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Following in the footsteps of Jesus

Sunday school teachers rejuvenate their classes with an alternative curriculum called 'Journey with Jesus.'

Published March 18, 2007

[Times photo: Danny Ghitis]
Children's Church teacher Ann Marie Taylor talks to the kids about the promises of God in a Middle Eastern tent room Sunday at the New Beginnings Life Center in Spring Hill. The children are participating in a program that takes them on a historical journey through the times when Jesus lived.

SPRING HILL - Young people at New Beginnings Life Center Church have been traveling to Israel recently - without setting foot outside Spring Hill.

And they'll continue their treks for at least a dozen more Sunday sessions, thanks to church rooms that have been redesigned and redecorated to mimic the times and places where Jesus encountered and conducted major events in his life.

Youngsters ages 4 through 12 visit a marketplace, a tent room where they sit on pillows, another room whose walls are painted with 10 significant city sites, rivers and lakes where Jesus preached.

The whole venue is called "Journey with Jesus."

Vera Purvis, a veteran Sunday school teacher, said she was "bored" with the former curriculum. If she was, how did the kids feel, she wondered. Purvis asked senior pastor Earl Harrigan if she could pursue something new.

Added teacher AnnMarie Taylor, "We needed something with punch."

They created a replica of the country in Jesus' time from a Christian curriculum textbook that provided sketches for decor, lesson plans, activities, even a CD with appropriate music.

The children's church, adjacent to the main sanctuary building at 3550 Commercial Way, welcomes members and visitors with painted Corinthian columns flanking the outer door and "Israel" painted over the lintel.

The first view as one steps inside is a wall painting of an Israeli girl with a cartoon balloon welcoming, "Shalom." Close at hand is the canopied "Journey with Jesus Travel Agency."

Members pick up their mock passports, complete with individual photos, while visitors sign in at the guest registry. Older youth group members help with the tasks.

The open-air marketplace features wall paintings by Purvis and deaconess Mary Collins of a fruit vendor and a pottery shop under colorfully striped and fringed canopies. Woven baskets line a wall.

In this venue children sing and perform traditional Jewish dances in the praise-and-worship segment of their learning.

Through the flaps of a tent, they enter a lifelike nomadic scene, where they recline on pillows, stitched by Taylor. It's quiet time and the children hear lessons and learn Bible verses.

Stepping on to the city room, the youngsters are surrounded by paintings of major Christian sites in Israel, starting with Bethlehem, moving on to Jerusalem, Bethany, Nazareth, Jericho, Cana, Capernaum, Mt. Hermon, Caesarea, set geographically along the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.

Purvis sketched the scenes. She and the other teachers took liberties in depicting each city with homes, public buildings, domed synagogues and stone paved walkways.

"We had so much fun," Collins said of the three weeks it took to create the project. "We listened to praise music and painted away."

"We tell what Jesus did in each city," said elder Dottie Anderson, the administrator in charge of the project.

After listening to a lesson, the youngsters turn to making crafts, which eventually will be offered up in the marketplace for a donation, Anderson said.

The money raised will go to the church's mission in Nicaragua.

"We want to raise kids' awareness of children around the world," Taylor said.

Beth Gray can be contacted at

Fast Facts:


Start your journey

The "Journey with Jesus" program is noon to 1 p.m. Sundays at New Beginnings Life Center Church, 3550 Commercial Way. Church services are at 8:30 and 10:45 a.m. For information, contact Mary Collins at 727 243-7287 or (727) 862-3995.

[Last modified March 17, 2007, 20:52:12]

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