My mother was a teacher. My father-in-law taught math over thirty years. Both of my brothers have been teachers. So are two sisters-in-law, a brother-in-law, and a niece. In my extended family, teaching is a family trade. Two of my best friends teach in Minneapolis inner-city schools. Their passion and commitment never cease to amaze me.
That is one reason I’m so happy that Bishop Ough has called upon our conference to focus on children in the upcoming years. He didn’t originate the idea, of course. Jesus asked his disciples, in Matthew 19:14, to “Let the children come unto me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus took children seriously, laid hands on them, and encouraged us to give them a cup of cold water whenever we had an opportunity.
Ever since the days of John Wesley, our denomination has been concerned about the needs of children, be it through education, health and maternity clinics, orphanages, or meal programs. Our successful Imagine No Malaria campaign focused on infants and young children, who are now sleeping under the bed nets we provided.
The Advance—the approved and accountable arm through which our denomination engages in voluntary, designated, and second-mile giving—lists dozens of children’s projects in more than one-hundred countries in its current catalog. (If you don’t have the catalog, you can also look up projects by clicking here.) Did you know that we minister to street children in Cambodia, Missouri, Tanzania, and Uruguay? That we have orphanages in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, and Vietnam? That we have children’s clinics in Bolivia and Liberia? That we sponsor meal programs in China and throughout the U.S.? That we work with disabled children in India? And that we have schools everywhere?
Our conference has robust connections to specific children’s ministries too. Among them: the Bishop Judith Craig Orphanage in Liberia, Strong Missions Loaves and Fishes in Coast Rica, Grace Children’s Hospital in Haiti, OC Ministries in West Africa and Jamaica, and Andean Rural Health Care in Bolivia.
Locally, some amazing United Methodist churches in the Minnesota Conference are paying close attention to children right in their own backyard. Every Friday, Lake City UMC packs dozens of weekend meals for children in its community. Oakwood UMC in New Ulm has adopted nearby Jefferson Elementary School and regularly sends clothes and school supplies there. Rosemount UMC sends several tutors every week into Rosemount Elementary School. Anoka UMC has adopted Lincoln Elementary School, regularly sending school supplies, backpacks, and clothing to its students. That church also hosts a “United for the Community” event every August for children and their families, offering not only school supplies and backpacks, but entertainment and fun, free haircuts, and dental supplies.
These are just a few examples of ways in which some churches already are and other churches can begin to reach out to youth in their communities. Most every town in Minnesota has a school within its vicinity. Imagine the difference we’d make if every United Methodist church in Minnesota adopted an elementary school nearby. Imagine the message of compassion and radical hospitality that would send to the unchurched. What if every church was “united” for the children in its community?
Whenever we care for the children, we build the current and future kingdom Jesus referred to in real and tangible ways. Larry Shelton started a ministry called Operation Connection out of Lake Harriet UMC years ago. People in several Minnesota churches sponsor hundreds of children in schools in West Africa through this scholarship program. Shelton, himself, started supporting a boy named Allie Kamara when Allie was a child. Allie is now grown up, and after receiving an education, he returned to his home village and started an agricultural co-op called the United District Development and Agricultural Organization, in addition to a school and church! When we support children’s ministries, we pay it forward.
How can you reach out to the children in your community? Let’s celebrate what God is doing for the children of the world and answer the bishop’s call!
Lyndy Zabel is director of missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church