The Child as a Partner in Mission

The past decade has seen a significant awakening on the biblical and strategic importance and potential of children and youth as both objects of and agents for world transformation. A wealth of new initiatives and publications has raised awareness of the needs, the promise and the possibilities represented by this large, needy and receptive ‘people group.’

Author: 

Bambang Budijanto

Bambang is the Founder and Executive Director of the Pesat Foundation in Indonesia and was the Founder and Director of the Institute for Community and Development Studies.

He currently serves on the boards of the Pesat Foundation, the Institute for Community and Development Studies, the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, and the Consortium for Graduate Programs in Christian Studies. 

Bambang received his Ph.D. from the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and the University of Wales. 

Christian literature is welcoming the emergence of this new discourse with enthusiasm. Churches are being challenged to engage with children both inside and outside the walls of the church, especially those who live in poverty, oppression, abuse and exploitation. Increasing numbers books and other resources offer new and profound insights into the topics of children and childhood in the Bible, child theology, children and mission, and children and leadership.
 Toward the last part of the 1990s and early 2000s the Church witnessed the birth of several major initiatives, commitments and movements for and on behalf of Children, especially those who are at high risk. Among them were Viva networks for Children at Risk and their Cutting Edges Conferences, the Oxford Statement of Children at Risk in 1997, the Godly Play Initiative (1997), the Holistic Child Development Program in Penang, Malaysia begun in 2001, the Child Theology Movement which was also born in Penang, Malaysia in 2002 and followed by numerous Child Theology Consultations in many areas of the world.

Children’s Church Movement, Children’s Prayer Movements, Children’s Spirituality Conference in June 2009, the Transform World 4-14 window initiative inSeptember 2009, and more. 
 Each of these movements and initiatives has grown significantly in the past decade. The Viva Networks have worked with more than 85 network initiatives in 40 countries, helping 1.2 million children. The Holistic Child Development (HCD) graduate program, begun in the Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary in Penang, Malaysia in 2001, is now been fully or partly adopted by and associated with some 120 seminaries in 65 countries globally.
 Of course, there is nothing new with Christians and Christian organizations caring for children in poverty and orphans. The Roman Catholic Church, Salvation Army and Organizations such as Compassion International and World Vision have been caring for children in poverty and orphans for a long time.

What is new though the awakening in the past decade, is a better understanding of the biblical significance of children and of God’s heart for children, including their role as ‘signs’ of the Kingdom. 
 There is also a much greater awareness of the receptivity of children and youth, and of their potential as a force for mission and transformation. And, there is more attention, responsiveness and commitment on the part of churches (and seminaries) to care holistically for children, and to tap into their capacities, abilities, promise and possibilities.

Biblical Stories

Awareness of the potential of children and young people have led many people to begin reading Scripture differently – with the child in focus. Many passages, long overlooked, are found to include children in significant ways, often as important change agents, and often in roles where adults and even nations are influenced or transformed. 
 While readers have often disregarded passages highlighting children, it seems that they have never been insignificant in God’s scheme of things. God has always had heart for children. And He has always had a high regard for the capacity of children to understand the faith, and viewed them as willing and gifted instruments for revitalization and renewal.

A few instances will hint at the wealth of biblical material now being revisited.

The Young Slave Girl

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel . . .” (2 Kings 5:13-15)  This surely is one of the great world mission passages of the Old Testament. Jesus made a reference to this story in his sermon early in his ministry days, delivered at his hometown, Nazareth (Luke 4: 47).

The output of the counsel given by the young captive girl to Naaman and his wife was Naaman’s miraculous healing. The outcome of the healing was the acknowledgement by this great Aram Commander, that Yahweh is the only God in the whole world. This confession formed the core of the Israelites’ confession of faith (Deuteronomy 6: 4-6). And surely getting the peoples’ of the earth to have make the same “Now I know!” declaration that Naaman made, is even today what our missionary enterprise activity is all about.

It would be great if we had the record of how this life changing experience and confession impact Naaman’s family, and on Ben-hadad II, the King of Aram, his vast army, and the people of Aram as a whole. Did it have an impact on the relationship and My wife’s latest nagging has been for me to get a hobby, so I began looking up the finest drone brands like I did when I was a teen so I could get into RC planes again or just flying drones, I even went looking for the best drones under 200 luckily I found a site when they sell it right in Rotor Copters. After a while I got into photography drone flying and found out that there’s a whole world about gopro drones, such as the DJI with their various models.

Unfortunately we do not have such record at hand, but the author of the 2 Kings later recognized Naaman as a great man, courageous soldier, a man highly respected and the instrument in God’s hands. Through Naaman’s leadership God gave victory to Aram.
 An Israelite young captive girl initiated the whole episode. She had certainly acquainted herself with the things of God and the ministry Elisha was undertaking. The fact that Naaman, the second person in command in Aram listened to her the first place is remarkable. As Esther Menn notes, this narrative presents a sustained and ironic contrast between what appears “big” and important, and what appears “small” and insignificant.”

We do not know her name, her exact age, what happened with her parents and siblings when she was captured, how long she served Naaman’s wife. “…the child in introduced simply as “little,” as if that is the one thing that matters, her smallness in the midst of everything might, powerful, and gross.
 Naaman and his wife listened to this young slave girl and seek permission from the King. The King of Aram elevated the little girl’s suggestion into something of an international crisis when he sought to turn it into an economic and political transaction, but he wisely chose to believe the information given by this young girl and encouraged Naaman to take the the journey to Israel.

If not for this girl’s spiritual insight and courage to counsel the great general, Naaman would have gone home the same person, with leprosy all over his body. If not compassionate determination of the little girl to see the great general of Aram experience holistic transformation, the enmity between the two nations, Aram and Israel might have deepened. Indeed who knows how many people and children might have died and suffered had there been war between them.

The little girl’s knowledge and faith in Yahweh and her familiarity with the work of God through his servant, Elisha were two things which enabled her to significantly impact her nation and generation, even while she was still very young. Even living in foreign land with a low social status and limited freedom, this young girl was able to make impact that lead toward holistic transformation in the life of Naaman and his family which potentially creating reconciliation and peace between two hostile nations.

Josiah, the greatest King and reformer
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left (2 Chronicles 34:1-2).  Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did–with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses (2 Kings 23:25)

Josiah became the 16th king of Judah when he was only 8 years old. The author of the 2nd Kings considered him a great reformer and the most committed King in Israel’s History. By the time he was 16 years old, he began to seek the Lord and commit to serve Him wholeheartedly. In the years that followed Josiah purged the land of Israel and removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites (2 Chronicles 34: 3-7, 33).

His walk with his God from a very young age allowed him to accomplish wonderful things for his people. During his reign he restored the temple of God and renewed the covenant between the people of Israel and God. 
 He humbled himself and repented on behalf of the nation of Israel, igniting a significant spiritual revival among the people. The author of 2nd Chronicles sums up his greatest accomplishment: “He had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:33).

Saving the day
There are many biblical accounts of God using children and young people to save the multitudes and even nations in very critical times in history. The story of the young and relatively unknown David defeating Goliath and saving the nation in one of Israel’s most humiliating days is one great example. If it was not for David, Israel would have had fallen in the hands of the Philistines.
Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:33)

Another teenage orphan girl in captivity, Hadassah or Esther, who selflessly and courageously saved her people from extinction, continues to be remembered by the Jews even today, as they celebrate the Purim (Esther 9: 29-32).

In the New Testament, as God uses a young boy with five loaves of bread and two small fish to feed five thousands men (excluding women and children) he illustrates compassion for the needy and makes a resounding statement about faith and resourcefulness.  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:8-9)

Children welcomed and deployed for service.

Such biblical examples of God deploying children in His service could be repeated at length. Moreover reading Scripture with the child in focus shows vividly that God values children, accepts their worship, and doesn’t hesitate to deploy them to stimulate faith and obedience in children and adults alike. For example:

    • The story of Samuel gives a picture of God speaking directly to a child (1 Samuel 3) and then through him, demonstrating that God does not use only adults.
    • Jesus own spiritual growth as a boy of 12 years involved participation including interacting, listening and asking questions among the teachers in the temple courts in Jerusalem.
    • Jesus underscored the ability of children to comprehend spiritual matters when he praised God the Father for revealing such truths to “little children” (Matt.11).
    • Jesus rebuked the chief priests and teachers of the law for questioning children’s participation in worship and their perceptive recognition of Jesus as they sang “Hosanna to the Son of David” quoting from Psalm 8 “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise” (Matt.21 cf.Ps.8).

Surely children are both present and prominent throughout Scripture, and fully a part of God’s redemption and redeeming plan. Many people view children with a perspective of the future as if they are persons in the making. The Bible however, sees children and youth as full and complete person both now and in the future. God relates, engages and uses children in many of the same ways he uses adults. It may be argued that Children have even better capacity than adults to relate to and engage with God. Indeed, Jesus asked the disciples to learn from children on how to relate to the truth, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)

Children and transformation
It is not only in biblical times that God has deployed children as his willing instruments. Throughout Christian history God has always used children. In great historical revivals of John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, D.L. Moody, the French Huguenots and others, children played significant roles and active participants. The role and form of their engagement varies over time but even today, God continues to use children in a significant ways. Go to the aimlowerjournal .com website to discover stories that are illustrative of the significant roles children and youth are playing today in mission and transformation.

Both the biblical studies and the contemporary case studies illustrate the timeless principle of biblical wisdom, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). 
 Human mental, personality, and identity are mostly formed during early childhood. Significantly, faith formation and faith decisions are also most often made in early years. In the mid-nineties, Bryant L. Myers published research which reveals that nearly eighty-five percent of people, who make a decision for Christ, do so between the age of four and fourteen. 
 Dan Brewster and others began in 1996 referring to that “window of receptivity” as the 4/14 Window. During the 20th century, children and early teenagers at this age bracket represented the single largest source of new believers for the American Church.

The Journal Ministry Today (January-February 2008) extensively reported a new movement of Church engagement with children both in the US and abroad. An increasing numbers of local churches across nations are recognising that children have far more spiritual potential than church leaders had realised. 
 This new awareness is igniting a spiritual revolution in these churches. Many children and young people are no longer coming to church only to be entertained. Rather, given an opportunity and a challenge, they come to worship, contribute and be equipped for the ministry. Children are no longer seen as primarily the “mission field” but as effective agents of mission (http://www.ministrytodaymag.com).

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