January 2023 | The True Vine and The Soon Coming King

Mission Among Children in the C-19 Context-Challenges and Scope
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Mission Among Children in the C-19 Context-Challenges and Scope

Pr. Biju Eapen

Four-year old Juan’s first words to those he meets for the very first time are, ‘wash your hands with soap or sanitizer and cover your mouth with a mask’. When his grandparents call him on the phone and invite him over to their home, he replies, ‘No. Since it is corona season, I can’t go anywhere.’ Juan learned this health lesson even before he has started school or even before the teacher begins to teach him A for Apple, B for Ball, he learned C for Corona - drawing from life lessons.

The Covid-19 pandemic situation has affected children more than any other age group. It is the children and senior citizens who are mostly confined to homes with movements restricted.

When the virus outbreak was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, no one ever realized that a microscopic virus can cause such havoc and devastation around the world. Several countries declared this pandemic as a national emergency and forced people to go into a lockdown. This unexpectedly imposed social isolation has caused enormous disorder of daily routine especially among children. Schooling and daily schedules of children were turned upside down, with classes being suspended and schools shut down. The transition from physical classes has significantly disrupted their lives, while posing a potential risk to the mental well-being of children. An abrupt shift in the learning environment, limited social interaction and confinement within home posed an unusual situation for children.

Due to the closing down of schools student’s interaction and communication with class mates, play, exercise and peer activities are hindered which have proven vital for the growth and development of each child. It is highly important to note that transitions are always unpleasant. As things shift and change in the context of Covid-19, as responsible stewards, parents and the church need to take extra care and try their level best to meet their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. In this regard parents and church have equal responsibility to play vital role in nurturing the spiritual life of the children.

Children and Church

The disruption in the routine of children and its impact was manifested not only in the secular world and schools, but also forced churches and Sunday schools to close down. Their lives were confined within the four walls of the house. They were compelled to remain indoors, keep their hands sanitized and ensure social distance was maintained instead of enjoying fellowship with the church and engaging in Christian educational programs.

Sunday School

The absence of Sunday School and systematic teaching of the Scripture during the lockdown has begun to show its negative effects on the spiritual well-being of the children. There were no alternatives for several weeks to connect with the young generation thus widening the gap between children and Sunday school to a large extent.

Digital Class Room

The digital classroom was one of the technological alternatives to bring children back to the education stream. The virtual platforms enabled the children to see each other and communicate virtually which helped refresh the learning process significantly. The Zoom platform enhanced Christian education and served as an alternative for physical Sunday School classes and replaced physical class rooms in many churches. It is highly remarkable that the timely interventions of the Sunday School boards of some of the Pentecostal churches made possible the shift from physical classes to digital classes as an alternative for Christian education.

Many churches and local congregations took the initiative to start the digital class room for Sunday school students. On the other hand, churches that make grandiose claims of rich legacies, wealth and numerical strengths forgot to provide any alternative system for Sunday school students, which reflect their lack of vision and care towards next generation.

Camps and Retreats

Holiday camps and retreats had long served as exclusive spiritual enrichment programs for the young generation. Public and school holidays were earmarked for conducting camps and one day retreats at local, district, zonal and state levels. Unfortunately most mainline churches did not pay heed to the possibilities to spiritually nourish the children and youth during this pandemic. Despite the fact that digital camps are comparatively less expensive, churches and leaders did take any initiative to conduct digital classes or host online fellowships exclusively for the young generation. This willful negligence on the part of church leadership in this context shows their inadequate concern for the next generation.

Churches outside India, especially in Middle Eastern countries, created maximum opportunities to organize campus, retreats and one day events using online platforms – their timely intervention with digital programs became a blessing and a cause for spiritual enrichment for children in the context of Covid-19. Hundreds of children joined from across the globe and made the life-changing decisions of accepting Jesus as their personal savior, deciding to take baptism and committing to Christian ministry. These responses show that the virtual camps are as effective as the normal camps. The ministerial experience of the child practitioners testify the fact that the empowerment of the Holy Spirit can be experienced in any context and circumstance irrespective of the mode of presentation. The virtual platforms are God-given technological alternatives and a blessing and provide opportunities to be creative and focused in the mission among the children than ever before.

Challenges of the day

The Honorable Chief Minister of Kerala recently revealed the startling fact that the suicide rates among children in Kerala has increased tremendously since the Covid-19 outbreak. It is an alarming signal that the pandemic negatively impacted the mental health of the young generation. It high time for the parents, church and youth leaders to realize the undeniable fact that our children are at risk – as they are exposed to the unpredicted uproar within the social fabric that affect their behavioral and mental health. Countries across the globe are in a dilemma as they determine appropriate strategies to minimize the psychological impact on of corona virus children.

Article 27 of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Children (UNCRC), ensures the comprehensive development of the children where spirituality is also included. Children are spiritual beings and their spiritual welfare is challenged because of fear and anxiety about self-isolation and social distancing. Confinement measures have fragmented their connectivity with their kith and kin, church members and friends. It is quite natural that such a context can raise existential questions of why God allows such situations. The increasing uncertainty and unanswered questions can break their sense of trust and faith in God.

This is the most opportune time for parents, church and youth leaders to ensure their prayerful support and encouragement towards these little children and ensure that they are able to cope with uncertainties by providing hope and joy amidst the traumatic experiences. This is the time for the church to conduct a self-evaluation to see whether we have failed to provide adequate resources to enrich and empower our children spiritually. Are we equipping them to move ahead overcoming stress, loneliness and to face uncertainties? This is the time to reflect and make a lasting change.

Conclusion

A long-lasting impact has been created by the Covid-19 from which it may take many months to recover, if not years. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that children are a separate body. Rather it says they are an important part of the mainstream of the church and should not be excluded from the mainstream, especially in this pandemic context.

 Children belong to the most vulnerable section in our society. They are dependent, having no power and control over their own lives. Children constitute the principle asset of any church and therefore children’s development is as important as the development of the church. There are two kinds of churches, those that embrace children, and those that tolerate children.

Where are we in the Covid-context in the extent of our mission and ministry to children. Remember, no church remained strong and sustain itself unless the younger generations are taken care of by the church. The role of parents and the church is inevitable for the holistic development of our younger generation - the future of the church and society.  

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