This post is the third in a three part series entitled “Let The Children Come,” in which I tell my story of coming to faith as a child and share some thoughts on children’s ministry. You can catch up on part 1 here and part 2 here.
By the time I was 9, it was as if all of the pieces of faith were laid out on the table. I was reading the Bible, I was involved in Christian community, and I had seen God answer prayer. One night, quietly and uneventfully, the pieces clicked into place.
I went to a church evening service with my family. I’m not sure why; I’m pretty certain this was the only occasion I went to an evening service as a child.
I can’t remember what was said but I remember, as the minister spoke, suddenly feeling like it all made sense. I understood why Jesus had died on the cross, and that it was a choice to accept that and to follow him. I actually felt a bit stupid that I hadn’t understood before!
There was no call for response or opportunity for prayer- it wasn’t the kind of church for that- but I went home, and when I went to bed that night, I prayed and asked Jesus into my life. I didn’t tell anyone what I’d done- it stayed between me and God- but its impact was real and lasting.
The testimony I’ve shared so far is the one I will readily share with anyone. Everything I’ve written is true, however, it’s not the full story.
The full story is harder to tell, but increasingly I feel it has to be told, because only if I am honest about how broken I was as a 9 year old girl can my story show the true depth of God’s power and grace.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5 NLT)
The dark undercurrent running beneath the surface of everything I have written so far was sexual abuse. It was not frequent, but it was there, and no-one knew. I didn’t know myself. I had tried to speak out on one occasion but I didn’t have words for what had happened nor the capacity to understand. All I knew was that by the time I came to know Jesus, I was a mess.
Shortly before my ninth birthday, the person who had hurt me had died suddenly, but the initial relief had quickly given way to anxiety, guilt and confusion. It was over, but it haunted me. Outwardly I was free, but inside I was bound. I was consumed with anxiety and an overwhelming fear of death.
Despite having loving parents who tried to help me I felt completely alone, that no-one understood. They had no idea what was behind it all, and I couldn’t explain because I didn’t understand myself. It felt like I was in a place where no-one could reach me…
It was into that background that Jesus came. Somehow his truth was the one thing that broke through and, looking back, I don’t know what I would have done without him. It didn’t take the anxiety away or fix the situation, but it let me know that I was not alone. I knew that I could talk to God. I knew he would always listen and that he understood, even when I was confused, so I would lie in bed and pray to him when there was no-one else to hear.
The thought of heaven gave me hope. I was still convinced that I was going to die, but now there was the prospect of heaven and eternal life with Jesus, I thought maybe that would be okay.
It took around two years for the anxiety to gradually fade to a more manageable level, and several more before I finally faced up to what had happened and began to talk about it, but knowing Jesus gave me strength to keep going and something secure to hold onto. It scares me to think how my life might have turned out without him.
My experiences as a child have been one of the biggest motivators in my own work with children, and I can sum up the reason why I believe children’s ministry is so important in three words.
You never know..
- You never know how God can use it, how he can be powerfully at work even when we see no evidence. No-one knew the depth of God’s work in my life at that point. They would have seen my enthusiasm for the Bible and my desire to learn more, but nobody knew how much of a difference it was actually making. I have experienced several moments in my work with children, where I have suddenly realised that God has been doing more than I had ever imagined, that where there has been little obvious growth on the surface there has been deep transformation taking place.
- You never know what a child is going through or how your words may point them to God and give them hope. No-one who knew me as a child suspected what had happened, and no-one knew how much I needed to hear about the hope there is in Jesus or how that would become an anchor and a lifeline.
Of course these points are true of sharing with adults as well. Everyone needs to hear about Jesus and we never know how God will use our words. But surely it’s a case of the sooner the better. There are children living in darkness of different kinds and we won’t always know their circumstances but, whatever they are facing, we have a message of hope that can penetrate that darkness and that has the power to bring life, and we never know how God can use us as we share that through our words and actions.
“Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”” (Matthew 19:14 NLT)