What Will This Child Be?
by Commissioner Helen Clifton
'WHAT will this child be?’ These words spoken about the baby John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel are words that should be asked about every child on earth. It is certainly a question that comes to our minds on frequent occasions when I – with my husband, General Shaw Clifton – have the privilege of seeing first-hand the care given by The Salvation Army to children in many lands.
|The Salvation Army’s women’s ministries theme for 2008 is ‘Generation Next’. With this in mind, Commissioner Helen Clifton, World President of Women’s Ministries, writes about the potential and protection of children. |
|Commissioner Helen Clifton with children in Soweto, South Africa|
|General Shaw Clifton and Commissioner Helen Clifton with staff and residents of a Salvation Army children's home in Aizawl, India|
|Captain Teresa Everett gives training in child protection to a group of Indian women leaders |
|The General and Commissioner Helen Clifton with children and carers from The Haven and Sunshine House children’s homes, Sri Lanka|
We asked it in Japan, when children of the Sekoryo Children’s Home gathered around us as we took off our shoes, put on Japanese slippers and were treated to an elegant Japanese tea-drinking ceremony. We asked it in South Africa, when children of the Carl Sithole Centre in Soweto sang to us with great enthusiasm and presented gifts of love.
We asked it in Mizoram, when the children of the motherless babies’ home tore at our heart-strings as their predecessors had done on our previous visit in 1995. The tallest came to the front and conducted them all in a recitation of Ephesians 6:1: ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right’ (New International Version).
‘But they haven’t got any parents!’ my heart cried as I listened and watched in silence. I then caught sight of the gentle officer-couple in charge of the home and the loving faces of the house-parents holding the youngest babies. These were their parents! The Salvation Army was their family! They were being taught that every word of the gospel applied to them as it did to the whole of the human race. The children continued their chant – ‘“Honour your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth”’ (vv 2, 3) – and their enthusiasm was infectious!
So many children are still without opportunity and education. At the same time, children show a remarkable optimism and toughness of spirit. ‘When I grow up, I will be a doctor, so I can help other children like me,’ said Gulshan, who had hardly any chance of achieving that dream. She was on a Salvation Army evening literacy programme in Islamabad, working by day and unable to attend school.
Even children at school can fail where the home background is difficult or the ethos in the school is hard for them to tolerate. England has its share of failing schools, and so do other economically powerful nations.
In recent years, The Salvation Army has become more aware that not only do some children lack basic opportunity for learning, but many suffer abuse and neglect with devastating results.
As society becomes more vigilant, The Salvation Army has enhanced its child protection procedures around the world, trying to ensure that at least while in The Salvation Army’s care, children will be safe from harm and will be able to grow and learn in freedom. The Soldier’s Covenant (articles of war), signed by all becoming full members of The Salvation Army, used to include the promise: ‘I do here declare that I will never treat any woman, child or other person, whose life, comfort or happiness may be placed within my power, in an oppressive, cruel or cowardly manner.’
Words like ‘oppressive’, ‘cruel’ and ‘cowardly’ describe the behaviour of those who treat children badly. Alcohol and drugs are often a factor and the cycle of abuse is hard to break. ‘What will this child be?’ is a question that often has a worryingly predictable answer – unless godly intervention can be achieved.
Where large numbers of children are displaced by war and natural disasters, child protection and safe procedures are still very important. Some countries have highly-developed systems of screening employees and volunteers, together with solid training for staff. Others are working hard towards these goals. Hearts and minds need to be convinced beyond any legal requirement. We should be ahead of the law in our protection for children and vulnerable adults.
In a recent Salvation Army leadership training seminar in India, women delegates had the benefit of three sessions of child protection training taught by Captain Teresa Everett from International Headquarters. A former special needs teacher and divisional children’s officer in the UK, the captain has a sound knowledge of child protection procedures and related her teaching to the Indian context.
No one pretends that the subject is easy or that there are quick solutions to the evils of child abuse and child abduction. However, The Salvation Army has a strong network that can be used to share messages of protection, nurture and vigilance.
This level of care needs to be role-modelled at all levels. Children need to be provided for at church events – or sound care provision should be made at home. Young children should never be left unsupervised at home when they are younger than 12, and should not be left alone overnight below the age of 16. There is no doubt that safe day-care facilities or after-school clubs are a great benefit for the working parent, and The Salvation Army provides these in places as diverse as the USA, Africa and New Zealand.
It is good to know that even in the Army’s newest openings, safe procedures are regarded as essential. The latest newsletter from Poland, where work began in 2005, says: ‘With the help of the USA Southern Territory, we have been able to produce a Polish subtitled version of an 18-minute DVD called Playing it Safe. It is great material for instructing youth workers on what to do and what not to do when working with children and young people. In order to create a safe environment for the children and the workers, all leaders and youth workers will watch the DVD annually. They will be given all the valuable information on paper in Polish, and be requested to sign that they have received the information and will follow the guidelines in order to provide the best care for the children.’
Bringing children to their full potential, The Salvation Army has a long and honourable record in education and childcare. On any schoolday, nearly 500,000 children study in Salvation Army schools. Hundreds more participate in leisure or pre-school programmes. The huge Kroc centres being established in the United States (thanks to the generosity of donors) ensure that thousands more will have these opportunities. Those in charge care as much about children’s spiritual, social and moral well-being as their sports potential. Thankfully, more money than ever is being invested in the training of officers and lay leaders of the quality and character that The Salvation Army requires for youth leadership.
Children who are surrounded by godly role-models are blessed indeed. As the General and I have the privilege of visiting schools, residential homes and youth programmes around the world, we continue to give thanks for dedicated leaders and teachers. In their busy lives, may they have moments to reflect on their great responsibility – and to ask of the next generation the question: ‘What will this child be?’