When I was a child, I lived in a little village where there’s an Adventist church. On Sabbaths, I’d see the Adventists go to church, neatly dressed, with Bibles in their hand. From our house, I’d hear beautiful music and sometimes I’d beg my mother to be allowed to go. I felt very shy to enter the church. So I’d wait until the church members were inside before I’d crouch low and peep through the decorative blocks on the wall, hoping not to be noticed. Always, though, a church elder or a deacon would come out and invite me in. I was in the 5th grade when a great preacher came. I happened to be in church at that time. He preached about David’s promise to meditate on the Word of God and to keep God’s law. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, Who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, Who seek Him with the whole heart! (Ps. 119: 1, 2, NKJV). I told myself, I should do that too. When I got home, I told my parents I wanted to be baptized into the Adventist church. They said, “No. You’re too young to understand what that decision means.” I felt very discouraged but my Adventist friends encouraged me to keep on attending church. Some families would even invite me to lunch after the church service. Being young, I was looking for a place where I could belong and the Adventist church provided me warmth and security. Today, as an adult and a baptized member of the Church, I remember the loving attention that I received from the church members of that Adventist church in my village with deep gratitude. Had they shooed me away, had they spoken harsh words, or had they just ignored me, would I have found my way to the heart of God?
How do we treat children? Or how should we treat them? When it comes to how children should be treated, ours is the best of times, yet also is the worst of times.
It is the best of times because in most places of the world, children are protected with certain laws. To name some, there are laws against corporeal punishment, against child labor, against verbal abuse, against sexual harassment. There are laws for free healthcare and free education. In most airports, children, along with the elderly, are given first priority for boarding. In some cultures, children are served first before the elders. Ours is a time when children are privileged to be developed to their fullest potential. In one day, yesterday, I saw thrice how this could happen. Coming to church thirty minutes early, I found the members of the ensemble practicing with a competent mentor, and I thought what a good program the church had for children and young people! Later, during the divine service, when the presiding elder announced that the church members give a handshake to visitors, one little girl, about four years old, shook hands of not only the visitors but all those seated down her row. And I thought, This girl would grow up to be a great blessing because she’s properly trained as a child. In the evening, some pathfinders came to get orders for pizza from the neighborhood, a program they do yearly for fundraising. They’d get the orders, bake the pizza, and deliver to the houses in an hour. And I thought how blessed they were to get that training. In most homes I know, the children, aside from regular school, are also enrolled in some kind of lesson—piano lesson, flute lesson, violin lesson, math tutorial, English tutorial, taekwondo class. And the list goes on. What a time to be born and to grow at such a time as ours!
Yet, ours is also the worst of times, because in some places, children are abused. In mild instances, children are ignored or silenced when they voice an idea. In worse cases, they are left to look for their own food, to find cloth to cover their thin bodies, to fend for themselves from the cruel elements of society. One of the poems that I cannot forget is The Golf Links by Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn. It drives deep the dagger of life’s harsh truth.
The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The labouring children can look out
And see the men at play.
Do you see the irony? Do you feel the tension? Men at play and children at work? But this is not even the worst of it. In extreme forms of abuse, children are sold to prostitution. Horrible scenarios, some still hidden and unexposed, are our children’s realities.
Surely, this is not the kind of reality God wants children to experience. When Jesus was here on earth, He showed us the model of how children should be treated. He invited them to come to Him. He took them into His arms and sat them unto His lap. He told them how much His Father loved them and that He wanted them to be with Him in heaven. (See Mark 10:13-16; AH 273-281)
I remember an incident during my first year of teaching. My principal and I were in a retreat with a group of students. She turned to me and asked, “Do you love your students?” I answered Yes. “Why do you love them?” I tilted my head and rolled my eyes. I could not think of an answer. Her question sounded like one of those questions Jesus asked His disciples. “Do you really love them?” she asked again. “Yes, I do.” Now that sounded like a wedding ceremony! She then turned to me and said, “It’s God who puts this love in our hearts. How can we love all of them? See that boy over there? You instructed that everyone should help his or her group but he’s not doing anything. And there’s that girl. She keeps on giggling and disturbing the others. But why do we love them still? Because this is the love of God.”
I revisit that incident every now and then to remind me how this work of discipling children can be done. Only a heart like God’s, only a love that’s God’s, can do it. And the good news is, this kind of heart, this kind of love is only for the asking. God is ready to bestow this love to us! He wants us to represent Him rightly so that all the children we meet will be drawn to the beauty of His love, so that we can help them “to be trees of righteousness, bearing the fruit of the Spirit” (AH 17.4). And having received this love from God, let us commit ourselves to this work of discipling children which is so exciting, so rewarding, so ennobling. For those who have tried, I am sure you will say with me that this is Oh, so true!
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5773