Defending the innocence of children

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

A RECENT story in this newspaper reported the heartbreaking plight of Istanbul's 15,000 street children and the film that calls attention to the problem. Many of the children live in abandoned buildings and survive, the story says, "on a diet of drugs, donations - and theft" (See story). The filmmaker, Umit Cin Guven, said: "Our idea was to show the government that something should be done for these kids, to wake up the public, to make people do something."

Although I live on another continent, I feel as though I am one of the people who, as the filmmaker urges, could "do something." I may not be able to pressure the Turkish government or start an agency to help these children. But I can do something that I find practical and powerful: pray. I have always found prayer a healing force in my own life - not just soothing words but a stairway to power that changes things.

As I pray, I want to understand more clearly the valuable contribution that children make to the world. Jesus understood the worth of children. When his disciples asked him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he said: "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in" ("The Message" by Eugene Peterson, Matt. 18:3).

And Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, wrote: "Beloved children, the world has need of you, - and more as children than as men and women: it needs your innocence, unselfishness, faithful affection, uncontaminated lives" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," pg. 110).

The innocence of children needs to be loved and defended. As I pray, I find myself rebelling against the idea that these street children in Turkey can be robbed of their God-given innocence. Each child's innocence and purity are made by God and therefore are not vulnerable, but protected and secure.

Sometimes it looks as if the innocence of children has been lost and is irrecoverable. But Jesus said that his mission was to save that which was lost. He said: "If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? ... it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:12-14).

There are modest examples of how children are rediscovering their innocence. A Monitor article from 1999 detailed how child soldiers who'd fought in Africa's wars were being rehabilitated in dozens of programs.

I was touched by the story of one former child soldier who had spent seven years ruthlessly killing people and had begun to turn his life around: "At the group home outside Freetown [Sierra Leone], Tejan is still prone to talking tough. But, in a quiet moment, he admits that he just wants to go back home to his parents and, once again, feel loved. Usually, he says, his dreams are filled with enemies and killing and war. 'But yesterday I dreamed about my mother. She saw me, and she cried, Then she came to hug me' " (See story).

Each of us can contribute to preserving the innocence of children by seeing them as God created them and refusing to believe that their innocence can be lost. And we can begin in small ways right where we are.

One day a mother called me as a Christian Science practitioner to pray for her teenage son. A paint chip had lodged in his eye, and they had tried everything to get it out. I agreed to pray, and then I asked to talk with her son.

I quickly realized I needed to get rid of some stereotypes I had about teenagers - that they aren't interested in God, so this teenager wouldn't be interested, either. I thought about how God made him: receptive to good, innocent, interested in spiritual things. I rejected the thought that he could be something other than God's child.

I asked him to write down an idea that I felt would help him from the book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy. He didn't resist at all. He patiently wrote down the sentence as I repeated it. In just a couple of minutes the chip dislodged from his eye. He was fine.

Loving and defending the innocence of children - whether they're in our own backyard or halfway around the world - will change our neighborhood and our world.

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