MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA (March 5, 2015) — Katie and Julio Isaza are Covenant project missionaries helping with local church planting and leadership development. This article, written by Katie, was recently posted on the couple’s blog.
By Katie Isaza
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 18:2-4
This morning both Julio and I held back tears as we watched the morning news. Three brothers (ages three, six, ten) in a small coastal town here were killed by their mother. This in the wake of the news last week of three other children being brutally murdered in what appeared to be an act of revenge against their family. The country has been in mourning for the loss of these lives, and then the news of three more young lives lost too early is brought to our attention today.
The vulnerable, those who need most protection and care, are often those who experience the most violence and abuse. The percentage of children in Colombia who have been abused is staggering. The number of children who have been abandoned by their parents or who have watched as their parents were killed or displaced because of armed conflict is sobering.
This week a number of organizations took to the streets with children to protest the violence that is being done against them. They held signs that said, “Protect me.” “My life matters.” Something is very wrong with this picture. Children should not have to clamor for our protection and care. And yet in our world this is the reality.
There is another reality where children are esteemed, valued, cared for, and listened to. And that is in the Christian community, the body of Christ, the church. Yet even in the church, we sometimes fail our children. Jesus affirmed over and over again the value of children in the kingdom of God, yet even in the body of Christ they can be overlooked and treated as second-class citizens. A worship space is built for adults, but no space is created for the children, and when 15 to 20 children show up on a Sunday morning, they are relegated to a makeshift space outside.
I will never forget how stressful our first year as new missionaries was as we set out with our young children (one and a half and four years old) for worship, only to find there was no space for the littlest children. After an hour of singing and announcements, our four-year-old could go to Sunday school, but our youngest had to stay with us through the rest of the worship service.
I thank God for the friends who saw our struggle as we tried to keep our toddler from running around the worship space and took him onto their laps or walked with him up and down the street outside so we could participate in worship. I looked around and saw that few families with young children attended the church, and after awhile I understood why.
That’s why it’s important for me to celebrate the baby steps churches are taking to include children in worship, to train teachers and volunteers, to equip parents, to offer spiritual mentoring to parents, to offer seminars on how to prevent abuse, and to offer children with the opportunity to participate in the community with their gifts and talents.
As authors Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom and David Bjorlin write in their book, Incorporating Children in Worship, the inclusion of children into the Christian community is a mark of God’s kingdom. It is a sign to the world that the values and priorities of God’s kingdom are different. In God’s kingdom the first shall be last, the least shall be lifted up, and children are blessed. They write, “As a manifestation of the least of these and little ones, children embody the very heart of Jesus’ message in which care for the poor is a distinctive mark of the advancement of God’s kingdom.”
This is a wake-up call for the church. Children are crying out—are we willing to listen and act? Will we stand up and be the community that embraces children? Will we show society that children matter to God, that they are valuable members of both our society and God’s kingdom?