One of the best aspects of working with children is taking the time to play games with them. Some games are traditional, like hide-and-seek, tag, or hopscotch. Other games are made up on the spot (and some have more enduring popularity with others). Some of my games have been flops, lasting only a short while, and mentally discarded; some have been very successful, and are oft requested.
One of the games which I regularly use with older children is termed “Romans vs. Christians”. It is educational only in the sense that it cements the idea that one should avoid a first century Roman centurion if one wishes to avoid a Roman prison. (Now that is a helpful and relevant life lesson for most American schoolchildren!)
I invented the game while I was watching group of anywhere from five to twenty children while their parents were attending a bible study. Most of the children were in the elementary school age range, while a few were preschool or younger. We stayed primarily in the game room of a local church, and at other times, we went outdoors to play, but invariably, on rainy or cold days, I would have to concoct ways to keep that many children occupied.
One of their favorite games was one I named “Romans versus Christians”. Technically, it is a variation on "Sharks and Minnows", and is played as follows. The Roman centurion (i.e. “person who is it”) calls “All Christians come out”. The Christians then flee base and need to run around the room. (I told the kids to run in one direction, usually clockwise, to minimize collisions). Only when the kids had completed one lap around the room could they return to the corner of the room designated as “the church” (i.e. “base”).
What happened to those unfortunate children seized (tagged) by the centurion? They were “sent to prison” and waited until either all children had been tagged or arrived safely at base. When that happened, they had the option of joining the glorious Roman legions, or remaining in prison.
As you might expect, I had many turncoats.
The remnant of children who chose to remain in prison could be freed by other believers running around the room, if said Christians were sufficiently quick. However, because the mighty legions of Rome had increased, the risk of both rescuer and prisoner being caught had also increased. The game ended only when either all the children had joined the Roman legions, or all prisoners had been freed.
The game was wildly popular for as long as I watched the children for that group, and I still play it from time to time with older children assuming there is sufficient space to run around without peril. I hope that that game and other games has continued to inspire the children to show love to others by reaching out to them and playing with them, even if only for one silly game.
I hope the children learned something of humility: that an adult was willing to play with them and be utterly silly among them, to show them how much they were loved and valued. After all, the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are those who humble themselves like little children.
May we all be willing to humble ourselves like little children as we work with them, for the sake of building relationships with them, and thereby gaining the privilege of explaining the gospel to them and of assisting their parents in discipling them. May we forever remember what our Savior taught in Matthew 181-4: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, had him stand among them, and said I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."