Loving kids Jesus-style


Make no mistake about it – Jesus loved kids. And part of being the incarnational presence of Christ in our neighborhood in Haiti is loving kids. I preached a short message on Mark 10:13-16 at the final feeding program I attended. I asked the children, “Do you think Jesus ever got angry?” Many answered, “No.” I then read the passage from Mark and told them about how one of the few things that made Jesus angry was when his friends tried to keep children from coming to him.
Jesus did not have an “adults-only ministry,” as much as that might have seemed appropriate to his followers. They believed him to be a leader who would soon marshal an army and change the world. But Jesus’ ministry was not one of military conquest. He was more concerned with demonstrating the love of God through truth-telling, healing, exorcism, and compassion. He cared for people of all ages, and he seems to have especially enjoyed the company of children and outcasts.

Jesus seems to have made it a habit of showing kids physical affection. Mark 10:16 says, “And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them.” Now there’s a picture for you! So much for portraying Jesus as a guy who always looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. I picture him smiling and laughing with children. I’ll even go so far as to say that Jesus might have horsed around with them. He was God the Son, fully present in our world. Why not think he could be fully present in the world of a four-year-old?

Particularly on this last trip to Haiti, I fell into replicating Jesus’ version of “children’s ministry.” I looked kids in the eye, grinned at them, hugged them, placed a gentle hand on their heads, and sometimes chased them around. (By the way, those Haitian kids are incredibly fast, and they can run across very rocky terrain in their bare feet!) I would sometimes carry a kid on my back, saying things like, “Look! I am your donkey.” They get a kick out of such silliness, especially when it comes from a supposedly important adult. But at times things take a more serious tone. When little Isyanna was running a fever, I took her to the medical clinic and then carried her on my back four or five blocks to her house. As I walked, we spoke sparingly and quietly, and I kept having to hoist her up because she was slumping down on my back. She is a very tough kid, and she seems accustomed to walking around with a fever. But it appeared to me that when someone was carrying her and showing her compassion, she could relax and let go of the toughness usually required of her.

Mark tells us that praying for kids and blessing them is part of doing children’s ministry Jesus-style. At that last feeding program, I went around to almost every one of the 85-or-so kids, laid a hand on his or her head, and gently blessed them. I could picture Jesus doing something like that.

I want to reiterate: doing life Jesus-style means loving kids. In particular, it means loving kids Jesus-style. And what is involved in loving kids Jesus-style? I think it includes things like believing kids to be important, getting into their world, engaging them on their own terms, showing them affection, exercising compassion toward them, praying for them, and blessing them.

I felt like I stumbled into the sweet spot with these feeding program kids. I didn’t know them at the start of the trip. By the end of those 32 days, I was connected with them. It wasn’t because I was strategically positioning myself to have influence in their lives. I wasn’t consciously trying to imitate actions Jesus would take. Rather, by the power of God’s Spirit, loving those kids arose out of genuine affection and compassion. Romans 5:5 says, “God has poured out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” When genuine love flows from us, it is the life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit. When we genuinely love kids, we experience the power of the Spirit, leading us to follow in the very footsteps of Jesus. One of the great miracles God did on that trip was to take me, an academically trained theologian, and turn me into a big kid brimming with love and compassion. I can’t put all this into words, but I can bear witness that it happened. And I can promise that when God pulls us into the whirlpool of his love, we find rich connections and fullness of heart we would never think possible.

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