Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Teaching Children Diversity

On a flight from Atlanta to Paris, a seatmate and I intermittently talked books for nine hours. I was woefully embarrassed by how illiterate I sounded, for time and again I had to answer “no” to her queries of “Have you read this?” Finally, determined to join the real literary world, I grabbed my notebook to record the titles she threw at me as fast as a batting machine. My face flushed with embarrassment when I shared the list with my daughters, “Oh I’ve heard of that one,” they repeated.

As I started to read books from my list, I curiously noted a recurring theme. The books the world currently considers as hot titles often deal with cross-cultural osmosis, tales of how Americans grew in their understanding and appreciation for other cultures and religions It made sense. For the last twenty years, my children have been inundated in public schools and universities with diversity training. Intellectuals seem eager for us to understand and accept each other so we can become tolerant of differences be they cultural, religious or lifestyle preferences. The flaw in their thinking, however, is that Christianity is the one world view which is not tolerated. The author of “Three Cups of Tea” seems to delight in showing how the son of Lutheran missionaries humbly asked a Muslim man to teach him how to pray to Allah. In the Introduction to “Eat, Pray, Love,” the author is quick to point out that the beads the yogis of India wear to pray over and seek balance morphed into the rosary beads used by Catholics. They are quiet little put downs of Christianity, but they are there. The subtle message is: other worldviews are better, older, wiser and you ought to come over to our side. The prejudice seems to stem from a mindset that Christians are narrow minded, bigoted, intolerant people themselves. What do you do with a group of people who hold to their teacher’s claim, “No one comes to the Father but by me (John 14:6).”

The craze for tolerance finally caught up with the world when a lone gunman took down almost fifty people at the Fort Hood Army post. The military had seen signs for months of the man’s radical Islamic tendencies yet nothing was done. Why? We need to be tolerant and politically correct, don’t we?

Is tolerance all bad? Shouldn’t we teach our children to be accepting of those different from us? How can Christians adhere to the truth of the Bible while still being accepting of others and their differences? Finally, how do I translate these big philosophical ideas into practical teaching for the children I lead?

First, we can look to Jesus. As the only Way, Truth and Life, Jesus chose to associate with all kinds of people. He touched lepers. He dined with tax collectors. He let loose women kiss his feet in love and repentance. He walked outside his cultural norms to heal demon-crazed men and children of Gentile women. Jesus did not isolate himself with his convenient, comfortable group. He mingled with the masses and was willing to soil Himself with their dirt. Yet, He never let go of His purpose and of the Truth. He was willing to die for the fact that man needed to reestablish his relationship with God and there was only one way to get the job done.

Also, we need to realize that the world wants to pull Christianity down so they paint this picture of intolerant, judgmental, Pharisaical critics. Instead of buying into the picture they’ve painted of us, let’s hold our heads high and show the world what we are really like. Yes, we need to cross cultural and lifestyle barriers but our goals and motives are different than those promoted by the secular intelligencia. Our goal is to change hearts, not culture. Our goal is to give the hope of heaven, not to make people’s lives a hell on earth. Our motive is love, not selfishness, greed or power. Our method is one hundred acts of kindness that spell acceptance and promote a higher, better way to live.

So how do we teach diversity and tolerance from a Christian world view to our children?

Teach the truth. Help your students establish a sound moral compass, that they know intuitively what is right and what is wrong.

Teach children the character trait of kindness. Lead them in service projects that help them rub shoulders with all kinds of people.

Talk often of the hope you have in heaven, in God’s power to save, protect and provide. Build your student’s confidence not just in their own abilities but confidence in a God who can do anything and who delights to use them as messengers of His memorandum of love and forgiveness.

Teach by example. Love your kids. Show interest in them. Let them know you love them in spite of what they do. Have zero tolerance for bad behavior, but stand firm on one hundred percent tolerance for the individual. In other words, “hate the sin; love the sinner.”

I think of the grandmother who recently took her pregnant granddaughter and the boyfriend into her home. She’s just loving them, providing for their needs. She could shake her finger in their faces, telling them what a mess they’ve made of their lives, but she didn’t need to do that – they’ve already heard it from other relatives. Behind her bedroom door, she prays for them. She looks for open doors to share her faith with them. Her church group is providing Christmas gifts for them. And slowly the doors of change are opening. One day the boyfriend asked her to pray for him and she assured that she prays for him on a regular basis. This grandmother is showing tolerance but her goal is, through love and kindness, to bring about change and to present two more lives at Heaven’s gates.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Children's Ministry and Thanksgiving

A friend sent me a cute email this week. It told the story of a man who visited heaven. The angel guide took him first to a large room. “This is the receiving room where prayer requests are received.” Volumes of paper and a large group of scurrying angels worked hard to process all those prayer requests. Then the angel took him to another large room, called the “Packaging and Delivery Room.” In this room, all the blessings people asked for were packaged up for delivery.

The angel took the man down the hall to a final room. Maybe you are already anticipating the end of the story. Yes, this room was quite small. It was the “Acknowledgement Room.” Why so small? Because very few people acknowledged the blessings they had received.

My recent visit with bible students from Central Asia made me aware of how many blessings I have as a Christian educator that I didn’t even ask for, yet God has graciously given them to me. As we approach the Thanksgiving season, I’d like to challenge you. What are you thankful for in your children’s ministry? What can you tell God “thank you” for regarding your church?

Here is my list.
1. Freedom to teach, sing and pray aloud without fear of harassment or arrest.
2. Support of the church leadership.
3. Three fantastic, dedicated women who share the work of Junior Church with me.
4. A cabinet full of supplies – more than just crayons and paper, too.
5. Children who want to learn about God.
6. Children who can read! That makes my job simpler in teaching bible verses. Many children in the world cannot read.
7. A nice big room that serves as our classroom.
8. Wonderful, bible based curriculum.
9. My own good health that allows me to be able to teach.
10. Children who come to church with full tummies, warm clothes and good health.
11. Children, who in spite of all the choices our modern society has to offer that would distract them, have chosen to come to church to learn about Jesus.
12. The stack of Bibles in my room from which children can read for themselves about Jesus’ love and sacrifice for them.
13. The training I’ve had to be able to teach these children.
14. A loving supportive family who smiles at my crazy teaching ideas and takes me shopping to get the supplies I need to carry them off.
15. Two children who have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ in the last six months.

There’s so much more I could add. Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment, telling us what you are thankful in your children’s ministry.