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To the Rescue: Don't Forget the Children!

Part 3 of my talk from August 21. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The other talk I chose is Elder Neil L. Andersen's, "Whoso Receiveth Them, Receiveth Me." In our rescue efforts, we mustn't forget the children. At the stake auxiliary in May, one of the general auxiliary leaders said if Jesus were at church, Primary is where he'd be. That statement made me consider how much effort I was putting into making Primary an inviting place where children want to go because they feel welcomed and loved. Primary, usually nursery, is the first interaction children have with church. It's an important time to lay that foundation for them so they want to return.

There are plenty of children in our branch, in all types of circumstances, that we can reach out to. Elder Andersen stated,
[M]y plea today is for the hundreds of thousands of children, youth, and young adults who do not come from these, for lack of a better term, “picture-perfect” families. I speak not only of the youth who have experienced the death, divorce, or diminishing faith of their parents but also of the tens of thousands of young men and young women from all around the world who embrace the gospel without a mother or father to come into the Church with them. 
These young Latter-day Saints enter the Church with great faith. They hope to create the family ideal in their own lives at a future day. In time, they become an important part of our missionary force, our righteous young adults, and those who kneel at an altar to begin their own families. 
We will continue to teach the Lord’s pattern for families, but now with millions of members and the diversity we have in the children of the Church, we need to be even more thoughtful and sensitive. Our Church culture and vernacular are at times quite unique. The Primary children are not going to stop singing “Families Can Be Together Forever,” but when they sing, “I’m so glad when daddy comes home” or “with father and mother leading the way,” not all children will be singing about their own family. . . .
My friend Leif attended church by himself. Once, while in Primary, he was asked to give a short talk. He had no mom or dad at church to stand beside him and help him if he forgot what to say. Leif was terrified. Rather than embarrass himself, he just stayed away from church for several months. . . .
When we lived in Mesa, we had several nursery classes at once. Most of the nursery teachers didn't want to be there. They wouldn't prepare, show up, or find subs, and the parents wouldn't help fill in. It was chaos every week, and it affected the kids. When my oldest son entered nursery, he didn't do well. He could tell his teachers' hearts weren't really in their calling.

When we moved to Phoenix, the difference was night and day. The nursery teacher there was amazing. She put so much time and effort into preparation and loved the kids. She had been in nursery for five years, but you couldn't tell she was burned out by the way she treated the little ones. By the time he was a Sunbeam, my son didn't want to leave nursery--until he met his Primary teacher, who was just as awesome.

Elder Andersen went on,
While a child’s earthly situation may not be ideal, a child’s spiritual DNA is perfect because one’s true identity is as a son or daughter of God.
President Thomas S. Monson has said: “Help God’s children understand what is genuine and important in this life. Help them develop the strength to choose paths that will keep them safely on the way to eternal life.” Let’s open our arms and our hearts a little wider. These youth need our time and our testimonies.
He advised that "knowing someone’s name can make a difference." He shared a story of an inactive young man who decided to return to church. At the door was the new bishop, whom the young man didn't know and thought the bishop didn't know him either. But the new bishop welcomed him back by name.

Elder Andersen also revealed that "the greatest influence on helping our youth feel included is other righteous youth." The youth in our branch can make more of a difference than the adults can, because it's more meaningful for children when they are accepted by other children.

Rescuing the children can also help rescue whole families. In our Phoenix ward, there was an older Primary boy who wanted to be baptized. It got his family to come back to church and his dad to become active again so he could baptize his son.

Elder Andersen shared another story about a young Ugandan man who was baptized at 12. On his first day at church, the missionaries introduced him to another young man, who said he would be the new boy's friend. He took the newcomer to Primary, sat next to him, and gave him a songbook. When the newly baptized boy grew up to be a missionary himself, his trainer was none other than the boy who made him feel welcome at church. And his mission president was Leif, the boy who had stopped coming to church so he wouldn't have to give a talk by himself.

The last story Elder Andersen shared was from when he was at a conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The meeting was held outside to accommodate the attendees. There were local children watching from behind the fence. Sister Andersen asked, “ 'Neil, do you think that you might want to invite the children to come in?' I approached District President Kalonji at the podium and asked him if he would welcome the children outside the fence to come join us inside. To my surprise, with President Kalonji’s invitation, the children not only came but came running.”

Children are eager to feel loved and accepted. We need to do our part in making church the place where that can happen so they will keep coming back and grow up to be righteous young men and women who will accomplish all that Heavenly Father sent them here to do. They are the future of this church.

Challenge: Reach out to the children in your ward/branch, in your extended family, and in your own children's lives. 


DAD said…

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