When There Are No Words

*Note: My first draft of this post was written before news broke that five Dallas police officers were killed in an ambush attack during a protest rally.  My final draft reflects this tragedy.

How Kid's Ministries Can Respond in Times of Racial Crisis

There are no words, friends.  No words.  For me, there’s been more tears than words.  If you have followed national news in the U.S. over the past several days, you are aware of the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and now five Dallas police officers.  While I usually don’t post or discuss political or racial issues on my social media platforms (I don’t think this is the best forum for these issues to be discussed), the recent tragedies have impacted me deeply.  Deeply.

As a girl in Sunday school, I grew up singing a familiar song:

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

They are precious in His sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Watching recent events have horrified me and honestly, caused me to become fearful.  Fearful for my children and other children I love.  I’m sad that this is being played out and will become part of their history.

I am mom to a 20-year old son, who inspired this post (an excerpt) to my personal Facebook page just 24 hours ago:

When Daniel [my son] started driving years ago, I talked to him ad nauseam about what to do if he was ever pulled over in a traffic stop. Where to keep his hands. How to speak to the officer. How to tell the officer if he needed to pull his wallet out of his back pocket or the glove box. AD NAUSEAM.

And why? Because no matter how much of “a fine young man” or “respectable young man” or “good boy” he is, to some, he COULD be perceived a threat. Simply because he’s a black male.

His life matters. It matters to me. A LOT. The lives of every black man in my family matters to me. A LOT.

As uncomfortable as I feel posting this, we need to be uncomfortable. We need to talk about what is happening, why this keeps happening….

The purpose of this post is not to garner a debate about whether or not these shootings were ‘justified’.  Rather, I’d like to reflect on how these types of issues impacts our kids and how ministry leaders, parents and volunteers (Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, etc.) can respond.

As my family and I watched the shootings in Dallas unfold last night, I held my 17-year old daughter.  We both watched in disbelief at what we were watching.  (Sadly, we watched unrest unfold in our city of Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray last spring).  It breaks my heart that these images will be forever etched in her heart.  She will never forget what she was watching and how she was feeling.  As her mom, my heart hurts for her.

Likewise, kids in our ministry are hurting, angry, frustrated, confused.  Many of these children will walk through our church doors this weekend after, once again, being affected by the world they live in.  Here’s what I know:

Conversations are happening.  My social media outlets were flooded with images and outrage over what has occurred.  People are angry and rightfully so.  People are venting their frustrations and are again coming to terms with strained race relations in our country.

Our kids are listening and watching.  They are listening to these conversations and watching the news.  They are asking questions like my 8-year old niece asked my mom (her grandmother):

Ranny, why do they hate us so much?

In another instance, Lisa Harper, a well-known Christian speaker and author, is mom to a child of color.  She shared her daughter’s exposure to racism recently.  Here is an excerpt from her post (you can read the post in its entirety here):

…I can’t explain what it felt like recently when two young men wearing expressions contorted with meanness hurled a Coke can in our direction, then yelled the n-word at Missy before peeling away when we were simply walking out of a convenience store holding hands…

Why does a 6-year old and an 8-year old have to grapple with this?  Why are young children asking these questions?

Let’s be real.  Some of the children in our churches are victims of racism on a regular basis.  Some of them live in communities where bloodshed is commonplace.  This is not ok.  Not ok.  No 15-year old boy should have to publicly mourn his father during a news conference.  No 4-year old baby should have to witness a killing in the front seat of a car she’s riding in.  No child of a police officer should have to deal with the loss of a parent who went out to do his or her job.

As I shared in response to a comment left on my personal Facebook page, prejudice, stereotypes and intolerance are unfortunately being modeled and taught in homes, in workplaces, and in communities.  While we cannot control the hatred of others, we can determine that our homes, our churches, our ministries can be a welcoming, safe place for all children.  How?  Here are a few suggestions:

Ministry Leaders

  • Have a ministry that is safe and inclusive for all children.  Let’s help our children live out ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:31) and ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6:31).  Being inclusive means:
    • Helping children accept other children who look different from them, talk different than they do, and come from a different background, family structure, community, etc. than they do.
    • Creating a safe environment for all.  This goes beyond physical safety to include emotional safety.

       Teach them how their words have impact and how to ‘watch the way they talk’ (Ephesians 4:29).

    • Representing an array of colors in your media presentations.  The world we live in is diverse; this should be reflected in our ministries as well.  Be sure to include children of color in your publications, whether you serve in a multi-cultural context or not.  Again, this will help children accept those who look different than they do.

Parents and Volunteers (Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, etc.)

  • Be a good example and model acceptance and inclusion for all.  Be careful not to stereotype a group of people or their cultural differences.
  • Keep an open dialogue.  Be available to ask age-appropriate questions when the time comes.  Encourage your children to come to you with questions.  Be honest.  If you don’t know the answer, be honest about that, too.
  • Ask God for wisdom.  Pray for your child (or class) and with them.  Ask God to bring healing and comfort to those who are hurting.

This list is my no means exhaustive but it’s a start.  It’s a step toward modeling what it means to be the Church…worshiping together, serving together, loving each other and living together in peace.  A true picture of heaven on earth.

Keep the conversation going.  How will you minister to the children under your care?