a nonprofit can seek grants and receive tax-deductible donations.”

Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc. secured nonprofit status in March.

Detectives 13, produced in partnership with Western District, is available at springsforth.com for a $30 one-time fee. It is geared for grades 1-5 for Wednesday evening programming, club settings and other faith-formation efforts.

This curriculum is sprouting into two Detectives Vacation Bible School Plus units for adults, youth, children and preschoolers. It is available at springsforth.com for a one-time fee of $50 for all age groups.

The rise of Wednesdays

“I am thrilled with how Springs Forth! corresponds with my hopes for something local, creative, Anabaptist, biblical, Jesus-focused and multigenerational,” said Dorothy Nickel Friesen, Springs Forth! board chair and former Western District conference minister, pastor and seminary dean.

Friesen believes the nonprofit is addressing the changes in family and church-family dynamics.

“The idea of everyone attending both Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings hasn’t been true for at least the last 20 years,” she said. “What is emerging in some congregations is that bigger attendance by children and youth is happening on Wednesday evenings. And a lot more of the kids are from the community, which gives us an opportunity to share Anabaptist input with a broader audience.”

Friesen has long promoted multigenerational learning.

“As grandparents and parents, we need to be saying to our very youngest generations, ‘Pay attention. Look around. Something is happening,’ ” she said. “And we need to do this in a way that integrates good pedagogy with good theology.”

Springs Forth! is striving to do just that. It is not seeking to compete with other VBS options provided by MC USA’s publishing agency, MennoMedia. Rather, it hopes to service an affordable online niche market for multigenerational materials geared for multiple settings.

“We want to challenge teachers in our churches to not go to the internet and type in ‘Moses’ to quickly find materials to teach,” Duerksen said. “Now, if they do that, we are hoping they end up on our site. It’s where they will find Anabaptist-friendly materials that are whole-Bible, Jesus-centered and peace-and-justice oriented.”

Diego and Dakota

The Detectives of Divinity curriculum centers on the sleuthing tactics of Detective Diego and Detective Dakota, who help students investigate the lives of biblical characters, including Moses, the Shunammite Woman, the Good Samaritan and Tabitha. Bible stories, skits, crafts, games, reproducible pages, artwork, activities and memory verses are included.

In January, the Detectives VBS Plus multigenerational curriculum became available. Each set includes five sessions of materials for preschool through grade 5 plus five sessions for youth and five for adults on the same Scripture stories.

Creative team members Duerksen, Amy Nissley Stauffer, Aaron Ratzlaff, Susan Nafziger and Katherine Goerzen are excited about what has emerged.

“We explored some Bible stories that aren’t normally used in curriculum and didn’t just assume younger children won’t get it,” said Stauffer, who prepared the children’s Bible background sections and the preschool lessons.

A launch event from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Feb. 23 at Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton will include an introduction of the material and Detectives snacks. Those who RSVP to office@springsforth.com will receive a free copy of the devotional book Now It Springs Up by Mi­chele Hershberger, Carol Duerksen and Laurie Oswald Robinson.


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