It’s never too early to start engaging kids with justice and God’s heart for the poor – whether you’re a grandparent or a teacher, in children’s ministry or new to parenthood – and you might be surprised just how receptive they are! Here are 5 fantastic ideas from people who are influencing the children in their lives to care about justice.
Think back to your own childhood and consider the experiences, people or stories that first put a flicker of fire in your belly. You don’t need to recreate these for the children in your life, but it might help expand your ideas of who and what could help move them onto a path in the direction of justice.
For Bonnie, an SA Tearfund supporter who fosters three boys with her husband Simon, it was the ‘Clean Up Australia’ ad campaign when she was eight. She says: “I gathered fellow holidaying kids on the beach, encouraged them to sing the song and then we picked up rubbish. I remembered feeling very proud and helpful.”
“Children want to be a force for good,” shares Alicia Demond, a Children’s Pastor from Melbourne who has used Tearfund's Useful Gifts Catalogue as a platform to talk with kids about generosity and sharing. “I am always impressed by the way they engage with ethical questions and lead the way in making change.”
It’s encouraging to know that the innate desire for fairness extends beyond equal treatment with their siblings or peers. Even very young children understand sharing, or receiving ‘just’ rewards and consequences – use their experiences with these concepts as a platform to talk about issues that impact others and the wider world around them.
Find some language that makes sense to the kids in your life, and use it to talk about justice and God’s heart for the poor. Keep it practical and memorable. Using scripture as memory verses is great, and don’t forget to bring them up in daily life when you get the chance.Bonnie says: “When we talk about why we do or don’t do something (like loving, caring and forgiving, not fighting and being angry), we try and use examples from Jesus life and stories in the bible,” shares Bonnie. “The old “what would Jesus do/think/say?” is said quite often. As the boys are learning the love of God for themselves, His spirit in them enables them to respond and they are starting to own their responses.”
WA parents Troy and Kat Eikleboom, part of the South Perth TEAR group, find lots of opportunities to encourage a heart for justice in their two kids through day-to-day engagement with consumerism. “We talk through ‘wants versus needs’ when the kids ask for stuff at the shops, go op shopping and give away items we no longer need.”
Bonnie and Simon help their kids practice generosity too. “As they receive pocket money, one of their collection jars is for “others”. At the moment, it’s mostly guided by us because of their age, but I look forward to where they chose to invest it later. We also get involved as much as we can in local and state justice rallies and causes. I took my eldest to the recent climate strike and he was so proud to march and chant and knows we went because we care about the environmental future for our kids.”
It can be really fruitful to empower children to work together, too. Ben Howes, a TEAR volunteer and teacher who also helps lead kids ministry at his church in Melbourne, says kids have awesome creativity when it comes to this. “Equip children with the time and space to form a response together, whether it’s leading a prayer time, making a hospital visit, creating an artwork as a gift, visiting a retirement village, attending a tree-planting, collecting food donations or purchasing sustainably at the supermarket.”
You don’t have to be an adult to make a meaningful response to injustice. Kids are made in the image of God, can follow the example of Jesus and be led by the Holy Spirit, and have amazing capacity and creativity. And as their maturity, gifts and passions grow, they can engage with deeper issues of injustice and integrate their responses into more of their life.
“If justice is intentionally infused into your everyday life and shaping your everyday decisions, your kids will see it as normal life,” says Troy. “Keep talking to them about why you do what you do, your rationale behind your decisions. Keep it in their faces, and age-appropriately expose them to issues of poverty and justice.”
Ben points out how interacting with mentors and people at different stages of life helps map out a path for children as they grow, too. “Across the year, we invite people of all ages into our children’s ministry space to share a glimpse of their life story, especially seniors and the elderly. For children, hearing a diverse range of lifestyles and needs can be a brand new glimpse into what it looks like to care well for our neighbours and live with compassion.”