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:
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: www.petra.co.za
 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. http://www.dx.doi.org/10.4102/aosis.2016.waccs13.01