Leading Little Lambs
The Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore, once observed, "Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man." 1
There is indeed a fresh promise written within each Adventist child. The soft, fertile soil of each young heart and mind is like fresh cement — everything that drops there leaves an impression. With words printed in the April 28, 1909, edition of our very own North Pacific Union Conference GLEANER, Ellen White encouraged Adventist parents to give their little ones a healthy start. These words, full of practical wisdom have also been the source of varying opinions among us. "Mothers, let the little ones play in the open air; let them listen to the songs of the birds, and learn the love of God as expressed in his beautiful works."
Lest you think this "free as lambs" counsel gave them all play and no work, she did go on to say small children should "seek healthful exercise in the performance of necessary home duties." But her advice has provided the impetus for many Adventist families to home school their children. They join with many other conscientious parents from other faiths who believe in the power of the home influence.
So you can understand the apparent dichotomy between this counsel — this ideal concept — and the reality with which many are faced. It's the same issue dealt with early in our history when the church first decided to establish Adventist schools. Should we take on the role of the parent? No. But when reality says children will otherwise go without positive training from the home, it provides an opportunity for our church to do something powerfully redemptive.
It has been the catalyst for our extensive educational system, with more than 7,000 church-operated facilities around the world. And, now, it prompts the new emphasis on early childhood education care. In this fast-paced society, with two-income families and single parents struggling to meet their children's needs, we have an opportunity to make an impression that will last beyond a lifetime into eternity.
Lydia Sigourney, 19th century writer, once penned these words: "In early childhood you may lay the foundation of poverty or riches, industry of idleness, good or evil, by the habits to which you train your children. Teach them right habits then, and their future life is safe."2
That's not so very different than the good counsel of Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it."
And that's our concern. The present affects the future. It's why we have asked Sue Patzer to coordinate early childhood training efforts around the North Pacific Union Conference. We must not let our Adventist children fall through the cracks —especially at a young and tender age. And the opportunities to minister to the little lambs in our communities are enormous.
Someone once quipped that adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas. Well, we want to put the idea in these young minds and hearts, as early as possible, that they are children of the King — now and forever.
That's a mission I am praying for; and you can, too.