Praying for children
Every year our church has a special program of 40 days of prayer for children leading up to Children’s Sabbath. Children’s Sabbath is ecumenically observed on the third weekend in October. This celebration brings together people of all faiths to address the needs of children. The 40 days of prayer is a reminder that the needs of children around the world are great and that we need to renew our commitment to care for, protect and advocate for all children. The biblical mandate to care for children is clear.
Each year, I sign up for a special day of prayer for children on September 14, which is our daughter’s birthday, so it is a day that I can easily remember. Although our daughter is no longer a child, she works with children in a child development center, so thinking of her always means thinking of children. So yesterday, I started by praying for the children in her child development center. Many of those children have parents who are military personnel serving a long way from home, which means that their families don’t have the usual supports of extended family nearby. A few of those children are dual military, that is both of their parents are serving in the military and they go to the child development center as a place where their care is assured while their parents serve. All of the children have parents who are working hard to provide for their families and need the childcare to make their family systems work.
My prayers turned to specific children in our church. I know the stories of those children and our church has its share of family struggles and challenges. Although we have many very loving families with extended networks of support, we also have children who are separated from one or more of their parents through not fault of their own. We have children who face learning difficulties and challenges and whose growing up will be marked with difficulties and problems that need to be overcome.
Next I prayed for the children who were separated from their parents after crossing the border into the United States. Politics aside, and without trying to influence how any person feels about the policies of the government, it is clear that the children are victims. They have ended up in this situation through no fault of their own. It still is not clear exactly how many children were taken from their parents and it is not clear how many of those children have been reunited with their parents since. We know the government did not meat the court-imposed deadline for reuniting children under the age of 5 with their migrant parents. We know that the process by which the separations occurred in the first place was haphazard and confusing. Children need to be with their families and separations are always tragedies. I prayed for the children, that they might be reunited with their families, that they might be protected from harm, that they might be given the love and care that all children deserve.
I prayed for the children in the paths of the huge storms that are currently threatening lives around the globe. At least one infant died in North Carolina when a tree fell on the family’s home. Thousands of others are taking refuge in shelters with an uncertain wait until they will be able to return to their homes. Others are stranded and awaiting rescue. Hurricane Florence is a powerful storm that is moving very slowly and packing a lot of rain. I prayed for the children of the Philippines, where more than four million people are in the path of Super Typhoon Mangkhut. The massive destruction has brought destruction to the northern areas of the Philippines and is now moving west toward China.
Storms and other natural disasters can be confusing, disorienting and terrifying to children who often don’t have any way to protect themselves from the disaster and who are not included in the decisions about evacuation and seeking shelter. Even those in shelters can lack basic needs. I have seen pictures of children in the Philippines sitting on a bare floor in huge rooms without any blankets, toys or comfort items.
I prayed for the children, and for those who are now adults, who were victims of sexual abuse. Far too many children were abused by people they should have been able to trust, including the victims of clergy sexual abuse. How the church became a place that shielded predators is a deep tragedy and mystery, but the victims deserve answers and the church needs to probe deeply to make sure that there are no new victims. It is obvious that business as usual simply is not enough to assure the safety of children.
I prayed for the children of Puerto Rico. With the current news filled with questions about the number of victims of last year’s hurricanes that devastated the island, we know that there were children among the victims. And we know that there are children whose lives were disrupted by the effects of the storms. Some of them are living in substandard conditions. Others have been forced to migrate away from Puerto Rico because of the lack of resources.
I prayed for the school children in Rapid City. Poverty in America affects many children. In our city there are many children who face insufficient nutrition every day. Although there are feeding programs, including schools that provide virtually all of the food to some of their children, we know that our systems of social support have resulted in parents and grandparents who no longer are able to provide for the basic needs of children. This on-going tragedy has been going on for generations with no end in sight.
The bottom line is that there are too many children and too many needs for a single day of prayer. That is why we dedicate 40 days of prayer each year. It’s clear that I need to sign up for more than one day.