When Jesus gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, 20 to bring the gospel to all the people of the world, I believe He was also including children. While we evangelize adults, we must not forget that children need the Lord too. In fact, millions of children, especially in the 10/40 Window, have never heard the name of Jesus. We want to bring them to Jesus and prepare them to meet Him when He comes again.
Wess Stafford, president emeritus of Compassion International, advocates for a major paradigm shift in our thinking in the church. He believes that children are too important and intensely loved by God to be left behind or left to chance. Children belong to all of us; we are compelled to intervene on their behalf.1 We must invest in their spiritual welfare. Hence, we need to be intentional in our mission to children.
Mission to children
Why should we minister to children? The following are some reasons we need to get involved in the mission to children.
Children are valuable to Jesus. Jesus recognized the importance of children and youth. He was asked by the disciples, “‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’
“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea’ ” (Matt. 18:1–6, NIV).
Have we truly listened to Jesus’ teaching about the place of children in the kingdom of God? Children model faith and discipleship by showing us adults how to humbly repent and trust in the God of salvation. When we welcome them, we are accepting and respecting them as Christ Himself did. Notice that Jesus made it very clear that if we neglect and abuse them or turn them away from faith in Christ, we will face severe judgment from God Himself.
In Scripture, we see examples of God using children to transform their world. Remember Samuel, who was just a child but used by God to deliver a needful but difficult message to Eli, the high priest (1 Samuel 3)? Josiah
was a boy king whom God used to reform the religious state of Judah and bring the people back to God (2 Kings 22).
God used children and young people as special instruments at a special time. They are valuable in the kingdom work of the Savior. Can we do anything less?
Many children live in the 10/14 Window. Luis Bush’s study on reaching and evangelizing children in the 10/40 Window reveals fascinating figures of this group, ages 5–14, worldwide. Topping the chart is India. With 20 per-cent less population than China, India has over 30 percent more children and youth. This is due to China’s one-child policy. Nigeria and Indonesia, with half the population of the United States, actually have more children and teens in absolute numbers. In the United States, 25 percent of the nearly 42 million school-age children are Hispanic—though Hispanics comprise only 15 percent of the general population. And, as the map indicates, in Africa and the Middle Eastern countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and others, 40 to 50 percent of the population are less than 15 years old.2
The 10/40 Window is home to 65 percent of the world’s population and to the largest population (86 percent) of unreached people groups.
Population of Children Ages 5 to 14 by Country (2010)3
Top Ten Countries:
- India: 248,253,120
- Indonesia: 42,716,276
- Nigeria: 42,716,276
- USA: 41,819,347
- Pakistan: 38,118,459
- Bangladesh: 36,068,928
- Brazil: 35,263,734
- Ethiopia: 23,990,943
- Mexico: 20,855,453
- TOTAL (TOP TEN) 709,595,962
- TOTAL (OTHERS) 508,921,404
- GLOBAL TOTAL 1,218,517,366
Editor's Note: See the PDF version of this article for a graph on the percentage of children under 15 around the world
These people have never heard the name of Jesus; they do not have the Bible and have few Christian friends and neighbors. Most of the world’s Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, and Muslims live within the 10/40 Window. And within this window are many children who need to know the Savior and be pre-pared for His return.4
Children are most receptive. Major child development theorists like Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg echo vehemently that there are critical periods or sensitive periods during the early years of childhood when values, morality, cognitive think-ing, worldviews, and perspectives of life are shaped either positively or negatively.5
Wess Stafford of Compassion International resonates the same belief, that the spirit of a little child is a lot like wet cement. When a child is young, it takes little effort to make an impression that can last a lifetime.6
In the United Kingdom’s Nutbrown Review for early childhood education, Cathy Nutbrown affirms that “the love and care that children receive from their families . . . are fundamental to their healthy growth and development. Parents influence children’s values, behaviours and ambitions, and lay the foundations of who their children are and what they might become.”7
Ellen G. White held a similar view when she wrote, “Too much impor-tance cannot be placed on the early training of children. The lessons that the child learns during the first seven years of life have more to do with forming his character than all that it learns in future years.”8
At another time, Mrs. White also stated that, “It is still true that children are the most susceptible to the teachings of the gospel; their hearts are open to divine influences, and strong to retain the lessons received.”9
George Barna’s research indicates that 32 percent of those who accept Jesus as their personal Savior are children between 5 and 14 years old. He cautions that if individuals do not accept Jesus before they are 13 years old, the chances of their doing so at a later time is rather slim.10
Children can become effective missionaries. From a mission standpoint, our interest in the 4 to 14 age group is not only because they are receptive but also because they can become effective agents to carry the gospel commission forward. Once you tell a child, he tells the world. Children are our best evangelists!
Clifferson Araujo dos Santos from Manaus, Brazil, runs a small group for 23 to 28 children in his neighborhood, many of whom are poor or have par-ents in prison. He shows them a video of a Bible story and then leads them to study that story. Each child is given a Bible, and they passionately underline the Bible verses as they discuss the lesson. Only 11 years old, Clifferson is a real missionary at work in preaching the gospel.
Ellen G. White reminds us that “whole armies of children may come under Christ’s banner as missionaries, even in their childhood years. Never repulse the desire of children to do something for Jesus. Never quench their ardor for working in some way for the Master.”11
We need to reach kids in cities. As we noted that many children below the age of 15 live in the 10/40 Window, within this window, many are in big cities. The world’s cities present the Seventh-day Adventist Church with a formidable challenge in evangelism as more people are moving from rural communities to big cities where jobs are available.
Statistics from Christianity Today tell us that in 2008, for the first time, the world’s population was evenly split between urban and rural areas. “Fewer than 30 percent of the world’s 2.5 billion people in 1950 lived in cities. By 2050, almost 70 percent of the world’s estimated 10 billion people will do so, according to the United Nations.”12 In fact, Ellen G. White strongly advocates such work: “There is no change in the messages that God has sent in the past. The work in the cities is the essential work for this time. When the cities are worked as God would have them, the result will be the setting in operation of a mighty movement such as we have not yet witnessed.”13
The church needs to be intentional and serious in planning its mission to children within both the church and the community. Included in their strategic plans should be projects to evangelize children—Vacation Bible School, health expos, evangelistic campaigns, craft days, and Bible camps—projects that reach community children with the gospel of love.
Children in mission
When children accept Jesus as their special Friend, they are inspired to share Jesus with their friends. That is when we need to involve children in mission at home and abroad. We can start training them to be Christ’s wit-nesses and to serve others unselfishly.
In fact, Ellen G. White counsels, “By precept and example parents are to teach their children to labor for the unconverted. The children should be so educated that they will sympathize with the aged and afflicted and will seek to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and distressed. They should be taught to be diligent in missionary work; and from their earliest years self-denial and sacrifice for the good of others and the advancement of Christ’s cause should be inculcated, that they may be laborers together with God.”14
The following are some benefits of involving children in mission.
Children’s lives are transformed. Children and teens who have participated in mission or community service have positive responses. They come home excited and inspired to recommit themselves for greater service to the less fortunate and for God.
One seventh-grade student, Chris from the Spencerville school in Maryland, participated in a mission project in Central America to help build a church and run children’s programs. He testified afterwards, “Mission trips have changed my outlook in life. It helps me think more of others and less of myself. Doing even little things can change lives. Mission is for me.”
Children develop compassion. Children should be given an opportunity to respond to the needs of their world. Getting children involved in helping at a shelter, praying for the sick, and giving their money and toys for flood victims helps to develop their compassion for the less fortunate. Giving and serving from childhood help them grow into caring adults.
After moving to the United States, the Owino brothers, Brian, Calvin, and David, received word that some of their cousins had died of HIV/AIDS. So they launched the BCD Can Project to raise funds to help HIV/AIDS children in Malela, Kenya. They collected soda pop cans every day after school, then cashed in the deposits and sent the money to AIDS orphans in Africa. They have raised US$33,000 in four years and have helped more than 400 AIDS orphans.
Children learn to share Jesus. When children are inspired and trained to witness and share the gospel with their friends and schoolmates, they experi-ence joy in seeing others accept Jesus. Mateus Soares from Brazil started sharing Jesus when he was eight years old. He visited his neighbors to pray for them and then invited them to his Bible study class. After some time, he brought 25 people to the Lord, and they were baptized into the church.
Ellen G. White points out that “in their early years children may be useful in God’s work. . . . He desires them to be His little missionaries, denying their own inclinations and desires for selfish pleasure to do service for Him; and this service is just as acceptable to God as is the service of grown-up children.”15
Children learn generosity. Parents whose children have been involved in missionary projects or mission trips testify that their kids become more sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate and are more generous in donating their own money to help out. In fact, they are more enthusiastic and passionate in fund-raising for mission projects than are many adults.
When we brought our two sons to help distribute food baskets to the poor families and help children living by the railroad tracks, we noticed that, after getting home, they pulled out a lot of their books, toys, and clothes to give to the poor children.
Children learn to trust in God. After participating in mission projects, children learn to trust God to help them out of situations. Once, a group of preteens was helping build a church in Guatemala. When the rains threatened to destroy the roof, they prayed earnestly for God to hold back the rain until it got dry. God answered their prayers. This situation strengthened their faith and trust in God.
Yes, it is imperative that we see children and young people as a crucial, strategic force that can finish the task of the Lord. Ellen White wrote, “In the closing scenes of this earth’s history many of these children and youth will astonish people by their witness to the truth, which will be borne in simplicity, yet with spirit and power. . . . In the near future many children will be endued with the Spirit of God, and will do a work in proclaiming the truth to the world, that at that time cannot well be done by the older members of the church.”16
We need to sow the seeds of mission interest in our children at an early age if we expect to reap missionary recruits and strong mission supporters in the years ahead. Time is short. Jesus is coming soon. Involve our children now.
1 Wess Stafford, Too Smal to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2007).
2 Luis Bush, “Raising up a New Generation From the 4/14 Window to Transform the World,” 4/14 Window Movement, accessed March 22, 2015, www.4to14window.com/wp-content /uploads/2013/06/4-14%20Window%20Booklet%20Full%20 Resolution.pdf.
3 Ibid., Indonesia and Nigeria populations [sic].
5 Angela Oswalt, “Sensitive Periods in Child Development,” MentalHelp.net, updated January 17, 2008, www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=7923&cn=28.
6 Stafford, Too Small to Ignore, 248, 249.
7 Cathy Nutbrown, Foundations for Quality: The Independent Review of Early Education and Childcare Qualifications, Final Report, June 2012, www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads /attachment_data/file/175463/Nutbrown-Review.pdf, 11.
8 Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1954), 193.
9 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 515.
10 George Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003).
11 Ellen G. White, That I May Know Him (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1964), 42.
12 Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “Urban Urgency: Missionaries Follow Migration to City Centers,” Christianity Today, August 16, 2010, www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/august/21.14.html.
13 Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1932), 304.
14 Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), 487.
15 Ibid., 486, 487.
16 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1943), 166.