Friday, 27 January 2012

Problem or Purpose & Potential?

Ok - I’m a kid’s worker and I believe in evangelism amongst children. I have a passion to see ALL kids responding to God and growing in faith.
But when we think of evangelism and work with kids, where do those with disabilities and special needs fit in? Are they even part of our thinking when we write our evangelism plans and goals? It is sad that in many churches, children in general are not part of the official outreach programme, but children with special needs and disabilities? Well…….
When we think special Needs and disability, are we tempted to see the problems? Or can we see beyond potential difficulties and see firstly, a child and then the potential for faith and a life lived with God?
It is always a temptation to not see the child, but the diagnosis instead. We’re tempted to recruit people to a problem that needs sorting out rather than asking people to catch the vision for enabling this child to be everything they can be in Christ.
When I run training days, I find people want me to fix the “problem” with a quick fix or a bandage. It takes a long time to shift the focus from ‘problem’ to ‘purpose and potential’
Let’s be realistic here - usually, the only children with disabilities in our children’s work are those whose families are already part of the church family. Our mid week clubs have children with special needs who come from families on the edge of church. With both of these groups - we struggle, so how on earth can we cope with bringing more in? (Rhetorical question!)
As a teenager, and for many years after I worked on a summer camp for children with physical disabilities - I loved it! Many children came to know Jesus in a very real way, but…… Where could they go after camp? For a child with severe cerebral palsy, whose parents don’t want to go to church - how do we get them there, and how do we keep them there? In rare cases - we managed it, but as a rule, we didn’t. 
I’m still in touch with these ‘kids’ - many of whom are now adults. They don’t follow God, some are into “crystals” (One even has an advanced degree in the use of them!) My heart breaks!!! 
So who is reaching out to the disabled and vulnerable kids in our communities?
I’ve already been ‘realistic’ - now I’m going to be brutally honest…… Many of these children have short lives - I’ve been to far too many funerals! Happily, some of those have been for children still walking with God and a huge witness to their friends, but equally - there are so many more who are not in relationship with Christ. These kids have less time to hear the Gospel than others - the need is urgent!
We believe in the Gospel, we believe in spreading it, but do we believe in taking it to some of the most vulnerable kids in our communities - is “The Church” brave enough to step up to the challenge?

Monday, 16 January 2012

It's Good To Be Shy!

Many Children’s workers are either introverts, or shy, or very reserved…. Or any combination of the three - and I think this is good.

So why do folk always think that children’s workers are extroverts? 
It’s strange really. Many may feel comfortable working in front of the children they serve, which is why people mistake them for extroverts - but put them infront of anyone else….. Uh oh!

I’ve met lots of children’s workers over my 20+ years as a kids worker, and the introverts far outnumber the extroverts.

Tools for disguising this introverted and shy nature are many: Learning how to use a puppet is one - you can hide behind a puppet. Being a good actor is also good - you can act as though you are confident! Being a good musician or good at leading action songs is also great for fooling people that you are an extrovert! 

A few of these children’s workers have broken the mold….slightly….. by starting to blog about things. Blogging is easier than talking face to face, and is another good tool for tricking people into thinking they are extroverts!

They rarely fight for themselves - but fight ferociously for the children. They feel uncomfortable talking about themselves - but are more than happy to talk about the kids! They don’t rate themselves as important - but think children’s work is vital. Being able to talk about their passion for kids work is easy - but only with their peers who are also children’s workers…..

They won’t say what they think or give an opinion, because they assume people don’t want to know. And that’s a shame - because they have much to say that is good and helpful.

But I believe it’s good to be a shy, reserved introvert. Why? You're more likely to rely on God, and you get along side the kids that would normally get overlooked because they are also quiet and reserved.

Me? Well, yes - I’m also one of the shy, reserved introverts. But I’ve managed to fool most people over the last 20 years! And yes, like others, because I don’t say an awful lot most of the time, people assume I don’t have much to say at all……… But I do…… :o)

Friday, 6 January 2012

God's Will.....?

I was really uncomfortable with something my daily devotional said today. It’s something I’ve questioned and studied for a long time - a constant irritant in my normally unquestioning faith.

The comment in this devotional was tackling quite a big issue that cannot really be tackled in a few paragraphs, so I may be judging it unfairly.

The writer was looking at verses in Genesis 50, including: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good so that others might be saved."
The writer goes on to talk about what God “intends” from problems and suffering: “From the beginning, God calculated for Joseph to experience all these things. Why? For the salvation of others.” The writer later goes on to say “Your problems have more purpose than you can imagine. Not because God merely used bad things, but because God intended them so that others might be brought to Jesus through your example.”

I struggle with this statement on many levels - both as a children’s worker who works with kids with disabilities, additional needs and difficult family backgrounds, but also with my own background too. Many children, young people and families are asking these questions, and I feel I need to have wrestled with it myself so I can help in the discussion. 

There are many thoughts on God’s will. Two of them are: “Permissive Will” (Allows things - even though it’s sin)  and “Directive Will” (God’s calling for your life - not as common as most would like.) There are quite a few other ones too. Look at, as this gives some very helpful pointers on what people think about the will of God.

My starting point in looking at these questions is always the Bible, and the subject matter has to be myself - It’s difficult to talk to others about things like this unless I can show I’ve struggled with the question too. (Caveat time: You don’t have to have suffered to answer these questions, but showing you have given serious thought to it is helpful!)

I am alive on this planet because a church youth worker abused my birth mother - a horrible story in itself. Those who believe in the argument set out above would say I fit this verse to a T - out of an awful situation, came a children’s evangelist who may not have been here otherwise. Now, I believe God can redeem an awful situation, but can we really say that in reality God intended my birth mother to be abused? Personally, I don’t think so. But God has definitely redeemed the situation. As I talk to children who are survivors of abuse - the idea that God intended it is a harsh and dangerous one.

I also have a disability - but I can see God at work through it. Would I rather not be in constant pain? Well, yes! But the key issue here is not the pain, but my reaction to it and my relationship with God. Children with disabilities struggle with the idea that God intended their body to be one that doesn’t work properly - just as they struggle with the other side of the coin that they don’t have enough faith to be healed. We need to be very careful with our thoughts and theology here too!

In the last few years I have lost two female friends to suicide and another in the Australian bush fires, and in that time I have really struggled with people’s comments and prayers surrounding their deaths. In one prayer meeting I heard a person pray “God, we know you have ordained this in your perfect plan, and we don’t understand it….” Too right I don’t understand - but it was the prayer I didn’t understand. But many people believe this point of view, without actually thinking it all the way through to it’s conclusion. The grief was huge, but the idea that my loving heavenly Father may have “ordained this, made the grief so much greater - was it really God’s purpose to allow three families to be left without a wife and a mother…. And one father without his kids too? (My friend’s sons were also killed in the Australian fires). There are many grieving children out there, trying to piece together shattered lives after the loss of a loved one - how do we help them to understand these things?

It would be so easy to damage these precious kids with badly thought out and poorly explained theology. Where ever you stand in this debate - care needs to be taken.

My personal position lies smack bang in the middle of all the discussions on these things. I hope and I pray I can help children and young people who are facing suffering, plus their families, to go on believing in a loving God. I hope I can encouraging them to use what is happening to them to grow in their relationship with God. 

My faith and life journey, I believe, are more to do with my relationship with an amazing God than what God can do for me.