By: Jan Grobbelaar

Most people would say they desire that the children around them would be happy, that they would thrive and reach their full potential as human beings. Unfortunately, this does not happen in all contexts or environments in which children grow up. The circumstances they experience hurt many children.

They suffer from the actions of the adults around them. They experience physical and emotional trauma, a severe lack of nurturing love, of enough food and proper shelter. Violence and abuse, even at the hands of the people the nearest to them, are part of their daily lives. They grow up in a world in which they continuously get the message: ‘’Beware. Do not trust other people.’’ The result is that they do not feel welcome in this world. In their communities. In their schools. Even in their homes.

That is why the words of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 18:5 are just as relevant today as it was in the first-century Mediterranean world. The words: ‘’Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me’’. Receive can also be translated with “Welcome”. It is a call to show hospitality to children. The children in your home. In your family. In your street. In school. In the Church. In our communities.

Welcoming children in our context is so important for Jesus, that he added in verse 6: “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Not welcoming children is a significant offence.

Dirkie Smit1, the South African Systematic Theologian from Princeton, stated in this regard:

“Welcoming children into a world, into life itself, in which they learn to trust may therefore be at the heart of the message and ministry of the Church. Failing to welcome children to such a world and to such a life may be a betrayal of the nature and calling of the Church itself.”

Relationship is the key

For Jesus’ followers, it is part of their calling to welcome children.

Smit added to his above statement:

“At the heart of Christian theological perspectives on children may, therefore, be the question of how to welcome children into life in such a way that they develop basic forms of trust, of feeling at home; feeling welcome and being accepted; of experiencing faithfulness and reliability; of knowing reassurance and dependability, of developing towards maturity and well-being.”

How to welcome children in our communities in such a way that they will feel welcome is an important question to ask ourselves every day. Through the years, many answers were provided to this question. In  our day, many organisations offer different frameworks or ways of helping children to thrive in their communities.

There is one common factor in all these advise: relationships.

We have to build positive relationships with children. Excellent, welcoming relationships with adults are crucial in building communities where children will feel welcome and will thrive. Some research suggests that every child need relationships with at least five to six adults outside their immediate family to thrive. Will you be such an adult for a child or even more than one?

Where do we start to build welcoming relationships with children?

There are many answers to this question. Maybe the best way to find some good solutions is to start with the children themselves. Ask this question to the children around you. Ask the children in your home, in your family, in your street, at the school and the Church. Ask them what you can do to let them feel welcome, feel happy, feel comfortable in your presence, in your house, in your classroom, in your community.

When we start to do what the children ask, we shall build communities in which they will feel welcome, in which they will thrive.

Petra Institute: Building communities where children are welcome

Our dream is to see communities where children and adults connect with God and with each other in such a way that all grow together in faith, hope, and love.

We dream of a world where young and old find healing and purpose in Christ, where everyone belongs, is valued and has the freedom to add value. We dream of compassionate, inclusive, just communities where relationships are built on trust and acceptance, where the most vulnerable find protection and the least valued find dignity.

We involve partners in a rolling movement towards the dream. We do it through networking and collaboration, by creating awareness, training and mentoring, consultation, relevant research and development. We start with the partner’s context, needs and goals and equip leaders with the values, skills and knowledge to create welcoming communities, and then equip them with the skills to train others – a cascading community-based process.

To learn more, visit:



[1] P. 3,  Smit, D.J., 2016, ‘Welcoming children? – On building cultures of trust?’, in J. Grobbelaar and G. Breed (eds.), Welcoming Africa’s children – Theological and ministry perspectives, pp. 01-41, AOSIS, Cape Town.


Gerhard and Carmari Strobos, full-time staff members of Petra Institute, moved to Mwanza, Tanzania, in 2015 as part of a partnership between the institute and the Africa Inland Church, Tanzania (AICT).

Carmari and Gerhard Strobos currently reside in Mwanza, Tanzania, as Petra Institute partner representatives for the AICT.

The AICT and Petra Institute partnered as a result of the Advocacy Workshop that Petra Institute presented to the leadership of the church during August 2010. At the end of the workshop, the then archbishop of the AICT, Archbishop Silas Kezakubi, responded:

“We thank the Lord who through His plan made us know each other. We are getting so many benefits by working with Petra Institute. We pray that this relationship will continue to grow.

Allow me to say that children’s ministry remain to be the hope of our church.

We believe that by working with children, we are building a strong church and establishing His kingdom here on the earth. If we neglect the children in our programs, we are actually undermining the church. So, I ask you to help us with this big task of preparing these young men to be strong believers in the future.’’

Carmari writes, “The AICT has an enormous annual camp ministry that has been running for almost 70 years. Our first and chief focus since we moved here in 2015 has been to assist in compiling the programme for the annual weeklong camps that take place across the country every year. We focus on including relationship-building factors, teaching the Bible relevantly to the various age groups between 6 to 13 years, and making play and games part of the learning process. In the last two years, we have included a family element where we invite families to the Sunday services (closing service of the camps) where family-friendly, interactive services have been introduced.

Designing the programme with the national team representing all the regions countrywide is only a small part, as the main aim is training all the teachers that will be teaching at these camps. Between 1 500 – 2 000 teachers are teaching each year and since we cannot train them all, some teachers were equipped to equip others on different levels. Therefore, a selected group are trained as trainers of trainers.

Gerhard and Carmari training AICT Leaders

Apart from the above, we are also doing advocacy on leadership level with bishops and pastors. Gerhard recently started training at the Bible schools, which is a big part of advocating for the very unique, focussed ministry on children which includes families. Ministry (with the AICT local team) to refugee camps and various children’s homes are new opportunities that crossed our paths and continue to do so the past three to five years.

Knowing the language and culture of the people you work with is crucial in gaining their trust and for them to understand what we teach. Gerhard and I are now able to speak the language, and so, even the children.

There are many testimonies of individuals such as pastors and older men who apply what they have learned with their children, grandchildren and kids of neighbours by playing with them and telling stories, and we see how they change. This is unique, as culturally, it is not fitting for older people to play with children.

A pastor playing with children

The camp ministry changed from using visual aids in telling stories. Initially, teachers would spend hours colouring pictures for visual aids, and it also cost so much. However, after they saw how the trainers told stories and how the children enjoyed it, and how they bonded with the children, nobody used visual aids anymore, which saved a lot of time and money.

Over the past years, the camps have grown from around 12 000 children in 2015 to 27 000 children in 2019 that attended the camps countrywide.’’

A pastor acknowledging children and building relationships with them – imagine how it influences their perception of the church and church leaders.

Petra Institute: Training for multiplication

Petra Institute’s training focuses on multiplication – training trainers to train others. Through this, the AICT leaders have acquired many adult training skills that they use to train trainers to train others. Many of them are also involved in other ministries and NGOs where they put to use these skills with great success.

Active partnerships, both with churches and organisations that are working in the context of poverty, emergency, and persecution, are central to our model. We focus on building capacity for children’s ministry within partnerships with denominations or organisations.  T

For more information, please contact


“I have loved you as the Father has loved me. Now continue in my love.’’ (Joh. 15:9)

Absent earthly fathers: the ripples on society

Regarded as the first global study on fatherhood, the SOWF (State of the World’s Fathers) report sites a number of vital facts about the importance of fathers on the development of children’s lives, including:

  • Involved fatherhood helps children thrive.
  • Involved fatherhood allows women and girls to achieve their full potential – now and in future generations.
  • Involved fatherhood makes men happier and healthier.
  • Fathers want to spend more time with their children.
  • Men’s participation and support are urgently needed to ensure that all children are wanted.
  • Men’s greater involvement in care work also brings economic benefits.

Adversely, it has widely been studied and proven that the lack of a father in a child’s life has far-reaching consequences:

This video, titled Black America Needs Fathers, stemming from the current tribulations surrounding the #blacklivesmatter protests, is a powerful testimony to the dire need of fathers in these young lives, and the ripple effect of each generation’s anger upon the next.

Dr Timothy Khoo, former Director of Prison Fellowship International for Asia and the Pacific did research on the main cause of crime in Singapore during the early 1990s. According to his findings, very few of the ‘’traditional’’ explanations for crime (like poverty, joblessness, poor education, insufficient policing or too light sentences) were applicable to Singapore (where job opportunities are plentiful, policing is considered of a high standard and some of the strictest laws are applicable). Yet, in spite of this, Singapore still had 12 000 convicted felons (out of a population of 2.8 million).

His extensive research came to the conclusion that: even though the individual history and circumstances of prisoners differed, they provided feedback on one common feature: at a young age, they had a bad relationship with their dad.

Dr Khoo concluded that the main cause for crime in Singapore was the lack of an  internally strong moral base and the lack of interest of a dad during the age of zero to four years for this moral vacuum, especially if the mother also displayed weak leadership. Turning your back on a life of crime is an internal matter.

Stepping Up

Many movements and organisations around the world also seek to address the challenges of fatherless communities. Take The World Needs a Father (movement) and Growing Up Without A Father (foundation) as examples.

There is also Rob Kenney who was abandoned by his father at 14 years old, who recently became the internet’s dad by offering weekly tutorial videos of basic tasks to help those who don’t have a parent to learn from.

Kenney launched his YouTube channel titled “Dad, how do I?” on 2 April 2020 and already has 2.38 million subscribers.

Relating to a Heavenly Father

According to Dr Khoo who we mentioned above, the most important factor leading to a lifelong rehabilitation is ‘’a true, religious conversion.’’

The father heart of God is that we live out of the security of enjoying his love and in being his children.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

For many coming from fatherless or broken father-child relationships, the concept of a loving Heavenly Father will however be difficult to grasp or embrace. How can we relate to the father heart of God through the lens of a broken or non-existent relationship with our earthly fathers?

The answer lies here: when Jesus returned into heaven, he sent us a Helper. The Holy Spirit not only enables us for the mission of spreading the gospel and walking in holiness, but he is also the bridge between us and God: the One who will miraculously reconnect us to experience a deep loving and intimate relationship with the Father.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John :12)

Petra Institute: Building communities where children are welcome

At Petra Institute, we are not only concerned with the children in the church but especially those outside the church who grow up without hope and love, and who are emotionally wounded, alienated, and lost.

We share God’s desire for the lost and broken children to be found and restored to healing Christian families and communities, to join Him in transforming society.

Active partnerships, both with churches and organisations that are working in the context of poverty, emergency, and persecution, are therefore central to our model. We focus on building capacity for children’s ministry within partnerships with denominations or organisations.  Through the course ‘Entering the World of Children’, children’s ministry workers are equipped to guide children into a relationship with God the Father as their personal Heavenly Father. Through the ‘Helping Children Grow in Faith’ course, children’s ministry workers are equipped to guide children into a deepening relationship with God.

One of our specialised courses, Walking with Wounded Children is designed to equip children’s workers on a fundamental level to help emotionally wounded children.

To learn more about our specialised courses, please visit:



In 1989 something incredible happened. Against the backdrop of a changing world order, world leaders came together and made a historic commitment to the world’s children. They made a promise to every child to protect and fulfil their rights, by adopting an international legal framework – the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Four articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly recognise the spiritual as an element of holistic child development, along with social and moral wellbeing, cultural development, and physical and mental health.

Coincidentally, Petra Institute saw its inception on 1 April of the same year, with a specific calling pertaining to the spiritual element of child development. We have since trained leaders in different aspects of children’s ministry in around 60 countries across the world.

Spirituality and Spiritual Development

In spite of its subjective, vague, personal and difficult to articulate nature, spirituality has been defined as meaning making, feelings of connectedness to others, self, and/or a higher power, as well as a process of searching for meaning and purpose, and the openness to and search for self-transcendence, in which the self is embedded in something greater than the self, including the sacred.

Spiritual development involves the integration of one’s beliefs, value, meaning and self-worth. These are intangible elements such as beliefs about self and others.

The Benefits of Spiritual Development in Children

It equips them for life

According to research done by psychologist Lisa Miller, ‘’children who are raised with a robust and well-developed spiritual life are happier, more optimistic, more thriving, more flexible, and better equipped to deal with life’s ordinary (and even extraordinary) traumas than those who are not.’’

Teenagers, in particular, are exponentially better off if they’re in touch with their spiritual sides — less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, to engage in risky sex, to cope with depression. “In the entire realm of human experience,” Miller writes, “there is no single factor that will protect your adolescent like a personal sense of spirituality.”

It contributes to healthy self-esteem

A deep sense of spirituality creates recognition, within individuals, of a sacred meaning to all of life. This understanding contributes to a feeling of significance of self as well as of others. This includes a healthy view of self, a thoughtfulness, compassion, and empathy for others, and a fundamental consideration for the wellbeing of family and community.

The implications of these views on the individual, family, and society cannot be underestimated.

It cultivates respect for authority

The ability to recognise the existence of a higher power teaches children to place themselves in a position conducive to yielding to proper jurisdictions with respect to the social hierarchies valued within in their cultures. This breeds an understanding of proper boundaries, fulfilling relationships, feelings of personal security, and an ability not only find their proper places in society but to relate to one another in ways that allow them to coexist in a healthy way.

Petra Institute: Building communities where children are welcome

At Petra Institute, we are not only concerned with the children in the church but especially those outside the church who grow up without hope and love, and who are emotionally wounded, alienated, and lost.

We do not see children separate from their environment and therefore focus on building relationships within organisations, families, and the community because the importance of spiritual development as a foundation can simply not be underestimated.

We share God’s desire for the lost and broken children to be found and restored to healing Christian families and communities, to join Him in transforming society.

Active partnerships, both with churches and organisations that are working in the context of poverty, emergency, and persecution, are therefore central to our model. We focus on building capacity for children’s ministry within partnerships with denominations or organisations.

To learn more about our services, please visit:



  • Louca, Eleonora. (2016). Spiritual Development in Children and Adolescents. Weber Psychiatry & Psychology. 2. 556-558.
  • Lisa Miller. (2015). The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving.





DATE: 23 February – 6 March 2020
WHERE: Petra Institute, Numbi Road, White River, Mpumalanga 


The purpose of the course is to provide skills, knowledge and values for Christian faith workers to support emotionally wounded children on a primary level. The course introduces the participants to:
– understanding trauma and its effects and assessing emotionally wounded children
– principles of healing relationships and active listening
– skills and tools to assist in the support of emotionally wounded children
– a theological framework for faith-based psycho-social support of emotionally wounded children


At the end of the training, the participants can:

If you really want to experience what “Relational Children’s Ministry” is about, you should do this course!

Yvonne Chan, Head of Children’s Ministry of the International Baptist Church Singapore, gives feedback after completing the Online Relational Children’s Ministry course:

Yvonne Chan from Singapore shares the value of this course

“Yvonne, if you compare yourself to before you did the course, how would you describe the general growth and changes this course has brought you?”

“I discovered the value of making a conscious effort to create a fun place for our kids to connect with one another and to build relationship. It is not about having difficult activities, but a very simple game or just an “emotional” card that can prepare our kids to receive God’s Word. When we trust God as the master of the plan, a simple game in the beginning of the lesson can make a huge impact.