It Takes a Church (Mar-Apr 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Carolyn Anderson
March – April, 2005

There is an old African saying, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” I say, “It takes a Church to raise a child.”

Spiritual formation does not come by osmosis. It has to be intentional. There are things we as a church family can do to help parents. The best way to describe this to you is by the example of a man who embodied this nurturing love for the children of our congregation. Our son, Chris, was eighteen months old when we moved from Canada to Texas. This proved to be quite an adjustment for him.

The church we left in Canada had less than fifty people in attendance and since the time he was one week old I had always taken him to the children’s class that I taught. His new church had twelve hundred members and a good-sized class of eighteen-month-olds. Every Sunday after a short time he would get upset and start to cry. Brother Clinton, one of the elders and the cradle roll supervisor, would gather Chris into his arms and carry him around as he checked on the classes. One day when Chris was two years old, he and I were looking through the church pictorial directory together when we came to the page with Brother Clinton’s picture. “Mom, look! There’s my Cry Man.”

Too often we treat children as non-persons, talking to their parents at church and completely ignoring the fact that a child is standing beside. We have to let them know that we value them and what is happening in their world. Someone sent me this quote the other day: “To the world you might be one, but to one you might be the world.

April 19, 1995, will forever be etched on our minds. We will always remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.

Children And TentsI walked into the Highland Church in Abilene, Texas for the funeral of a very dear friend and mentor in my life, Nita Wray. I sat down by another friend, Lou Christopher. Lou leaned over and whispered to me the news I had not yet heard: The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma had been bombed. Adults were struck as they applied for social security cards or had their morning coffee break. Children were struck as they ate their breakfast or played.

“The death of such precious beings violates the order and meaning of life. The only way to understand it is to describe the incessant pain of the loss, as the distraught Constance does in Shakespeare’s KING JOHN: ‘Grief fills the room up of my absent child/Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me/ Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form. Adults nourish this grief the way they would the child himself, psychologist Louise Kaplan says.” (Harrison Rainie in his article, “The buried sounds of children crying,” U.S. News & World Report, May 1, 1995).

FirelightRed Cross worker, Jennifer Harrison said, “As we helped people on the street, we could hear children crying, like blowing in the wind. You couldn’t see them, You just hear their voices.”

My memory often replays the scene some years ago when I stood by the side of a young mother as she stood by a small white casket. Her baby son, a victim of SIDS, lay inside looking as though he were sleeping. She stood weeping and repeating over and over, “I want him back so badly, I want him back so badly.”

Recently, I held a piece of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in my hands and when I listened quietly, it seems I could hear children crying, children from yesterday, children from today, and children from tomorrow.

ConcernedRichard C.Lukas in his book, Did the Children Cry, says that during the Holocaust of the Nazis there were one thousand empty prams every day. During one forty-seven day period in late 1944 and early 1945, the Germans shipped from Auschwitz to Germany almost one hundred thousand sets of children’s clothing.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor, prayed next to the rubble of Crematorius II and said, “Remember the nocturnal processions of children and more children and more children, frightened, quiet and so beautiful. If we could simply look at one, our hearts would break.”

If you visit, as I have, the memorial Yad Vashemin in Jerusalem you will find two buildings. One called the Hall of Remembrance, the other is the Children’s Memorial.

You enter the Children’s Memorial through a cave-like entrance. The light is dim inside, but there are no steps and the railings will guide you. Photography is not allowed.

Of six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in World War II, one and a half million were children.

Babe In ArmsIn trying to do the seemingly impossible to convey the enormity of the loss without numbing the viewer’s emotions or loosing sight of the victim’s individuality—architect Moshe Safdie found an ingenious solution. He used five candles and five hundred mirrors to create an infinity of living flames in the darkness, while recorded narrators intoned the names, ages and countries of origin of known victims.

The effect is electrifying.

Those were horrible dark days of history in our world.

But as much as this horrible thing hurts to think about and as Elie Wiesel said, “If we could simply look at one, our hearts would break.” There is nothing, but nothing, we can do for those children. There is nothing, but nothing, we can do for the children of yesterday.

More than thirty years ago on a cold February morning, my friend, Donna, climbed the steps to my front door and placed her three-day-old son, David, in my arms. Donna had just been diagnosed with Hotchkins Disease and was on her way to treatment three hundred miles away in Vancouver. Already she was hemorrhaging blood with the violent coughing spells that racked her body. So Donna didn’t know when or if she would be able to return for David.

As she placed her precious treasure in my arms, her eyes met mine with the unspoken words, “love him, oh so tenderly.”

Old Man and the FutureI pledged in that moment to give him the best care I possibly could give, to give him love by touch and to talk to him as mother’s do to their babies, to curl his little fingers around my finger as I fed him every few hours. I tried to do this as if he were my own child.

In time, Donna received treatment nearby and was able to see David more often. That was more than thirty years ago, and Donna is still living today in British Columbia.

Did I have a unique opportunity to show love to David for a short time? Yes, but so do we all have these opportunities if we are watching and listening (just maybe not always so dramatic). God is placing babies in our arms every day—our own children, our grandchildren, children in our church families, children next door. We must begin now to pledge our very best care to them. They belong to God and we are responsible for their faith. We must do something to make a difference for our children of today and tomorrow.

Someone has said that the reasons so many of our children are in trouble would take a sociologist to explain, but that doesn’t really matter because by the time we figure it out, they’ll be lost. What matters is that many can be saved, and by such a simple remedy: one adult to care about one child, to become involved in his or her life, to love and support the child and most of all to model Christ and how life can be lived in the faith. Then, and only then, will they know the joy of a relationship with God.

A Child Among The TentsVictor Hugo in Les Miserables, says “One shining light can change the world.”

When I look back in my own life to those who had a part in shaping who I am, I remember and old man always immaculately dressed. He always walked into our church building and took his seat on the front row. His very presence made you feel you were in the presence of someone who commanded respect. As much as I can remember, Brother Sweat never gave me advice or taught my Sunday school class. I think he did often lead a congregational prayer, but I can’t remember what he prayed about. Nevertheless, he had an influence on my life. He was one shining light who helped change my world.

In remembering the children of yesterday, I challenge you today to be that shining light, that “Cry Man” to those for whom we can indeed make a difference: our children of today and tomorrow.New Wineskins

Carolyn AndersonCarolyn has been a partner in ministry with her husband, Lynn, for forty-eight years. They live in San Antonio, Texas. Carolyn and Lynn have four grown children and eight grandchildren (ages 8-22). Today they minister through Hope Network, mentoring & equiping church leaders.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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