When I was a Children’s Minister, along with leaders, we took kids to camp every summer. Some years, I also went as a leader to the student ministry camps. We would pack up the kids (or teens) and off we went for a week to camp each summer. I admit these weeks were highlights of my ministry! I looked forward to them every year!
Some kids and teens came from homes filled with love and peace; others came from homes with much friction and discord. It was the kids and teens who came from the latter that seemed to love camp the most. Yes, all the kids loved it, but the ones who came from loving homes were more homesick, whereas the ones who came from homes with strife, loved being away. It was a week of total peace for them. It was a time where leaders cared for, listened to, and enjoyed them. They felt special; they mattered. They had hope, even if it was but a glimmer.
Many of them (kids from loving homes and troubled ones) found Christ as their Savior! Honestly, my favorite part of the whole week was to lead a child or teen to the Lord!
As camp came to an end, I watched the children coming from difficult homes become anxious. At the beginning of the week, you could see them relax. However, when the time to return home came closer, worries plagued their thoughts. Almost all of them voiced they didn’t want to leave camp. They wanted to stay forever, even live there! Their fears broke my heart. I always wanted to take them to our home!
In the meantime, the kids who had loving homes knew their parents were looking forward to their return. They knew the same attention they got at camp would continue.
Children Face Hardships Too
Children, like adults, face their own suffering, trials, struggles, and fears. The news is easily accessed these days, and most of it is terrible news. Schools are not as safe as they once were. There is always this overshadowing dread that a shooter might come into the school and kill everyone. Then there is the teasing and bullying that children must navigate while in school and on the bus. The high academic expectations and extra-curricular activities are enough to create overwhelming stress for kids; having to deal with life and death uncertainties just makes the burden heavier.
No wonder kids are suffering from anxieties, nightmares, pressures, and fears. Our world today gives them a reason for concern.
You wonder, how can kids get through their childhood with any peace?
When a child’s home encompasses genuine love, one that supports and encourages each member of the family, the child musters the strength and courage to face a dark and sinful world. For one, they know they can leave the world behind when they come home. They find rest from it all. They breathe in the wonder of childhood, embrace family unity, and snuggle up in the calm of home. Do these homes have troubles? Of course, they do. But the problems are handled with respect, love, and maturity. Are these homes perfect? No. But when one is wrong, sincere apologies are expressed. Are mom and dad always happy with each other? No. Arguments still exist, but restoration is modeled.
A troubled home is one where children are emotionally, and in some cases, physically uncared for; many kids fend for themselves and are left to figure out their emotions alone. This almost never fairs well for them. Children need help developing emotional intelligence.
Life on the outside is uneasy; living at home is just as chaotic. Tensions are high, voices loud, criticisms and fighting are the norms, encouragement is manipulative, and repentance and restoration are nil. Children in these homes are hopeless, for “outside, the sword takes the children; inside, there’s death.” (Lamentations 1:20). With nowhere for them to run and find peace, it is no wonder they long for camp to be home.
As Christians, or leaders in the church, we cannot always fix a child’s home life.
But we can do something to help them!
I want to share some ways we, as a family, helped children who were suffering such as I described. Maybe you can do these too!
I caution you:
It will take time, energy, and emotional strain on your part.
It will also create some discord in your own family that will require ongoing solutions.
It will disrupt your peaceful world.
Your children may even learn a few things you’d wish they never had, and in which you will need to discuss with them!
But then, Jesus’s call to go and make disciples is messy; it can be unsettling.
But as the years pass, you will look back and see the fruit from your family’s participation in the lives of these children and you will praise God for the opportunities!
If you dare to be a family on mission, here are a few suggestions for you:
Pray for the kids and teens daily. Most likely there is no one praying for these children. Your prayers matter. They infuse power into a troubled child’s life and make possible the impossibilities of God.
Be the example. You have an opportunity to show a child living in a challenging home what it looks like to live in a healthy one. Regularly, have them sleep over, eat with you, play games, be a part of your family devotions, and model for them how a home of love does life. In your example, your values can become their values, and your God can become their God.
Bring them to church. If necessary, drive out of the way and pick them up and take them to church. Your children or student ministries can connect these children with a caring small group leader that will walk with them through their troubled life. You are also adding a prayer partner to your family. A church’s support in a child’s life can change the trajectory of their future.
Help them get to camp. Whether you pay for them or not, get help somehow so they can get away. Camp provides kids space for rest, peace, and hope. I’m going to expand this step for you. These kids have amazing experiences at camp. Sadly, they come home to no one who wants to hear about it. Be that person who listens to and rejoices with them about their encounters. Do the follow-up exercises with them as you do them with your kids. As much as is possible for you, be that fill-in parent they desperately need.
Be a safe house. On many occasions, our home was a safe house for kids. One night at 12 am, a young girl of 10 called my daughter and asked if she could come and sleep at our home. She was afraid. Of course, we agreed. After all, we could offer at least one night of peaceful sleep for her. In all honesty, she spent many a night with us. We didn’t know why she was scared, however, years later, we found out, her dad had some sketchy people staying at their house, and they wanted to come into her room and do some despicable things to her. We were that safe place for her. Just so you know, she did get rescued from this home.
Report any unsafe behavior. If you know a child is in danger, report it. If you suspect abuse or threats of any kind and it is in your power to help, call social services so they can assist them.
Being a Christian is to be available wherever God has you. Many homes are troubled and need healing and hope. Some parents are willing for a healthy family to come and intervene. Some parents don’t want any help. However, it’s been my experience, kids in both, do want our help. They want our love. They are hungry to belong. It’s important to accept them!
God is love. The one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. There is no fear found in God’s love; therefore, we can trust where love originates. Unblemished and holy is His compassion for us. And He chooses to exercise His affection through His people. Could it be that Jesus wants you to be His perfect love that casts out the fear a child or teen has in life?
How will you help? What will you do? Be His Love!