After we departed the mountain stream in which the children had played for about an hour, we entered Gatlinburg. The wee girl in the car seat began to say, "Clothes! I want clothes!" Of all the things children ask for while in Gatlinburg, I have never had one ask for clothes! There are toys, souvenirs, candy, ice cream. But this little girl's eyes were drawn to the clothes and that is what she wanted. I have witnessed her big sister struggle to find an outfit for her to wear when we are heading out to church on Sunday morning.
Mother's Day, 2017, we picked up three adorable children. Their mama had agreed to let us take them to church and have a picnic in the park. We invited her to go also; it was a day to celebrate her role in their lives; she didn't go. We went to breakfast and then got to church just in time for about ten minutes of Sunday school. We were reminded of the struggles of keeping young children quiet during an hour long worship service; with our "baby" preparing to graduate high school later that month, it had been a while since we had been challenged in that way.
As the weeks have passed, we have continued the pattern of breakfast, Sunday school, church service, lunch, and we have tried to add a fun outing as often as possible. Our outings have included the Cade's Cove loop in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where the children saw their first bear and deer. A couple of Knoxville's parks are their favorites and are becoming regular stops for us. We've seen a movie; we hang out with them at our house some Sunday afternoons, reading books, coloring, playing with sidewalk chalk. We made Father's Day cards for their Daddy on Father's Day Sunday. Right now, we are waiting for cooler temperatures so that we can spend a Sunday afternoon baking chocolate chip cookies for their school classmates. We try to keep it simple. Mostly the children crave attention and love. We are the grateful recipients of joyous greetings when we arrive to pick them up, hugs, kisses, artwork to hang on the board in our dining room.
As we traveled back through Gatlinburg on that day, my mind went on overtime thinking of the possibilities of our relationship with this sibling group, their mama and daddy, and another sweet neighbor girl who has joined us in the last few weeks.
When the small girl was begging for clothes, I imagined helping her through the years to have a few new outfits for back to school, helping her shop for and purchase a dress for prom. I imagined helping her parents a bit so that she, her brother, and sister could have something special for Christmas each year. And as these thoughts rattled through my head, I had an epiphany.
If each congregation who helps in the Hope Central ministry had a few families who would take on being a "Sunday family" for one sibling group, take the time to feed and spend time with, read with, play games with one or a few of the Hope Central children, what would be the outcome of that consistent love and care over the next ten to fifteen years? How would a child's life be changed by having a consistent exposure to a loving family who serves God and talks with the child about Him and His purposes for that child's life? How would their lives change academically if we could add a little tutoring or reading to our Sunday afternoons with them? How would their parent(s) be encouraged and see God's love through the Christians who are willing to spend a few hours a week with their children and getting to know them (the parents) just a bit?
I get that some of you are saying, "I'm too old for that, I don't even keep my grandchildren any more!" But you still send your grandchildren cards, call them to see how they are doing in school, share a Sunday meal with them. You give them loads of attention at any opportunity you have. My challenge to you is to step in and be a surrogate grandparent to a Hope Central family. If you see a family in your home congregation "adopt" a Sunday child, ask to have lunch with that family once or twice a month and begin to get to know that child or children. Send birthday or Christmas cards to them and their parents. Make a phone call occasionally to see how everyone is doing.
Jesus' ministry was about relationship; let's see what happens if ours becomes like His. We have children and their families just around the corner who can see Jesus living in us if only we begin. Ask for an introduction to a child or sibling group who could benefit from a "Sunday family."