Children depend on significant adults to understand their significance. Can you recall an adult who made you feel unique as a child? Or perhaps you remember someone who was there for you or taught you a new skill.
In 1984, I was a shy, awkward, six-year-old who believed in the Tooth Fairy. I would put the tooth in my shoe under the bed at night, and without fail, a crisp two rand note was there in the morning. Two rand may not seem like a lot of money to an adult, but to a six-year-old, back in 1984, it was worth a comic book and some sweets.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MRS SAUNDERS
On one particular school day, after what seemed like days of tugging on a loose tooth, I eventually set it free, only to lose it! I was devastated! In the middle of the library class, my Grade 1 teacher, Mrs Saunders, found out about my turmoil and interrupted class with one mission: Find the lost tooth. She mobilised my entire class outside and onto the dusty playground. The lesson was stopped for me! Well, at least for my lost tooth. Finally, victory was ours as a boy came back to class with the little tooth in his possession. I proudly took my tooth home, and the tradition continued. More importantly, I learned that I was important to Mrs Saunders. Though not a star pupil, my problem was significant to her.
The story does not end there.
Twenty years later, when I became a children’s pastor and life skills teacher, I was invited to present a school assembly. I waited outside the hall, while students began to line up for chapel. In the distance, I saw a row of neatly lined up Grade 1 “ducks” approaching the assembly hall, faithfully following their teacher. As they neared, I recognised the face of the teacher whom I had not seen since primary school. She stopped when she reached me and asked, “Aren’t you the one who lost your tooth?” I was surprised out of my socks that Mrs Saunders remembered me.
It was then that I found out that Mrs Saunders was a Christian. She loved her students. I wonder if it wasn’t her silent prayers for her students, which led to my salvation and calling into children’s ministry.
Today, Mrs Saunders is the HOD of a primary school in Windhoek. She continues to be the best Grade 1 teacher alive.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NELSON MANDELA
Mr Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes. I often quote his phrase, “There is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats her children.” Let’s translate this to the church, “There is no keener revelation of a churches soul than the way in which she treats her children.”
Although Madiba was a big man, he was not too important for children. On his 90’th birthday, I caught a news flash where he was having a birthday party in his home. Dignitaries and celebrities should have surrounded him. However, he invited the children of South Africa to his party. Madiba sat on the floor, in his suit, and was delighted as little children of all nationalities clamoured all over him, making him look like a human jungle-gym.
I don’t know if Madiba was a Christian, but I do know this: He followed the example of Christ by validating the worth of a child.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JESUS
When Jesus was caught up in the business of the Kingdom, teaching, preaching, healing the sick and performing various miracles, often for crowds of more than five thousand at a time, he would still stop everything to attend to the children (Matthew 18:1-14, Matthew 19:13-14; 21:15-16; Mark 9:3-37; 10:13-16; Luke 9:47-48, 18:15-17).
On one such occasion, Jesus must have caught a glimpse of children being brought to Him. When the disciples saw them, their perspective was that the children were an interruption. They leapt ahead of Jesus and chased the children away. When Jesus saw the response of his disciples, he publicly rebuked them.
It was not an occasion for silent diplomacy, or a matter to be dealt with at a later time. Jesus took the opportunity to make it known to the masses that children were important to him. He was angry to see the children being turned away: “Jesus was indignant”. He called for the children to be brought to Him, put his hands on them, and blessed them.
Jesus was not so important that he cared if his “suit” got wrinkled, or if during his business meeting, some infant’s grubby hands left a mark or a stain. He was not concerned whether He would appear less stately or grand if surrounded by children. Jesus stopped everything for the children. Nothing was more important to him at that moment than to take the children up into his arms, and to bless them.
Here is where Madiba’s life parallels Jesus: To his legacy, Nelson Mandela started a hospital for children, to bless children. President Madiba would walk in townships and talk to the children playing in the dust.
Would we stop everything to meet the need of a child? Even if this need does not appear to be urgent, consequential, or significant? Would you stop for a lost tooth, lost self-esteem, a lost soul, no matter the age? Would you stop for the orphan, the poor, or the one who had nothing to give in return?
Our children need significant adults.
Mentors who will role model the character of Christ in their dealings with children. The Biblical mandate for child-rearing belongs to the parent (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), but what about the child with no parents, or godless parents? Who will stop for them?