Children: God’s Image Bearers

with Wess Stafford | November 25, 2008

What does God’s love for us look like? On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Compassion International President, Wess Stafford, about God's heart for His precious children.

What does God’s love for us look like? On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Compassion International President, Wess Stafford, about God's heart for His precious children.

Children: God’s Image Bearers

With Wess Stafford
|
November 25, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: How much time, energy, effort, and budget at your church goes to the children's ministry?  Wess Stafford thinks it's time to take a fresh look at that question.

Wess: The church ought to be the most loving place on the planet.  Every child who runs down the halls of that church ought to be loved all along the way.  If they're walking by with a little Sunday school paper, you should stop them and say "What did you do today?"  It's time for us to get off of our lethargy and to get deliberately engaged in children's lives.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 25th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Children matter to God.  Do they matter to you?  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I'm wondering if you and our guest really do agree.  You know, I've heard you refer to children with the disparaging term of "rugrat."  You've called children rugrats, haven't you?

Dennis: Oh, affectionately, but …

Bob: Oh, affection – now, how can that be affectionate – to call a child a rugrat?  A toddler, yeah.  You've used ankle-biters, haven't you?

Dennis: I haven't – that was probably yours.

[laughter]

Bob: How is that affectionate – rugrat?

Dennis: Well, probably – the way you're using the word "rat" …

Bob: I'm just quoting what you say.  You call them rugrats from time to time, don't you?

Dennis: Yeah, but it's not really speaking of that animal, I mean …

Bob: Do you think they feel affectionate when they get referred to as rugrats?  Have you ever asked the children?

Dennis: I've never called my children rugrats when they were growing up.  That actually was a term that came to me after I'd raised them.

[laughter]

So I don't think our guest would agree with that term.

Bob: Do you ever refer to children as rugrats?

Wess: Oh, no, no, no.

Bob: No.  See?  I knew, I knew you'd get a rebuke from Wess Stafford on this.

Dennis: Well, that was the voice of Wess Stafford, who is the head of Compassion International, which Bob doesn't have any compassion on me, so …

Wess: Obviously not.

Dennis: Obviously not.

Bob: If you'd like to sponsor a rugrat …

Dennis: Wess is the President and CEO of Compassion International.  He and his wife live in Colorado Springs and have raised two daughters; been married 26 years, and we do share a similar passion in that we are both advocates for children.

Bob: And I haven't had a chance if I want to publicly say …

Dennis: Rugrats, rugrats.

Bob: I want to publicly say thanks, because when Mary Ann and I had our first child, Amy, one of the things that we thought was, you know, if we're going to raise a child, we ought to be caring for another, too.  And so we have had, I think, three or four Compassion kids during the time that Amy has grown up, and we've got a picture of one on our refrigerator right now, and I appreciate the fact that you have made it easy for me to do something rather than do nothing.  Because, frankly, there are times when I think I should be doing something, but if it wasn't for an organization like Compassion, there wouldn't be much I could do.  You make it possible for me to do something.  Sometimes I think I hope I'm not just making a guilt offering, you know what I mean?

Wess: Oh, no.  You know, most of our sponsors, when we do research and ask them why are you doing this?  The vast majority of them are young families, and they have children in their homes, and they say to me, "Well, you know, the truth is, we care about the little guy in Ethiopia, you bet we do, but we're trying to raise compassionate, caring children in our own homes."  And they don't learn that in the mall, they don't learn that off TV, they learn that by what we talk about, what we pray about, that little jar of pennies on the kitchen table that we gather up to support money each on. 

So we're using you to develop our own children, and we say, you know what?  Have at it, that's wonderful.

Dennis: And there's a reason for your outreach to children.  It's because you believe God imprinted His image in children.

Wess: Absolutely.

Dennis: In fact, we were talking just before we began the broadcast about a verse that Bob quoted earlier this week about Jesus speaking of little children.  He said, "Suffer not the little children to come unto me."  And He placed a value and a dignity, and your comment was that's a very misunderstood passage of Scripture.

Wess: Yeah, I think that virtually every piece of artwork that I've ever seen that tries to capture that moment with Jesus and the mothers and the children; virtually, every poem I've ever read; virtually, every song I've ever heard around that misses a very important point, and to miss this point is to miss the absolutely center of the heart of Jesus and the center of the Kingdom of God, and that is this – Jesus didn't just coo very sweetly, "Oh, it's 11:20 in the morning, it's Sunday morning, it's time to let the little children come to me."  He roared that.  The message says it very, very clearly.  He was irate, and he let them know about is how the message puts it.

Other translations say He was indignant.  Jesus was extremely angry at that moment, and he was a strong, young carpenter.  He was the little namby-pamby, gentle little guy we see in most of our artwork.  He was a carpenter, he was a strong man, and yelled at his disciples in a way that made them rock back on their haunches – "Let those little children come to me, don't you dare hinder them.  That's my kingdom standing there," essentially.

We only read, in my Bible, I can only find a couple of times where Jesus was really angry.  Both times it was because something very important, a very important principle in His kingdom was getting eroded.  We all know about the time with the whip in the temple.

Bob: Clearing the temple.

Wess: And that was because corruption and business was taking the place of worship and prayer in His Father's house.  This was because a very important principle was also at stake – children were being pushed away from the Messiah, from Jesus Christ Himself.

Both times that Jesus was angry, that I can see, this was not a temper flare of the moment, this was premeditated stuff.  You know, we ready about the temple, Jesus – it must have broken His heart all through His childhood watching what was going on in His Father's house, but we read that He went to the temple the night before – too late in the day, the Bible says, "Too late in the day to do anything about what He saw."

So he went home to Bethany, to his friend's house in Bethany – came back – He must have tossed and turned all night, but he came back the next morning in a mood, and he grabbed the whip and cleaned the thing.  So what was the thing that made Him shout it angrily at His disciples?  To understand that, you have to go back to probably the day or a couple of days before that, and you read about that in Mark, chapter 9, verse 33.  And it was the argument that they had on the road to Capernaum about who was the greatest in the kingdom.  They'd just come from the transfiguration.  They must have seen who showed up and said, "Well, where is Samuel, where is David?  There must be some sort of a hierarchy going on up there."

Anyway, they had an argument all that day, so awful that Jesus must not have even been able to walk with them.  He was, like, "What did you talk about back there?"

So He gets them, and you read about this in Matthew, chapter 18, and that's when He took a little child and stood him in their midst, and they must have said, "What's this?  We're talking about power and prestige and position.  You stand a little child here in our midst." 

Anyway, all through Matthew, chapter 18, He says, "You've got to change and become like one of these little children to even get in much less be the greatest in the Kingdom."  He goes on to say, "I know what your argument was about.  It was about who can do the most for me," and He goes on to say, "Matter of fact, whatever you do for one of the least of these, that's what you did for me."

And then it's the most wonderful thing, because He loses His train of thought, kind of.  In verse 6 He finally – you know, they've talked about who is the greatest and then, suddenly, it's like He must have fallen in love with that little boy all over again, because He looks at this little boy, and He says, "And by the way, don't cause one of these little ones to stumble.  If you do, I don't know, how scary can I make this?  How about a two-ton rock around your neck thrown into the sea?  That's how precious they are.  Don't cause them to stumble."

He then talks about if you have sins like that in your life, and it's your foot or your hand or your eye that causes that, chop them off, pluck them out.  And then He gets to verse 10, which is so powerful.  He says – and they must have said, "Lord, we would never do those awful things to children."  And Jesus says, "Okay, that's probably true.  I know you guys, but listen to this – don't even look down on these little ones, because their angels in heaven ever see the face of my Father."  Children have advocates in the presence of God Almighty this day, and then He tells the story of the lost sheep, which normally we're talking about the value of the individual.  But Jesus is in the same conversation.  He winds up that with verse 14 still talking about kids.

He says, "Because my Father is not willing that any of these little ones should perish."  I don't know how that conversation ends.  The little boy must have looked back at Jesus and said, "Whoa, I guess you told them.  You know, your hands were trembling." 
 

On the brink of that, the next day or a few days later, here is this gathering that we all know so well, and the children are being a little bit rambunctious, a little bit – you know, there's big important talk, the Pharisees are there, they're talking about divorce, the disciples are still loving to be around the power.  Finally, the kids get too rambunctious.  Some disciple says, "Children" – someone said, "Children, would you just be still?"  Someone must have said, "Children, would you just go away?"

And I maintain that that is the moment that Jesus absolutely snapped, and this powerful young carpenter, this great rabbi, shouted at him, "Don't you dare do that.  Don't you remember what I told you about their place in the Kingdom, how important they are?  Don't you dare send them away, because I love them."  And then when the children finally come, what I love – and the disciples who were later to write the Gospels, this made it into all three of the synoptic Gospels – must have missed going on to pick up on this, but what it says is, "He took them in His arms, and He blessed them."

And the thing I wish we had for posterity is what did He say?  If we knew what Jesus said to those little children in that moment, it would absolutely set what we do as churches, missions, even families, completely on its end.  We would recognize their importance in His kingdom and His passion for them.

Bob: It's interesting, because you do think that maybe we need to reexamine and reevaluate how we do ministry as the church, as individuals, and the role that children have in all of that.  If I could make you the evangelical pope for the day, you know, and put you in charge of the church, and you could effect reform, what would you do?

Wess: I worked really hard in this book to try to touch on that.  There is a whole chapter in that book called "Imagine."  Imagine a different world, imagine a world where children have their proper place – not the front of the line, we can make a mistake on that, but their place, proper place in line.  And we would just all walk around differently.  I maintain if we could see these guardian angels behind these little kids, I mean, these big nine-foot warriors or whatever they look like, everything would change.  You know, there would be no more abuse.  You wouldn't try to take advantage of a little child with a guardian like that.  Well, they do have a guardian like that.

So what I would like more than anything is a paradigm shift.  I would like everyone to begin to look around them and to see the children, to actually see the children and to ask themselves, "What can I do to bless this child as Jesus did?  What can I do to breathe hope and dignity and joy?"

I maintain that if we were doing this right, first of all, workers in the nursery of the church would not be the hardest volunteers to find.  People would be lining up with resumes in hand for the privilege of holding those little children during the worship service.  I would maintain Sunday school teachers would not be the lowest rung on the totem pole; they would be at the top, and the younger the child the higher the qualifications.  I find a lot of folks want to teach adult Sunday school class but who wants to teach the five-year-olds?  If we could understand their place in the kingdom, we would be lining up Ph.D.s to make our case – why should I get to do this?

Churches would begin to realize that what we don't need is three-year plans, what we need is 30-year plans.  We need to ponder – what are we doing now in order to set the stage for when these little ones are the leaders of our church?

I think that there should be no children's performances that don't end with a standing ovation, and I would call on anyone who is listening or who reads this book to say, "I am going to be the one to jump up and lead the applause.  I don't care of the props fell down and lines were forgotten, you cheer the effort, the fact that they are wonderful children who just did a great thing for you.  You'd jump up, and you'd give them a standing ovation.

I love it when anyone breathes a word of joy, encouragement, into my little daughters – especially when they were really small.  We need each other.  The church ought to be the most loving place on the planet.  Every child who runs down the halls of that church ought to be loved all along the way.  If they are walking by with a little Sunday school paper, you should stop them and say "What did you do today?"  It's time for us to get off of our lethargy and to get deliberately engaged in children's lives.

I do it all the time.  You can imagine, in my calling, this is a part of me.  But I ask God for ways to give me these appointments, and I have an ear, my left ear rings because of way too many jet travels over my life, but I've got a ringing ear that every once in a while just overwhelms me and other times I'm not aware of it.  I've prayed for God to take that away, and He hasn't, so I'm thinking, like Paul, this must be a thorn I'm supposed to endure.

So what I've done, just in case it's Satan trying to drive me nuts, I've said I'm going to use it for my calling.  So anytime I am aware, and it will happen a half a dozen times a day, that my ear is really ringing, I look around for the child.  I look for a child, and if there are no children around, I simply pray for children.  But if there is a child around, I find myself, "What can I deliberately do to help that child?"

On the way down here just recently, I just came down from Denver yesterday, day before yesterday.  I'm walking down Concourse B in Denver's airport, my ear goes off like an alarm clock.  I look around – sure enough, there's a little girl standing over by the store, and she's sketching on a little piece of paper, a kind of billboard that was up outside the store, and everyone can do this, but I went up there, and I looked over her shoulder, and I said, "Wow," I said, "That looks exactly like that picture.  You are a great little artist."  And she looked up at me with her pen in her hand, and tears welled up in her eyes, and she said, "Thank you."  She said, "I love to draw."  And I said, "You're going to be a great artist."  I just walked on down Concourse B.

Why can't we all do that?  I had another time I was waiting for my car to get dried at a car wash, and there was a young mother and her four-year-old son beside me.  They were relating back and forth like best friends.  It was the coolest thing to watch, and just as her car got ready, I reached over, and I tapped her on the shoulder, and I said, "Can I just say something?"  She said, "What?"  I said, "You were doing something really important, and you're doing it really well.  That's a lucky little boy."  And this young mother looked at me, she reached over, and she touched my arm, and she says, "Nobody has ever said that to me.  I pour myself into him.  You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today."

And I'm thinking, "Why can't we be like that?  People, especially Christians, we should never let a child go by without finding some way to either lift them up or at least breathe a prayer over them.

Bob: And, you know, anybody who hears you talk about this, or gets a copy of your book, your passion on this subject is contagious and needs to be contagious.  In our churches here in this country, in our heart for children all around the world, we need to reflect the heart of God, and God cares about children.

Let me encourage our listeners, if they don't have a copy of your book, we have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click on the right side of the home page where it says "Today's Broadcast."  Click the box that says "Learn More," it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about Wess's book and about other resources we have at FamilyLife to help you enlarge your heart for children and for the children of the world, in particular.

Again, the website is FamilyLife.com.  You can also get in touch with us by phone at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and when you do get in touch with us, someone will give you more information about how you can have the resources you need sent to you.  Dennis?

Dennis: Well, we've been talking with Dr. Wess Stafford, who is President and CEO of Compassion International and, first of all, I want to thank you, Wess, for the work you've done on this book and for being on our broadcast this week.

There's a story you tell about going cycling with your dad and how he taught you that people were more important than things.

Wess: Do you know that probably that experience in that place really launched me into Compassion's ministry, which touches both the spiritual and the physical needs of children.  Those things were often pulled apart back in those days, you know, missionaries were sent to Africa about the spiritual things and not necessarily about the physical things.  Compassion's ministry, one thing I love about it is it absolutely blends them beautifully.

Last year, 78,262 of these sponsored children accepted Christ as their Savior as a result of Compassion's ministry in their local church.  So that part of the equation we got very strongly, but the other side, people wonder, "Are the poor my issues?  Do I really have anything to do about them?"

My father was an amazing father that believed that even a five-year or six-year-old boy could be a part of his life, even if the life was out in the middle of dangerous snake-infested places.  So one of my earliest memories is we'd go open up villages to the Gospel where no white person had been since the slave traders.

Dennis: Now, we're talking about …

Wess: Ivory Coast, West Africa.

Dennis: Okay.

Wess: And long – you'd left a little two-lane road way back.  The only way you could get there was either hike or bicycle, and so remote that many of these people had never even seen a bicycle.  They were desperately afraid of white-skinned people, and as we would arrive, they would see us in the fields around the village and scream and run into the center of the village.  An African village is like a honeycomb – the deeper you go into it, these little courtyards, you finally come to the center.  In each courtyard is an extended family, aunts and uncles, there were like three or four huts, grass-roofed huts.

But the further we would walk in, the more vulnerable we would become.  If they wanted to kill us, they certainly could, and we would walk all the way to the very center of the village, and that's when my father would say in their language, "Please don't be afraid.  We haven't come to take slaves.  We've come to tell you about a God who loves you."

Interesting thing – "loves you" was a foreign concept.  They didn't have a word for love – not agape love.  The closest thing they had, as loving as they were to one another was "things please me" – my wife pleases me, my dog pleases me, my cows please me.

Well, Dad is a Bible translator.  You get to John 3:16, you can't hardly say, "The world so pleased God that He sent his only Son." And so we would have to introduce a whole new word in order to express agape love.  So my father would say that to them.  Usually, it was the little children who would poke their heads out of the huts first.  When they were okay, the women would poke their heads out.  Finally, the men, you know, they'd come out, and finally the chief.  And in Kashono [sp] when the kids came out, we saw not what we usually saw of smiling, bright-eyed kids.  We saw kids with distended bellies, really very sick children, and the mothers came out with tears in their eyes, and as we sat down in that courtyard, my father looked at them, and he recognized water-borne disease.

And he said to the chief, you know, "If you could show me your water source, maybe we can help your children."  And so the chief – we all walked – the whole village walked to the edge of the village, and there was the hole in the ground, and it was the well for everybody.  But its sides were sloped, and water was sloshing back in.  They pulled it up by buckets on ropes, animals were walking all around the surface.  You could see the source of the health problems of the kids.

So Dad said, "Can we do something with this?"  The chief said, "Yeah, yeah, you guys help him."  So we stayed in the village in their little hut for several weeks, and we built up the mouth of the well; we went back out and got Clorox, and we purified the water.  We got medicine from the hospital down the road, we put up a barrier so that the animals couldn't get around there, and within a few weeks, the children's health issues had subsided.

And the chief came to my father, and he said, "What was about us that so pleased you that you did this kindness for our children?"  And that's when my father says, "Ah, that's that word I've been talking about.  It's not that you have pleased me, but I saw your need, and I couldn't help but help myself – I had to help you.  That's this love that God has for you."

And a little church got launched.  My father was a great missionary, but one of the worst things he did was, first of all, speaking in American churches.  He was dead in the pulpit, and writing prayer letters.  So we would all gather, as a family, and we'd come up with ideas.  So this time I said, "Dad, tell them about Kashono, tell them about the opening up of that village – the well, the fact that they understood God's love.  Tell them that." 

And so Dad says, "Well, yeah, okay, that's good."  So, for several days, with a little Coleman lantern on our little card table and a paper and a pencil, Dad wrote and wrote and wrote.  But as time went on, I watched him crossing out, I watched him erasing, and I didn't know what was going on but finally the letter got sent back to our headquarters in Chicago.  By the time we saw it six months later, it had already been distributed to our supporters, and I got a chance to read the letter.  I'm probably, like, 10 years old at this time.

I read this letter, and I read my father writing all this spiritual, lofty words.  You know, we praise God for the moving of the spirit in Koshono, and God's amazing grace, a church – and he's on and on, nothing about the well, nothing about the fact that we'd spent three weeks in the mud.  And I said, "Dad, you missed the whole story.  Tell them that the people understood God's love because of what we did in the well."

And my father said, "Well, Wess" – I'll never forget the look on his face, he said, "Wess, I don't think they would understand.  You see, they sent me over here with a spiritual mandate to bring souls to Christ, and I spent three weeks in the mud.  I don't think they would understand that."  And I remember, as a little boy, slamming my hand on the card table.  I said, "Daddy, if that's not what missionaries should do, I don't want to be one."

It was the worst thing I could say to my father, because we were partners, you know, we did this mission stuff together.  Years later, I can now look back and realize God was again shaping me for the ministry that I do.  It's completely spiritual, and it's completely physical – helping them escape the confines of poverty by understanding the love of God in their life and that they are precious in God's sight.

So, again, I can look back to my childhood, and I can see the roots of what God was putting in place to prepare me to do what I do in the world today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 

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