Wilberforce senior students recently presented a children’s version of the Gospel of John to Lower School students during their morning chapel. The seniors read aloud from the text they edited as a class while their original illustrations were projected in the background. After the presentation, each classroom in the Lower School was presented with a laminated copy of the book.
The project was designed by the seniors themselves as part of their 12th grade theology course. After spending almost two months closely reading the Gospel of John, the students worked as a group to condense and revise the text for younger readers. From the beginning of the project, the class balked at adapting the text of the Bible. Why would anyone want to change the Word of God? Who has the authority to do that? On the other hand, how can children as young as four understand the intricate theological vocabulary of John’s preface? Or the discourse with Nicodemus in John 3? The seniors had to work as a group to balance the simplifying the text with retaining its meaning.
Composing a children’s version of John forced the seniors to confront the same problem that faced John when he wrote his biography of Jesus. You can imagine John sitting down to write his Gospel, overwhelmed by the task in front of him. John admitted that “there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). So from all the stories and parables and teachings he knew, which should be included in a text designed “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31)? Which stories did John leave out? What would be in all those “books that would be written” but were not written?
The seniors had to draw from skills they have developed during their education here at Wilberforce. In fact, several of these seniors were among the first graduates of Wilberforce’s Lower School. As Lower School students, they learned the importance of narration--that it is not enough to passively read a text. Instead, we must engage with it on a deeply personal level and describe it in our own words. A living text must become a living part of us. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said "my word abides in you" (John 15:7). After two months of careful reading, the Gospel of John began to abide in the seniors so much that they wanted to share the news with their fellow students.
It is a joy to work alongside students and see how they read and understand scripture for themselves. This project also encouraged the inter-generational learning experience throughout all grade levels at Wilberforce.