This past Easter Sunday, the world was stunned to hear that terrorists in Sri Lanka coordinated an attack on three Christians churches and three hotels, culminating in 253 deaths and injuring over 500 individuals. See the full Wikipedia article here.
Moments before the bomb blast occurred at the Zion Church in Batticaloa, a Sunday School teacher had asked her class of children, “How many of you would be willing to die for Christ?” Every single child raised their hand. Moments later, after the children left the Sunday School area to join the main service, the bomb blast killed 22 of those children on the spot. See the FoxNews report here.
As sobering as this is to many in the Christian arena, this is personal to me.
Fifteen years ago, I had the privilege to write two 52-lesson curriculum guides for the Salvation Army Eastern Territory. The guides would be used in their Sonday’sCool after school program that targeted neighborhood children from underprivileged backgrounds and who had little or no knowledge about Jesus. My task was to write material stripped of middle-class overtures, easy to prepare, simple, inexpensive supplies, and assumed the children had no faith background. I loved the challenge!
Much to my surprise and delight, the material was translated into Tagalog and Spanish, and used beyond the Northeast quadrant of the United States. But God was not done with it yet. Over the next ten years, missionary friends serving in three different fields expressed dismay to me at their inability to find solid Bible curriculum for the children they were trying to reach. “Everything is so Americanized,” one complained.
Enthusiastic for the potential of the Salvation Army material, I told my friends about Sonday’sCool. They caught my enthusiasm and purchased the material.
A couple of years later, the missionary from Sri Lanka came to speak at our church. During his report, he told how a lay leader in one of the area churches was translating and training teachers to use the material I had written. “Right now,” he said, “we’re teaching 700 children a week using Karen’s material.”
God had used me as a missionary in Sri Lanka!
In 1984, I had committed myself to foreign mission work. Yet it never happened. Instead, I married a minister, raised two girls, and followed the opening doors of working in children’s ministry and writing. That included 25 years of producing Christian education curriculum. How thrilling to see how God had used me to be a missionary in ways I could never have planned. My work was reaching far more children with the Gospel message than I could have ever reached had I personally gone to foreign soil.
The news of the Easter Sunday bombings made me pause. While my material is being used on the Eastern side of Sri Lanka and the bombings happened on the western side, Sri Lanka is a small island. Religious tensions are high everywhere. Our missionary friends tell of the constant, almost demonic, opposition they face daily in their efforts to share the Gospel message. The news reports cast a vision of the high cost of discipleship for these people. The story of the children’s willingness to give up their lives for the sake of Jesus showed me what I am asking these children to do when I present the message of salvation to them.
Is it worth it?
Is the message about Jesus important enough to teach children who may die if they buy into it? Oh, yes it is. It is worth it. That’s how important the message about the cross is.
It makes me think about a story in a Voice of the Martyrs magazine that told how three children’s Sunday School teachers in Indonesia were arrested simply for the crime of teaching Sunday School. Which of us in the States would teach children about Jesus if we knew our freedom and our lives were on the line? Would we teach, knowing our children might die for accepting our teaching? Would we teach, knowing we ran the risk of personal imprisonment, torture, and even death for doing so?
How would a group of children in America respond to such a question, “Would you be willing to die for Christ?” I look at the group of children my local congregation currently serves. Some children are more interested in being first in the snack line than listening to the day’s video. One child asked if it was okay to believe in God without believing in the Bible. Where are we failing? I asked myself. How can we show our children that believing in Jesus can be a matter of life and death, yet it’s worth it. How can we reach their hearts?
The stakes in America aren’t as high as they are in Sri Lanka. Or are they?
A mom of a special needs child told me her daughter was in danger of suspension for expressing her opinion about homosexuality. A third-grade teacher became agitated when the Baptist minister’s son in my daughter’s class argued with her about the theory of evolution.
If you have any contact with children in the church or in your family, I want to challenge you to raise the bar. Get serious about what you are teaching them about Jesus. Don’t be afraid to start young. If school districts can start teaching in kindergarten about the LGBT lifestyle, then we can teach the deeper facts of living for Jesus. We cannot leave it to the schools to teach the difference between right and wrong. Parents can’t even depend on the church to instill values into our children, especially when they fail to be rigorous in ensuring their children attend on a consistent basis. Faith building must start at home.
I remember reading once that children of the past generation in the Communist USSR had to have a firm foundation of faith before they entered kindergarten; otherwise, the Communist-run schools would sweep them into atheism. Is it becoming any different in our society today? Instead of wringing our hands at the way society pulls at our children’s faith, let’s step up to the line, dig in our heels, let go of the distractions of our materialistic society, and get serious about teaching our children the faith of the Bible.
Even if they may suffer for what they believe?
Yes, even if. Because it’s worth it.
How do we raise the bar for our children?
I don’t have any easy answers of how to call our kids to a greater commitment to Christ. Maybe you do. But three Bible verses come to mind:
“Redeeming the time because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:16
We need to make every moment count when we teach our kids. We have so little time when the children are with us. Let’s not waste the moments with busy work that has nothing to do with the lesson. Let’s make our teaching more than merely Bible facts. Tell your kids how Jesus has made a difference in your life.
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” – I Thessalonians 5:14
Change is not instantaneous. If the children aren’t listening to you, don’t give up.Keep teaching. Be patient. You may never know just how much your words and life are influencing those who are watching.
“. . . train yourself to be godly.” 1 Timothy 4:7
Let’s take a good hard look at our own depth of faith. If we aren’t godly, we cannot expect our children to be godly. It starts with us. They will learn by our example. Our priorities will become their priorities.
How do you need to become more serious about your faith in Christ? How do you need to become more bold in how you train and influence the children you know?