When most children arrive at a Children’s Village like ours, they come burdened with more sorrow and trauma than we can imagine one so young facing. But they don’t always express it merely by acting like a victim. Often it is expressed through anger, losing their temper, closing themselves off to the people around them, and pretending not to care about anything. It’s easy to forget all they have been through and make a snap judgement about such a child. “They’re just not ever going to try hard at anything.” “That one’s a bad apple.” “His anger is a real problem.” “She’s stuck in depression and I don’t know what more we can do.”
It takes real determination, vision, and compassion to look at these children though a lens of hope, to find the gift they carry within and somehow draw it out.
I first saw the power of this shortly after we arrived at Makaphutu. There was a young man who had been labelled, and perhaps rightly so, the “trouble maker.” He had begun to steal, seemed to care about nothing, was totally disengaged, and was failing at school. And at 18 years old, there didn’t seem much hope for someone like that. Nearly everyone had given up on him.
But we, newly arrived, had no idea what this young man’s history was, neither the pain and neglect he had been through or his more recent crimes. And so we looked at him with new eyes, looked past the pain and the facades he put up, and began to call him a leader. “You’re a leader. You have so much to give! You have a good heart.” Perhaps it was the first time he felt someone believed in him, that there was something good to live up to. For whatever reason, he did a complete 180 degree turn in his life. Over time, he became known as the most trustworthy, excellent, wise, and kind leader amongst the kids on base. We trusted him implicitly and he lived up to that trust with beaming pride and joy.
That is just a snippet of one story like that but we could tell stories for hours of the exact same turn around in child after child’s life simply triggered by someone telling them they were special, that they had a gift to give, and by believing in them. Perhaps it took longer with some. Years of hearing that message over and over again in hundreds of different ways. But the fruit is the same. As is the message: Children NEED someone to believe in them, to see their worth even when they are rebelling and messing up. Children that have been told their whole lives in both word and deed that they are unimportant, unloved, and not special need this even more!
We would encourage every parent to take the time every day and in every conflict to see the opportunity to speak true identity into your child. Children look to us to tell them who they have the capacity to be. I will never forget the story of a remote tribe that has an unusual tradition. Every night, the father slips into his children’s room when they are sleeping and whispers in their ears, “Be who you are.” I think that is so beautiful! But I also think we must take that one step further. We must tell our children, “You are great! You were made for wonder! You are unique and the gifts inside of you are like no one else because you have a special mission in this life. You are God’s dream! Now be who you are.” And with the help of much grace, love, and patience from God and from us, they will be.