Finding the invisible children
Churches often say to me, "We don't have any children...there aren't any around." My response to them is, “Look! They are there. The question is, ‘Do you want to see them?’"
I call them "the invisible children" because the church often chooses not to see them. Why? It is simple. The church is looking for children and families who wear nice clothes, talk like "we talk", live in a house without junk piled in the yard, go to work, stay out of the local bars, aren’t living on welfare or "shacking up," and the list goes on and on.
We have to pray and ask God to give us unconditional love. It is then, and only then, that we will begin to see "the invisible children." It is then, and only then, that we will begin to love as Jesus loves us.
This is where you, as a Sunday school teacher, come in. Yes, you must prepare the lesson and offer an inviting classroom, but more importantly, you must reach out, locate the children and then be willing to provide transportation for them. The "invisible children" are from unchurched homes, which means they have little or no support to attend church.
Once you find the children and then get them to class, be prepared for a negative response from some of the congregation. For example, at a country church some years ago, God vividly showed me the children were around but not a part of the congregation. I brought the subject up at an administrative board meeting and suggested that we should start picking up the children. An elderly lady quickly responded, "but Peggy, that is the parents responsibility to get those kids to church." I agreed and then said, “The fact is, I am only accountable to God for myself, not those parents. The children are out there; what is this church going to do about it?"
We began picking up the children, and Sunday school started for the first time in years. Was it easy? Of course not! One Sunday one lady approached me saying, "Peggy, do you realize Jason arrives every morning and then runs to the basement and throws open the refrigerator door looking for food. You have to stop that."
I smiled and said, “Maybe we should think about having breakfast for the kids because these are children who haven't had much to eat since they got out of school on Friday." The following Sunday an elderly man started fixing toast and peanut butter, juice, and dry cereal for the kids. It became his mission every week. He was needed and oh, how happy it made the children.
One summer I was teaching VBS in a small rural church and the lesson was Jesus, the good shepherd. John 10:9 says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture."
My class was reading that passage, and I stopped them and said, "What does that mean, ‘I am the gate"? One little boy said, “isn't it talking about Jesus?” We then had a discussion about Jesus being our way to heaven and what the means. There was an eleven-year-old girl sitting beside me (the only girl in class), and she looked at me and said, "I want to know I will be with Jesus in heaven." So right there in the VBS class, with six other little boys watching, that little girl bowed her head and invited Jesus into her heart! An invisible child, with parents who weren’t attending church, gave her life to Jesus. What if that church had chosen not to see her, not to want her, not to love and include her?
As a teacher, you have that choice. You can choose to see those who are invisible to many. You can choose to invite, you can love, you can teach and you can give them the opportunity to learn about, love and accept Christ.
Think about it. That is what Jesus did, and that is what we are called to do also. Yes, you need tools—good curriculum, fun things to do, snacks—but the most important tool you will ever have is unconditional love! It is available, free for the asking.
Someone once told me, when you say yes to God, you had better hang on. Well, when you are asked to love unconditionally you had better hang on, because God will take you to places and situations you never imagined.
One year, I was directing a VBS in a poverty-stricken trailer court. We had 28 children, many who were Hispanic. It was a fun week of teaching, loving, music and crafts. On the final day, we planned a parade through the park with a lunch following. We made flyers and sent them home with the kids to invite neighbors and families. The parade was a great success, and many adults came back to share in the lunch. Soon it was time to leave. The volunteers packed my van, cleaned up and were on their way.
I was getting into the van when I saw a young man standing around. He looked different from our "church people." You see, he wasn't very clean, had many tattoos, a bandana around his long hair. He would certainly stand out in most of our mainline congregations. I shut my van off and started over to where he was and asked, "Can I help you?" This young man (30 or so) looked me square in the eye and said, "Well, I just wanted to tell you that this is the first time I have ever been in church.”
Church? Church? Do you remember where I was? In a trailer court? There was no organ or piano, no pews, and no stained glass windows! But there were plenty of hearts filled with God's unconditional love, and as a result, that young man felt God's presence right there in the Hidden Valley Trailer Park. And it all started because we chose not to ignore the invisible children.
These are God's children we are talking about. Children who are living right in our midst. Children who may never hear about God's saving love and grace or see the inside of a Bible or church unless we reach out to them. It takes hard work and the willingness to change and to love others where they are and as they are. But remember, God is the God of all people. So, I challenge you to pray, ask God to open your eyes and then hang on, because God will answer that prayer, and I guarantee you will be in for an amazing adventure!
~This article originally appeared in Children's Teacher, Summer 2007; reprinted in Ministry Matters, a resource of The United Methodist Publishing House