Charleston’s Thousand Word Picture

charlestonThey say a picture is worth a thousand words. This Sunday, I became convinced when I saw this picture taken that morning at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.  As this picture came across my Facebook feed, I just stopped and stared at it for a while, trying to formulate the thoughts that immediately assaulted my heart. The only thing I could put in the comment section was, “There is so much in this picture.”  In the days since, I’ve seen the picture many times and each time, I have to stop and stare.  Because in that picture, I see something that my heart is passionate about.  I see something that speaks volumes to the church, if we will listen.  I see something that shares truth with the world, if they will hear it.  And I see a vivid picture of Jesus, if we will see it.

I see..

FAITH

I sit on a church staff.  I have been in meetings where we discuss whether to open the church doors on snowy, icy mornings.  I cannot imagine the staff meeting where they had to decide if they’d open their doors on that sunny Sunday morning.  Was it a long meeting?  Did they think “Not yet.  People need time to heal.  Time to “deal with” their grief.  Not yet.”

Or, as has seemed the practice of this church since they lost their dear friends, pastor, and family, was it simply a matter of faith?  That of course we will open our church doors, just as we’ve opened them forever.  Of course we will invite in the children, for Jesus has told us to welcome them just as he told us to forgive.  Just a few days earlier, America saw a very different picture of that door, with a shooter in front of it walking in unbeknownst to the believers inside. But this door didn’t stay closed in fear.  It was opened in faith.

Through HIm you believe in God who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  I Peter 1:21

HOPE

Not even a week after the shootings, not even a week after death and violence and hate made its way into the sanctuary of this church, not even a week after they said goodbye to their pastor and leaders and family and friends, and the church doors are open. Not just open, welcoming!  And not just welcoming, but welcoming to the youngest among them.

I have kids.  I can imagine the fear they had returning to that place on Sunday morning.  I can imagine the feelings of confusion and sadness they had experienced that week.  But when this little girl arrives to church, the door is opened for her. She is welcomed into the space.  Her little upturned face that seems to be asking a question is answered with a door wide open and presumably a congregation ready to embrace her. A closed door says, “There’s nothing here for you” but an open door says, “Come.  Live. Hope. You are welcome here.”

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:37

LOVE

Following the terrible shooting that took place, one of the victims son’s (Chris Singleton) made a statement that within seconds had become the rallying cry of Charleston.  In honoring his mother’s faith and love for Christ, Chris said, “Love is always stronger than hate.”  And, these weren’t just words for Chris. He went on to express tearful forgiveness for the shooter.  The next day, a video was released on the victim’s families, one by one, talking to the shooter and publicly forgiving him for what he had done.

The conscious choice to choose love over hate, forgiveness over bitterness, life over death, rocked the media and the country but for me… the picture showed an even more important audience… the children of this church.  They watched the adults who have talked to them about God and sat with them in church show them through word and deed that church wasn’t a place or a time or even a tradition – church for them is being Jesus in the most tragic of circumstances and the saddest of times.  Tell me that the reaction they watched happen in their church hasn’t left lasting impressions of God’s unconditional love on their hearts.

And now these three remain; faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. I Cor. 13:13

Oh church, that we would learn from the reaction of this church, what it is to be the body of Christ in some little way.  That our faith would not be bound by fear, that our hope would not be dimmed by death, that our love would not be succumbed by hate and that our children would be welcomed in faith, hope, and love into our churches every time our doors are open.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

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When Fears and Tears Come

It appears as though this is a week for tears as we’ve watched our world torn apart by disasters and disease and our own country caught in the throes of violence and despair.  Earlier this year I wrote a blog about how to help your children or those you minister to process the devastation in Nepal, only to find my heart breaking the next day for my birthplace, Baltimore, MD. And now I weep for Oregon.

Lest we think our children are immune to these stories of ruin and despair, consider the following:

  • The #1 website used by children around the world is YouTube.  Out of curiosity, I went to YouTube’s home page today and the featured video was one of Nepal and the top trending videos were of the rioting in Baltimore.  Our children ARE seeing this.
  • Over the course of the last few days I’ve visited friends in their homes, gone shopping, driven in a car with the radio on, sat in a restaurant, and went for a walk.  In every one of these places, I heard television and radio reports focused on the devastation happening in our world.  Unless your child does not venture out of your home, it is highly likely they too have experienced this.  Our children ARE hearing this.
  • The other night my oldest daughter and I sat in the living room at 1:00 am, processing through the evil in this world.  She asked questions like, “How can people be so evil?’ and “What if that happens here?”  In the middle of the night, she needed reassurance that God was still on His throne and that Love will ultimately win the fight.  Our children ARE experiencing this.

I know I’ve already shared this in a previous blog, but it is of utmost importance that in these moments we are “all there” for the next generation.

We can’t let the sadness of the moments and our own confusion and doubt keep us from fully engaging with our kids.  To brush them off in this moment will leave them hurting and wondering, having to sort through on their own the fears and worries they can’t understand.  In these moments, we must take the time away from distraction to look them in the eyes, answer their hard questions as best we can, and gently lead them to the heart of Christ through prayer and love.

What can YOU do?

1. Process with them – There may be a lot of questions, there may be only one.  They may just want to talk.  Let them download on you rather than keep it inside.  In their innocence, it may appear as though these things aren’t affecting them deeply so you may want to brush over it and “not make a big deal about it.”  My heart in this is – it’s worth making a big deal about.  Give them the space to process with you and know that they are not alone.

2. Protect them – Kids are vulnerable to fears in ways adults aren’t because their minds don’t know how yet to separate reality from imagination.  When fear is made manifest, combat with with love.  The Bible says “Perfect love casts out fear.”  If need be, remind them of that favorite movie from last year where the heroine was defeated when fear ruled but victorious when love won (just don’t tell them to “Conceal don’t feel” – worst parenting advice ever)!  Be present with them and let them know they are safe with you and that no matter what, they are never alone.

3. Pray with them – Even if your conversation is only a few seconds long, don’t end it without saying, “Hey buddy, you know what, let’s pray for those people right now.”  Not only are you inviting God’s presence into the situation, you are teaching a valuable lesson about where to turn when life’s troubles come our way.  It will leave a lasting impression on their heart.

Friends, there are no easy answers.  When hearts are broken, we can only turn to one place for healing.  As we process the next few days and we consider our own hearts in these matters, let us model for our children what is is to be the Body of Christ.

*Original Featured image from http://images.politico.com/global/2015/04/27/150427_baltimore_protests_child_police_ap_1160_956x519.jpg


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Answering Their Questions: Nepal Earthquake

“Mom, did you hear about the earthquake?  The news said thousands of people died.”

If you have not heard a variation of this question today, you probably will soon.  As news of this devastating earthquake continues to flood all forms of media, it is likely that your children or those you serve will hear about it and turn to you for help, advice, and processing.  This can be a “deer-in-the-headlights” moment for us adults because, to be perfectly frank, we often feel just as lost and confused in these moments.

Here are some ideas on how you can enter into a conversation that both assuages fear and helps them turn to God in times of confusion, doubt and sadness.

1. Ask a few questions of your own

Sometimes in our own zeal to answer questions or in our fear of not answering well, we just childquestionstart talking in the hopes that we make some sense to them.  But sometimes it’s better to start slow and get more information about exactly where your kids are at before just barging ahead.  Some examples would be, “Yes, I’ve heard.  Where did you hear?” or “How are you feeling about that?” or “Do you have any questions for me about that?”  It is possible that you’ll find they just want a hug and reminder that you and God loves them.  But other times, they may have deeper questions.  Overloading them could be harder on them if they aren’t ready to handle it yet.

2. Be “All There” when you have the conversation

If your child is bringing up this topic with you, something about it caught their attention.  They might be afraid of the same thing happening here.  They might be questioning how God could let it happen.  They might just be curious to see how you react.  Regardless, they came to you.  It’s worth putting down your phone, turning off the radio or TV, delaying the chores and giving them your undivided attention.  It will mean more to them to have YOU than any answer you could give.

3.  If possible, let them act.

Kids are doers.  When they hear about something like this, they will naturally want to do something about it.  A few years ago when a tornado ripped through the town of Moore, OK, my girls heard the story on the radio, asked a lot of the questions we’ve discussed, and ended up deciding to spearhead a Toy Drive for the kids in OK.  With some help from mom and a great church body, they were able to send a ton of toys to a church in Oklahoma to hand out to kids who’d lost all of theirs.  Through that action, they were able to experience just a little bit of what it is to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth.  Over the next few weeks, a number of relief opportunities will likely be made available – consider giving your kids some options to “be the church” to Nepal.

4. Pray with them

Of utmost importance, before the conversation ends, help them remember that we serve a God who invites us to come before His throne with confidence to find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). Invite them to join you in that throne room and pray together for the people of Nepal and those who are going to help.  And never forget to thank God for the blessings you have, especially the one you are praying with in that moment.

As your kids grow, the questions will become tougher but the best thing you can do is establish the open door with them to come to you.  By taking time to engage them and pray with them you set a precedent, both at home and in ministry, that you are a safe place to go in times of fear and doubt.

Here are some ways you can help the efforts in Nepal as you join the church around the world in prayer for this country. (Source: Public Radio International at http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-04-25/how-help-nepal-7-vetted-charities-doing-relief-work-following-earthquake)

AmeriCares

AmeriCares is an emergency response and global health organization. They have sent an emergency response team from their offices in Mumbai to Nepal and are “preparing shipments of medical aid and relief supplies for survivors.”

CARE

CARE describes itself as a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. It has a long-established presence in Nepal, and told USA Today that it was “coordinating with other agencies to assist up to 75,000 people.”

Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the United States. It maintains field offices in Nepal and has started its relief effort by “procuring emergency relief materials such as tarpaulins/shelter kits and water, sanitation and hygiene material.”

Direct Relief

Direct Relief is a nonprofit that specializes in providing international medical assistance. It is in the process of coordinating with local partners in Nepal and will focus its relief efforts on the “valley around Kathmandu, where medical facilities are overflowing with patients seeking care.”

GlobalGiving

GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising website that has set up a fund specifically for Nepal relief efforts. The money collected will go to “help first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter. Once initial relief work is complete, this fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts” run by vetted local organizations, according to a post on the GlobalGiving site. 

Save the Children

Save the Children is an international NGO dedicated to promoting children’s rights and providing relief and support to children in developing countries. It has set up a Nepal fund to “protect vulnerable children and provide desperately needed relief to families.” Ten percent of the funds collected will go to prepare for the next disaster.

Seva Foundation

The Seva Foundation is a US-based nonprofit known for its work treating blindness. It has a long-running presence in Nepal and has set up an emergency relief fund.

Others worth mentioning:

UNICEF, the United Nation program dedicated to helping children in developing countries, is currently “mobilizing an urgent response to meet the needs of children” affected by the disaster, and is working to deliver water purification tablets, hygiene kits and nutrition supplies to those in need.

Oxfam, a confederation of NGOs, currently has “aid workers … on the ground, preparing to launch a rapid response to ensure food and water reaches” survivors, according to its site.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Four Simple and Fun Ways to Pray with your kids

prayerkidsIf I ask a group of kids to tell me “What is prayer?” inevitably I will get the answer “Talking to God.” And while this is true and often an easy way to explain prayer to kids, prayer is much, much more than that.

As you refocus toward discipleship at home, it is important to give parents/caregivers the tools to incorporate the key elements of the faith in their home.

Here are 4 simple ways to pray that families can explore prayer together at home.

Praying Scripture – A lot of times, people don’t know “what” to pray especially kids. As an exercise, gather your family around and open the Bible to the book of Philippians. Then, have each member try to find TWO verses they can pray for someone else in the family. For your younger kiddos, check out this coloring sheet with verses and let them pick two to color. For older elementary kids, here is a sheet of verses they can print out and use to help with their prayers.

Praying Blessing – The Bible is full of blessings where someone is asking for God’s favor to be on someone else. For fun family activity, do a google search for “Blessings in Scripture” and pick out one for each family member. Write them each down on posterboard (let the youngest kiddos color it to make it beautiful) and commit to praying for each other that way for one week. After a week, sit down and share how it made you feel to hear a blessing prayed over you each day.

Praying Remembrance – Paul tells us to “remember his chains” as we pray and to pray for our brothers and sisters in prison around the world as though we were with them. Go to Operation World’s website and there you will find a list of all the countries in the world and how to pray for them. Find one country per family member where Christians are being persecuted for their faith and commit to praying for those countries as a family. A hands-on activity for this would be to create a paper chain with the names of your countries on it and hang it where you can see and remember throughout the day.

Praying Power – “The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.” Jesus tells us that with the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains and the greatest evidence of God’s power is a heart transformed. Read the story of Elijah praying for rain found in I Kings 18 and what James shares about it in James 5. Consider together some people who need God’s “rain” in their life and as a family, pray for God’s power to be manifest through transformation.

Praying is much more than talking to God. It’s faith exercised. It’s hearts listening. It’s praise and worship. It’s communion with one another and with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These four simple ways to pray together not only let you expose your kids to a bigger picture of prayer but also to grow together as a family.


For more ideas on Practical Discipleship in the Home or Transitioning to a Family-Focused Ministry, check out ReFocus Ministry or “like” us on Facebook for even more faith formation resources.