Unfortunately, many of us don't consider children important until they 'grow up.' That is we don't accord them ability to participate in life until some 'magical' age -- teen age, drinking age, driving age, etc. However, in his book, Too Small to Ignore, Dr. Wess Stafford (Water Brook Press, Colorado Springs, 2007) tells us how wrong we are to not include children in our life activities as soon as they can and 'why the least of these matters most.' He cites his experience as a child growing up in a missionary family in a West African village of Nielle in northern Cote d'Ivoire. Stafford says that many of us consider childhood as the preamble to actual life, i.e., someday he/she will grow up to amount to something. Not someday, but today, says Stafford!
Stafford makes the point that no matter the ills of society, children bear the brunt of bad situations – in famines, adults become weak and hungry, children starve to death; in boundary and ethnic wars, children pay the greatest price; in child pornography and child prostitution, children lose faith. He cites a 2004 United Nation’s (UNICEF) statistic that says, worldwide, 30,000 children under age 5 die every day! Because children don’t have a vote, political clout or a voice in global affairs, they are marginalized -- no children protest marches, no Children’s Hall of Fame. He even cites his experience with church groups who also pay little attention to the children when making long range plans or for outreach. It is a compelling read that includes his personal one of child-abuse at the hands of leaders of the Christian school he attended. This experience made Stafford stronger in standing up passionately for the little ones – to change the world one child at a time.
Stafford’s early life in Nielle set the stage for what he is now doing with Compassion International. The children of Nielle played roles in their society from toddler on up. As soon as they could walk, they helped pick up twigs and wood for fires. They learned by following older children and watching their elder. Children sat together with the adults in group events as there were no children sections. There was life happening all around. Children cried were nursed were mischievous were disciplined. Children grew up in the village. In Nielle, it was a fact that it takes a village to raise a child.
The children became experts using sling shots to strike prey. They served as guards of the corn crop that baboons would come to steal. They would sit in towers and fire stones at the marauding bands of baboons. Lest you are unschooled about Nielle sling shots, these were serious weapons. These were not just the ones we shot through a ‘y’ shaped piece of wood, but weapons made with strips of twine tied with a pouch in the middle to hold a round-shaped stone (as large as a fist) that was swung above the head with great velocity before releasing the stone toward a target. Stafford says that the best shooters were extremely accurate! Remember the Bible story about David and Goliath? David was a small statured shepherd boy fighting a giant warrior. David’s sling shot killed the giant. This is the same type of slingshot Stafford learned to use. He said that most of the boys of Nielle could have slain the giant.
Stafford’s message for us is that we need to be deliberate in raising our children. We need to provide them the love and nurturing exhibited in the African village so children find their way to blossom into fully productive adults. This is a story about helping children the way we know we should, told from someone who lived the ‘ideal’ in the midst of a simple culture.
© Baldwin H. Tom CMC