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Barney’s toddler group – play, fun, mess… and a lifeline

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As any parent knows, the early years of our children’s lives are not always the easiest, so help and encouragement from others can be a lifeline, especially if you live nowhere near your family or support system. When my oldest was two and the youngest just born, we moved to an isolated part of town. There was nowhere to walk to except the cemetery. My husband was away with work and I had no other friends who had children or adults I could spend any time with. I now think I was heading for a breakdown – of both my marriage and my mental health – when a friend finally persuaded me to go to Barney’s Toddler Group. I was reluctant, as other groups I’d tried had been cliquey and unfriendly.

Barney’s, however, was amazing. They were so welcoming, never letting anyone sit on their own and there was such warmth in the group. Within two weeks I felt really at home. I made friendships and I was invited to family events at the church, and then to an Alpha Course, where I met with Jesus in March 2003.

Now, for the last eight years, I have had the privilege of leading Barney’s Toddler Groups. Every Wednesday and Friday morning a team of St Barnabas volunteers welcome 65 under-fives and their parents or carers into the church. Through toys, crafts, messy play, singing, and plenty of tea and coffee for the adults, we aim to help both adults and children make friends, have fun and relax.

Our members are all local mums, dads, grandparents, child-minders and nannies; they are from all round the world and of many different faiths. We try to offer support, care and hope to all, and also to express the love of Christ through our actions – building relationships, sharing parenting stories and life experiences, laughing and crying with the families who attend. We all regularly share our personal testimonies to God’s grace if they are pertinent to any conversation we may be having.

On the first Wednesday and Friday of each month we host Toddler Praise, an interactive 10-minute time for everyone. We sing worship songs, tell them stories about Jesus (with the help of lots of mess), pray and finally send everyone off with a small gift which relates to the story. The positive feedback we get from everyone about this particular event is amazing.

Through our relationships with our members we are able to invite them to other family events at church like our monthly family craft morning, FamilyFests, Friday night kids club and family services. Many attend these and thoroughly enjoy them.

We also have the privilege of being able to offer prayer for (and with) many of our members for healing, family issues, school places, employment and so on. We recently prayed for a dad who had been out of work for 18 months – the very next day he was offered a job. And a lady, who after many miscarriages was sure she would never have another baby, gave birth to a beautiful daughter 11 months ago after we prayed for her.

I don’t believe there is any special formula for opening someone’s eyes to the love of Jesus, but I have found that serving people, loving them, supporting them, praying for them and telling them about what Jesus has done for me is like planting lots of seeds. You never know when, or if, you will see a harvest. It is, however, a great privilege to be part of these families’ lives, to watch Jesus at work in them and to see the transformation that he brings. Our motto at Barney’s Toddler Groups is something that Mother Teresa once said: ‘Small things done with great love will change the world.’ People’s lives are impacted by the Barney’s ministry just as mine was. Every week we cry with our members, we share their joy, we celebrate their successes and we give God their prayers. He loves them and so do we!

This information is supplied in good faith, but Care for the Family cannot accept responsibility for any advice or recommendations made by other organisations or resources.