Sidewalk Sunday School

By Patrick Diaz

You might have seen it outside of schools or maybe parked in front of your child’s favorite playground. The Metro Ministries Sunday school bus. Growing up in New York City you are bound to run into one of pastor Bill’s buses. Bill Wilson is the founder and pastor of Metro World Child, which provides programming for elementary school children.

Sidewalk Sunday school, as Metro Ministries calls it, was conceived in hopes of reaching and providing safe space for children around New York City. Wilson came up with the idea when he set out in 1980 to reach out more people than his congregation outside of Bushwick, Brooklyn. The staff members are trained volunteers who travel in their trademark trucks and provide sidewalk Sunday school.

The Metro Ministries trucks stop in many locations around the city daily, primarily in poorer neighborhoods. Metro Ministries volunteers visit children and their families to make sure they’re doing well and the kids are keeping up in school. “It’s not some side show, it’s something free and positive they do for the kids,” says Yaritza Ramos, 37. “They know me and my daughter. I let Angie go all the time. It’s not like I don’t know who she’s with, I have their phone number I can call anyone of them anytime I want.”

The buses usually park outside of schools where they can easily attract the most children after they come out. The buses are painted in a bright yellow color with cartoon characters and are usually blaring some kind of jingle. The kids sing along to songs, play games, and answer trivia. It’s like an interactive show where they’re all included. There are also prizes and giveaways to entice the kids to stick around.

Pastor Bill Watson story in some ways inspired the traveling ministry. He was abandoned as a child and he was taken in by a Christian named Dave Rudenis who helped him devote his life to God. He says he started sidewalk Sunday school because he didn’t want kids to feel helpless on the street like he did when his mother left him. The pastor began his mission in Florida, picking up kids from nearby housing projects in a bus and providing games, activities and a positive message.

Almost four decades later, Metro Ministries is reaching thousands of children daily. In New York City alone the program sees 20,000 kids weekly with the traveling buses and afterschool programs. It also has the largest Sunday school program in the United States with almost 100,000 kids in over 1,000 cities weekly.

How do parents and guardians feel about having a youth program with a religious message? Ramos says it is a good distraction for her 10-year-old. “I see it as an afterschool program; she’s gets to spend more time with some of her classmates in a safe environment,” says Ramos. “We aren’t overly religious anyway and a positive message from God can’t hurt.”

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