It is never too early to teach a child how to care for others. From an early age, children are capable of showing empathy. They sense when someone is hurting. They know when things aren’t right. Think about the young child who kisses the “boo-boo” on the split seam of a favorite teddy bear. Or the sweet little hands that carefully carry the lady bug to safety on a fresh blade of grass.
As the Church, we believe these are first signs of God’s gift of compassion. It’s a gift that is innate in each of us from our youngest days.
One of two things happens as children grow older: they become more aware of the reward that comes with helping others because someone made sure they were given opportunities to serve; or they lose sight of the this gift because their priorities become misaligned.
At The Woodlands UMC, offering every child an opportunity to serve is our priority.
Our Early Childhood Ministry focuses on the very simple understanding that God loves everyone. We teach them that since God loves us, we too should love others. Praying for others becomes routine week after week. Often during craft time, children will make one craft for themselves to take home and another that they are told will go to someone who is sick or in need. I’m always amazed at how much more carefully they work on the second craft than the first.
The elementary years begin a transition toward experiencing the relational aspect of serving. Opportunities like Breakfast in the Park, where families prepare and serve breakfast to those in need and spend time together in worship and fellowship provide an environment where all differences are set aside. For a child it becomes tangible evidence that God created us all in His own image, and He loves all of us equally. With their farewell high-fives, children learn that serving is not about a “hand-out” but a “hand-up.”
Like a rite of passage, our 5th and 6th graders enjoy certain freedoms and independence that come with this new stage in life. However, distractions easily take over with sports, school, friends and the pressures of growing up. Self-centeredness creeps in. Then more than ever, these young people need the constant reminder that God is at the center of their lives. Experiences like Mission 56 provide a powerful avenue for them to serve and make sacrifices.
For all our children, God provides the first seeds of compassion. The responsibility for nurturing these seeds is ours as the Church and as parents. How awesome it is to see those seeds grow and extend into lives committed to offering justice, kindness and mercy to others — children growing into fully mature followers of Jesus Christ.
This story first originally appeared in The Point, Fall 2013 edition.