- “When the children leave my church or my classroom or my program, are they glad that they went?”
- “Do I help each child view his true value as an individual? As a person created by God Himself?”
- “When I child is with me, where does he see himself on the scale of importance? Is he a nuisance? Is he even noticed? Is he important and valued?”
My first career, fresh out of college, was as an elementary school teacher. I worked in the public school system as a teacher for over 10 years in inner-city schools. One of my most memorable school years was bookmarked by one 9-year old girl. Yuri was brought into my classroom in the last quarter the of the school year. Actually, she was physically carried into my 4th Grade classroom by the administrator. This girl balled up into a fetal position for the entire day. For at least a week, she spent her days with her head face down on the desk buried inside her folded arms. She responded my attempts to talk to her with complete silence. I was frustrated but was not going to give up. I had just heard a series at church about valuing people.
If I was going to make a connection with Yuri, I knew I had to do something different. After the first bell, I yelled Yuri’s name with all the enthusiasm I could muster, as if I were the announcer of a championship boxing match, as all the students lined up in front of their classroom for school. I forgot to inform the rest of my class of my strategy, so they were enjoyably caught off-guard by my antics. After I ceremoniously announced Yuri’s name at the start of every school day consistently for two weeks, Yuri began to speak to me through a translator-classmate. She made eye contact, but instead of talking to me, she whispered in her friend’s ear what she wanted me to know. I played along with this to keep the communication open. Yuri didn’t do any of the classwork but would sneak a smile every once in a while to let me know that she was listening.
The extent of this communication lasted for another couple of weeks. Though this was not uncommon for this part of the city, Yuri’s parents were suspiciously unavailable for any school meetings, as our community worker worked tirelessly to get Yuri the help that she needed. Obviously, something was wrong.
One afternoon, about a month after we first met, Yuri approached me as I graded papers on my desk after school. Most of the students had left for the playground except for a couple of helpers cleaning up in the hallway. Without any prompting from me, Yuri began talking to me about herself and what she thought of school for the next 15 minutes. I think I may have squeezed in maybe a few words in this conversation. However, I was quiet for most of our discussion because I had been in shock listening to my student gab with me as if we were best friends. At the end of our conversation, Yuri gave me a hug and said that this was her last day of school, and I was the best teacher she ever had.
At the end of the day, one of our administrators called me in her office to passionately explain what had happened. Social Services had been tracking Yuri’s parents for possible neglect and child abuse. To elude Social Services, Yuri’s parents withdrew her from the school and left the area. I never saw Yuri again, but the memory of her reminds me to care about what matters most.
Our windows of opportunity to reach children are many times closed a lot sooner than we expect. How do we get our children to see their value in Christ? I can’t be just a lesson children learn on a Sunday. We have to value them.
Value children in the program.
There should always be a segment to welcome visitors. Years ago, I went to church in Hawaii. Hospitality is a big part people’s culture. When the pastor welcomed the visitors, the congregation exploded in a dance as the band played. A volunteer put a lei around my neck within 5 seconds, and I was surrounded by huggers from every corner. I felt like a million bucks, and I’m an adult! What if we treated every young visitor that way? Are you highlighting children in any other ways? Birthdays? Kid of the week? What are your ideas? Are you putting the ideas in action?
Value children on purpose.
It must deliberate. What if it comes off as phony? It won’t be when your interactions with children are genuine. You have to provide training and follow up for your volunteers. Do you think that the employees at Disneyland just automatically know how to positively interact with families just by being employed by Disney? They were trained. Are you training your volunteers to value children?
Value children with passion.
Yes, be over the top in many cases if not all. Enthusiasm is caught not taught. You can provide all the “customer service” type training you want, but it will fall short if you are not leading the way. As the children’s ministry pastor, director, assistant, or volunteer you must exemplify passion to your team. You set the tone.
Valuing children must be embedded in the program. It must be on purpose. It must be passionate. When you do those things, it become organic. In other words, valuing children becomes part of your ministry’s DNA. When children feel valued, they will view themselves as valuable. What would happen to your children’s ministry if the children who participated in it knew their true value in Christ? Are you ready to expand the dynamics of the children’s ministry? Many times, we may not see the fruit of our efforts when we reach out to children. Yuri is my reminder that our efforts are never in vain, and that Christ will use us to reach even the toughest hearts.