Welcoming the Children - Mark 9:33-37

Randy: God calls us to be a church of welcome and a church that puts the word of God into action…

Leah: a church that measures greatness not only by what we do inside our walls but by the lives we touch in the greater community beyond these walls.

Randy: We are called to give our lives in love and service to all of God’s children, especially those who are the most vulnerable and in need of the welcome, love and support which we can help provide.

Leah: Who are some of God’s children who need the welcome embrace of the body of Christ?

#1: Hello, I am here to share the story of Robert as if it were my own story. Here goes.

My name is Robert. I am ten years old. I would like to tell you about what it is like to experience homelessness. Yesterday at recess some kids ganged up on me, teasing me about not having a home and shouting things like, “You’re poor, you’re dirty, and your hair looks like you don’t even own a comb!” I yelled back, “I don’t care what you think. I don’t need you. I can handle things all by myself!” But I felt like a worn-out dusty toy, all alone on an empty shelf. Until yesterday I lived with my Mom at a cheap motel. My Mom’s name is Marilyn. My Dad died eight years ago when I was only two. Yesterday the motel was torn down so the city can build a new convention center. We slept at an emergency overnight shelter. The shelter is only open from nine at night till seven in the morning. We woke up late. There wasn’t time to shower. I miss our room at the motel. Even if it was small, at least it was ours. Now we don’t have anything. Most of my toys and things we had to leave behind. When we left the motel I had to carry a big bag for my clothes and my school books. I didn’t even get to bring my Legos. Oh well, what’s the point of trying to build anything anyway? It just gets torn down.

Leah: There are literally hundreds of thousands of homeless children in the United States alone. On any given night in the St. Cloud region, there are hundreds of schoolchildren like Robert experiencing homelessness. During the past 4 years, homelessness in our region has risen 30 %.

Randy: The average age of homeless children is 6 years old. During the past twenty years, small children have been the fastest growing sector of our world’s homeless population.

Leah: In addition to young children, Central Minnesota has also seen a significant increase in the number of individual teens experiencing homelessness. This is especially alarming since evidence suggests that if you’re between 14 and 24 years of age and do not have a safe place to stay at night within 24 hours you will be approached by a sex trafficker.

Randy: Most children and others experiencing homelessness are not looking for a handout but for a home, a place of safety they can call their own.

Both: God help us to welcome children and young people experiencing homelessness.

#2: Hello. I am here to share the story of Kaylee as if it were my own story. Here goes.

My name is Kaylee. I’m 13. My mother works all day as a clerk in a big store across town. She has to get up real early to catch the bus. We live with my grandma and my two older sisters and my Aunt Marie and my two little cousins. Grandpa died two years ago. I miss him. I like living at Grandma’s house. Before my Dad left we lived in a shabby apartment in a scary neighborhood. The landlord promised to fix it up, but when he finally did, he raised the rent and we had to move. Grandma’s house is old and not that big, but at least we’re all together. And we get Grandma’s homemade cookies all the time. I go to school every day since my Mom says I am smart and I should work hard and someday go to college. I want to make Mom happy. She works so hard. I am sad that she and Dad split. I know he drank too much and got depressed and was angry all the time. So Mom finally said he had to go. I still love my Dad. But I feel safer now that we live with Grandma. I used to hear gun shots at night in our old neighborhood. Now I just wonder how my old friends are doing who still live there.

Randy: Unlike Robert, Kaylee is not homeless. But she is among the thousands of children who can be counted among the hidden homeless – individuals and families who crowd together with friends or relatives sharing a few rooms without enough beds or chairs or toilets.

Leah: These children of poverty are as vulnerable as any rare and endangered species of life in America. Perhaps the most tragic single fact about poverty in America and around the world is that children are the largest group of people living in poverty.

Randy: Most of their parents work or want to work but too often their jobs do not offer enough in wages and benefits to overcome poverty. The St. Cloud area has a lack of affordable housing. The area has a record low vacancy rate and more than 70 percent of those who live near the poverty line are considered cost-burdened renters or renters who spend more than a third of their income on housing.

Leah: Jesus didn’t say, “God helps those who help themselves.” Rather, Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” The disciples tried to keep children from bothering Jesus. He instead welcomed children, taught the disciples how important children are to God and how by loving and serving children we learn how to become truly great.
Both: God help us to welcome and serve vulnerable children and their families.

#3: Hello. I am here to share the story of Brice as if it were my own story. Here goes.

My name is Brice. I’m 8 years old. I hate school, especially Social Studies. Yesterday we were talking about world hunger. The teacher asked us to put our hands up if we had skipped breakfast. I put my hand up. Then she asked us to put our hands down if we skipped breakfast because we weren’t hungry. I looked around. Only a few of us still had our hands up. She then asked us to put our hand down if we skipped breakfast because we didn’t have time to eat. That left only my hand up. Then the teacher asked why I didn’t eat breakfast. I told her the truth. “Because it wasn’t my turn.” Some kids laughed, so I laughed with them. But I can still hear them laughing. It’s not fair. I hope we never talk about world hunger again.

Leah: One of the sad truths about world poverty and hunger is that the poorest and hungriest are the youngest. Brice is right. It’s not fair. But we dare not stop talking about world hunger or about poverty and hunger across our own nation.

Randy: And right here in our region, the sheer number of people living in poverty and children who are hungry is staggering. It includes over 27,000 people - more people than the combined populations of Sauk Rapids, St. Joseph and Waite Park. In our region, 1 of every 4 children under the age of five are living in poverty; 1 in 5 children of all ages live in poverty. Based on federal poverty guidelines, over 55% of children in St. Cloud public schools qualify for the Free or Reduced Lunch program. Nearly half of single moms with children under 18 live in poverty. While the percent of families who live in poverty is much greater within minority populations, in actual numbers white women and their children are still the biggest group, accounting for 21,000 of the 27,000.

Both: God help us to welcome all children and their families experiencing hunger and poverty.

#4: Hello. I am here to share the story of Mary Ellen as if it were my own story. Here goes.

My name is Mary Ellen. When I was a child in the mid-1800’s, children were considered like property - owned by their parents like a dog or a cat. Actually, dogs and cats had more rights than children. When I was beaten and starved by my parents, concerned neighbors did not know how to help. There were no laws against child abuse or neglect. Nobody ever talked about it. Churches and schools were silent. Thank God that kind, old Mrs. Smith next door finally reported what was happening in my home to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I was finally rescued and put into a home where I was safe and treated with care. A court case followed and attention to the issue of child abuse and neglect led to the creation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1879.

Randy: Today there are more resources for victims of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect. And our society is no longer silent. But too many children still suffer abuse and maltreatment. One factor that contributes to this is the financial stress families experience due to living in poverty. While maltreatment of children happens in families of every class, race and religion, research consistently has shown that children living in poverty are more likely to experience abuse and neglect.

Leah: Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus used his hands to lift up and embrace children with the love of God. Today when we welcome children with love, we are welcoming and loving God! Randy: Personal stories and statistics about our troubled world can seem overwhelming. In response we can harden our sensitivities and look the other way so that we don’t have to deal with the pain and suffering of others.
Leah: Or we can be so moved with compassion and empathy that we decide to do something – something that may seem small and insignificant, yet grace-filled and significant to the one whose life is touched. Randy: Today we celebrate Mission Sunday. We recognize and celebrate that we already do a lot for children through our United Methodist Mission work locally, nationally and globally.

Leah: Tonight we will learn more about how we can join in partnership with others beyond our church right here in the St. Cloud Region to welcome children and to help turn their stories of pain and fear into stories of joy and hope.

Both: God help us to welcome all children, to love them and to experience with them the greatness that only love can bring. AMEN!