This past Sunday, several events took place at Christ Church. We had a children's worship, and during the 10:30 service had the occasion to commission our Sunday School teachers. After the commissioning, I made a remark to the effect that there’s always a vacancy on the Sunday School teacher roster, and our doors are always open to accept those who may feel called to share in the ministry of Children Formation. I am sure many of you have heard the often-quoted African aphorism “It takes a village to raise a child.” The beauty of this adage is the shift in responsibility of raising children towards a communal task. As parents, it often helps to remind ourselves that it isn’t only parents who shape the life of a young person but also the people around them - teachers, mentors, coaches, friends, Sunday school teachers, and other role models.
Like myself, you may not have literally grown up in a village or a small town, but it is likely that you grew up within the contours of an environment where many others felt obligated to mentor, nurture, and support your growth. That is not to say that all who came your way or felt obligated to shape your life were angels. Some of us have suffered terrible abuse from people we thought loved us and sought our welfare. These were adults in whom we thought we could entrust our lives, but in the end felt betrayed by the most fundamental relationship that a child has with an adult. For some, it has taken a lifetime to rebuild their lives. I remember a story of three brothers in their late 60’s to early 70’s who couldn’t forgive their mother for the abuse they suffered from their father. ‘The Village’ isn’t always a perfect place.
As imperfect as it may be, however, there are also responsible elders in ‘The Village’ who more than owe it to themselves and children to help them grow to be responsible adults. In a very powerful way, faith communities like Christ Church continue to do this kind of work - of creating villages for every child, providing people places of sanctuary, and giving them the tools and confidence to grow. I cannot say enough about how blessed I am to know that I grew up in a church which was also a sanctuary for me.
One of the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed was the importance of keeping good company - what we may now refer to as people who have our back, people who can be a mirror of what good means, those who make us better people for having them around us. There’s no gainsaying of the tremendous effect that the values of such an environment has on a child and, in my case, I have no idea where I would have ended up had it not been for 'The Village’.
September 17th is always a difficult day for me because that is the anniversary of my father’s passing. I remember that day like no other. A few days ago, I had to take myself back to 1985. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it is always freeing because every time I engage myself in that exercise - of going back to that day - I simultaneously open myself up to being grateful for the many people from 'The Village’ who shaped my life and provided an anchor for me. Did I often go wayward? Well, you bet I did. But I never forgot the wise words of those elders and supporters. As lost as I could be at times, finding myself over and over again became synonymous with being repeatedly reborn.
If I had thought that life was an adventure, it would become all too apparent that it wasn’t, because it too can be an end in itself. Life became, and has been, for me, a process of self-discovery. If I could dare to do anything, it is because of the drive to rediscover myself, the person that God created me to be. The process of rediscovering ourselves can often be pretty tough because it is about rediscovering who we are beneath the clutter of everyday life, and whether the pain in our lives or the promise of a better one is enough to galvanize us into action. Self-discovery surely takes us away from our comfort zones, but it nonetheless leads us towards a life of love.
Ever since my youthful days, and throughout my life of ministry, I have always favored ‘The Village’ where responsible adults open up a world of possibilities for a child by blessing him or her with direction, a sense of purpose, good counsel, and an environment that pushes us towards self-discovery.
In my mind, ‘The Village’ is one of many places where people can make lasting contributions to this world. It is my hope that you will also see yourself as being a part of 'The Village,’ for you might be an example for another- young or old, who is deprived of godly influence.