Travels with Paul: Bringing the First Missionary Journey to Life--with Kids
Keeping Paul’s missionary journeys straight can be tough. The stories are brief and many involve mostly preaching. It is hard to remember what happened. Our challenge was to communicate the information about Paul’s first missionary journey to our congregation in a way that was interesting, memorable, and brief. We wanted to present information about cities as well as people.
To do this we wrote the following dramatic presentation. Some of our characters represented cities while others represented specific people—Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark. The students representing cities held signs on six-foot poles with the names of the cities on them, so it was very clear which city each student represented. The three missionaries were able to move from city to city to tell us what they did in each place.
We asked our sixth- to eighth-grade students to read the parts because we want children of all ages to participate in worship whenever possible, and sixth- to eighth-graders are old enough to read well without a lot of practice. They read their parts as they stood at one of three microphones set up across the front of our sanctuary. We have the ability to use PowerPoint in our sanctuary and we prepared a slideshow with maps and a timeline of Paul’s life up to his first journey (Download the Travel with Paul PowerPoint Presentation here.).
The main focus, though, was on the middle school students who presented the journey. The readers represented the cities and the missionaries, rather than played their parts. This allowed us to have them talk about the cities and the missionaries in the third person, while it still gave us the opportunity for those representing Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark to move from one microphone to the other, representing the journey from one city to the next. Also, since we believe it is important, whenever possible, to use all the children of a certain age group, this allowed us to use either boys or girls to represent the male missionaries.
Note that even though the Bible refers to Paul as Saul at the beginning of this journey and changes to Paul in the middle of it, we refer only to the name Paul because we thought there were already plenty of names in this short presentation without one character being referred to in two different ways. You will notice that most of the cities are represented by one reader but Antioch of Syria is read by two. This was done to add variety to what could be an otherwise long batch of information about Antioch—but also we wanted the number of readers to match the number of students we had involved. Others who use this drama should combine or split parts to match the needs of their church.
This drama was presented as part of our sermon during a Sunday evening service. To help set the stage for the lesson to come, we projected a classic painting of Paul on the screen as the congregation entered. After a time of song and prayer we turned our attention to Paul’s first journey. As an introduction to our drama, the pastor said a few words about the life of Paul. The dates and descriptions shown in the box below were projected onto the screen, and the congregation heard a brief overview of what brought Paul to the point in his life where he was ready to go out and preach to people in other parts of the world. (We used the picture of Paul as a backdrop during this introduction and for the short sermon after the drama.) Then the sixth- through eighth-graders came forward to present the drama. As we moved from city to city in the drama, arrows appeared on the map that we projected to help the congregation better understand where Paul and his companions were at each stage of the journey.
Paul’s First Missionary Journey
City 1: Antioch of Syria
[Antioch 1 and Antioch 2 stand holding a sign that reads “Antioch.” Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark stand next to them, each with a sign that states who they are.]
Antioch 1: Antioch of Syria is the third-largest city in the Roman Empire. There are about sixty-four cities named Antioch in this area. Many, like Antioch of Syria, are named after famous leaders. Antioch of Syria was named by a Syrian general, Seleucus, around 300 b.c., after his father, Antiochus.
Antioch 2: In 64 b.c. Antioch was captured by the great Roman general Pompeii.
Antioch 1: Antioch of Syria was full of magnificent temples to various gods. The god Apollo promoted pagan worship and immoral practices. Because these people paid so much attention to these gods, many in the city were open to new religious thoughts.
Antioch 2: A number of Jews settled here after the Syrian and Babylonian captivity. Followers of Christ also came here after the stoning of Stephen, when they were fleeing the persecution in Jerusalem. The gospel was gladly received and a church began to meet here. Barnabas and Paul taught the new believers in Antioch for a whole year.
Paul: Antioch is probably best known now as the place where believers in Jesus were first called Christians. The church in Antioch sent Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark to Cyprus and Asia Minor as missionaries.
Barnabas: John Mark later went on to write the gospel of Mark.
John Mark: It was here that Paul’s first missionary journey began. The three of them traveled from Antioch to Cyprus.
City 2: Cyprus
[Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark walk to the person with the Cyprus sign.]
Cyprus: Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea not far from the Syrian coast. Over the years, Philistines and Phoenicians settled here. Cyprus became a province of Rome after Pompeii conquered the region.
Antioch 1: Hey, that’s the same guy that captured Antioch in 64 b.c.
Cyprus: Yes, it is. Both places became part of the Roman Empire. Travel from place to place was now easier than before—it was all under Roman control.
Barnabas: Another interesting fact is that Barnabas was born here.
Paul: When Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark came to Cyprus from Antioch, they preached the gospel. The governor, Sergius Paulus, became a Christian.
John Mark: The sorcerer, Elymas, tried to win the governor back to paganism. But when Paul confronted him, Elymas was struck with blindness for his evil.
Barnabas: The three of them traveled from Cyprus to Perga.
City 3: Perga
[Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark walk to the person with the Perga sign.]
Perga: Perga is a city in present-day Turkey. It is part of a Roman province known as Galatia. Because it was a port city, Perga became very prosperous. Perga was considered a “cathedral city” to the Greek goddess, Artemis—also known as Diana, Apollo’s twin sister.
Antioch 2: Say, we have a temple here for the god Apollo.
Perga: Yes, you do. There was a lot of pagan worship in this part of the world.
Barnabas: While Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark were here, John Mark decided to leave his friends and return to Jerusalem.
[John Mark walks back past Antioch of Syria.]
Paul: Paul lost faith in John Mark because he left. Later, when Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along on the next journey, Paul refused. On future missionary trips, Paul took Silas while Barnabas went with John Mark.
Barnabas: Paul and Barnabas then traveled from Perga to Antioch of Pisidia.
City 4: Antioch of Pisidia
[Paul and Barnabas walk to the person with the Antioch of Pisidia sign.]
Antioch of P: Antioch of Pisidia is also located in Galatia. Antioch of Pisidia was named by the Syrian general Seleucus after his father Antiochus.
Antioch 1: Didn’t I just say that about Antioch of Syria?
Antioch of P: Yes, you did. I guess Seleucus really liked his father.
Many Jews settled here over the years. Antioch of Pisidia was known as a center for Hellenism—Greek culture and religion.
Paul: Paul and Barnabas came to the synagogue and preached about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Many Jews were interested in this teaching.
Barnabas: But the Jewish leaders became jealous and had Paul and Barnabas tossed out. When they left, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their sandals and said, “We now turn to the Gentiles.”
Paul: Paul and Barnabas traveled from Perga to Iconium.
City 5: Iconium
[Paul and Barnabas walk to the person with the Iconium sign.]
Iconium: Iconium is another city located in the province of Galatia. It was a thriving and prosperous city during the first century. Two Roman emperors liked Iconium a lot. Because of that it became rich and famous.
Paul: Paul and Barnabas came here to preach. Their words and the miracles the Spirit allowed them to do turned many Jewish and Gentile hearts to Jesus.
The Apostle Paul
a.d. 5 Born in Tarsus
35 Converted on the road to Damascus
35-38 Ministers in Arabia and Damascus (Gal. 1:17)
38 Visits Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18)
38-43 Ministers in Syria and Tarsus (Gal. 1:21)
43-46 Serves in Antioch with Barnabas
47-49 First missionary journey (Acts 13-14)
In the sermon that followed the drama, we focused attention on the last part of the journey, Paul’s return to cities previously visited—a part that did not get much attention in the drama. Here is an outline:
A Mission Church Is Also a Maintenance Church
- Paul and his companions did the basics—they preached the good news.
- Then they followed up:
- They strengthened the believers.
- They urged the believers, “Stay faithful!”
- The warned the believers, “Be ready for hardships!”
- They appointed elders—to do the above.
- They did the basics [again!]—they preached the good news.
- They reported to their supporting church: Look what God is doing! How encouraging to hear these testimonies!
Let’s not fall out of balance. The church is called to make disciples and to keep them. We must be both a missionary and a maintenance church. Both are central to our work.