When the Church notices children

May 31st, 2016

Across this amazing country, a unique opportunity raises its hand and waves it back and forth in an effort to capture churches’ notice.

In Aurora, Illinois, a principal and pastor met to discuss a potential partnership. The principal invited a third grade teacher to listen to the idea. When asked for her thoughts she said, “At the end of every school day, while my students stand in line before we walk to the bus area, I give them each a hug. I give a longer hug to a few of them, and in my heart I say, ‘I’m sorry; I wish I could’ve given you more attention today.’ So if you’re saying this church is going to send people to us willing to spend time with my kids, let’s start tomorrow.”

Look closely at public elementary schools (middle and high schools, too), and the stress fractures from budget cuts come into focus. The reason class sizes go up, meaning less teacher attention per student? Simple. Data shows that budget cuts made in response to the Great Recession eight years ago have never healed — and in many school districts, continue to deepen. However, I own zero interest in political fights about tax revenues, government spending, curriculum, standardized testing or any other “big people” arguments about education.

I do feel 100 percent concerned about that teacher’s third-graders. The attention-deficit they experience is an issue churches can do something about — but only when a church looks past all the issues that the education system faces and, instead, focuses on the little people sitting in chairs trying to not fidget. Look through the lens of a principal in Traverse City, Michigan, who partners with a nearby church and shared these comments with the congregation: “If I were offered $100,000 worth of teaching materials or the love that you have brought into our school, I would choose the love that these volunteers have shared with our students — I have never seen anything like it!” 

Wait a minute. In a system where the word “cut” routinely follows “budget,” something more valuable than money exists? Yes, and educators everywhere know that their schools are filled with too many students who share the same primary challenge — a little hole in the heart, a void filled only by love and attention, two abundant resources found in every church. Give extra credit to the people who teach and care for students all day every school year; they know what kids really need to thrive.

A church pastor in Indiana, unsure if his congregation would respond to the needs of a nearby school, invited the principal to share comments one Sunday morning. “If you can’t find people willing to come in and meet with students,” he said, “please just send a few people to stand by the fence around our playground so they can smile and wave to a few of our loneliest little ones.”

Several volunteers stepped forward, enabling the church to launch a mentoring program in partnership with the school. Those wonderful people do battle against an epidemic quietly sweeping across the country that grips and squeezes the life from people young and old: loneliness. Data shows that at least one in five people self-describe as lonely, and the health consequences are now receiving attention. Apparently, that “hole in the heart” is more real than most people know. Research conducted by psychologists at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah found that social isolation (both actual and perceived) may be more deadly than obesity. In the past two years, even Oprah has picked up on this reality — look into her Just Say Hello campaign. And yet the Church, better than anyone and for longer than anyone, knows that it is not good for a man (or woman or child) to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

In the ongoing and never-seeming-to-end societal discussions surrounding education, don’t let the truth go truant: Regardless of budget decisions and curriculum debates, students need love because many students feel alone in life. Educators see it firsthand, and they invite the Church to be a solution.

During a recent meeting in the administrative offices of a Nashville, Tennessee, elementary school, the principal carefully listened to an overview of a partnership opportunity with a nearby church that would provide mentors to her most at-risk students. When asked if she had interest, she replied, “In my opinion, it all comes down to one question.” Everyone in the room went quiet.

“Pastor, are you and your church going to show up in my school? Because we want you here, we need you here. It’s all up to you.”

Note: Today, 168 United Methodist congregations partner with nearby schools to offer Kids Hope USA mentoring programs. Learn more at www.kidshopeusa.org

comments powered by Disqus