This Sunday we celebrate the Children’s Sabbath during the traditional service. It is a great Sunday for the church as the children take over parts of the service and share their gifts with us.
I was introduced to the Children’s Sabbath about 9 years ago when my then Christian Educator said that it was an important recognition of the needs children face throughout the world. As I read through some of the materials from the official Children’s Sabbath site, the Children’s Defense Fund, I was amazed at some of the issues that children have to deal with, and the increasing needs of Children in the world and even in our country.
A few years after celebrating my first Children’s Sabbath I had the opportunity to study at the United Nations looking into issues pertaining to children. In many ways this was an eye-opening experience. While I knew almost everything that we talked about existed, I did not know the reality of the extent. From trafficking to malnutrition, there are many issues our children face. But what was really interesting was what a person from UNICEF said in their presentation.
“Children are the outliers in society. They are the first to reap the results of poverty, unrest, and social turmoil. As a result they are often the first to be enslaved, hunger, get sick, and even die. But this is not only a problem for the children, but because they are the most vulnerable, that is where this is seen first; eventually whatever is going on, be it unrest, poverty . . . , will be felt by everyone, so if you work to remedy the children, you are actually working to fix the whole community.”
I found that to be a moving and important quote because often people wonder why we might spend so much time working on issues related to children. The reason is simple, and it is not so much that we have a strong future, it is that children tell us a lot about where we are today.
One of the UN hunger agencies did another interesting presentation durring my time at the UN. A few years before the class I took at the UN, the UN had classified obesity as a form of malnutrition. This was a big move, because in the United States we have created systems for people to get food; however, the food many children get is not healthy, being overly processed, high in sugars and other additives.
While they may be getting enough to eat, what studies suggested was that obese children showed many of the same traits as the children who went without enough to eat. For me this was a big thing, having spent a great deal of my life unable to eat for medical reasons. I can understand how much more difficult malnutrition is for learning, playing, and, well, every aspect of a child’s life.
When we look at many of the inner city communities in our country, often labeled as food deserts, we see much bigger problems arising. Beyond just the issues of malnutrition, we see growing levels of human trafficking, not just from outside the US, but within, and we are beginning to see a separation between the haves and have-nots that is greater than it was at the time of the Great Depression. All of this is pointing to us needing to pay attention.
One of the most important places to pay attention first is with our children. When we listen to them and learn from them we can begin to understand the needs of our community better. While our children are not going to talk about most of the things I spoke of in this article, they are going to be sharing their faith and understandings about God with us. If we listen to them, maybe you will learn a bit more about your faith and, more importantly, you will begin to see how they are a marker for where we are as a community.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen