Yesterday’s reading from Luke had a passage that I have heard quoted many times over in my life as a pastor when we discuss the ways that we are called to reach out to the youngest among us.
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. (Luke 17:15-17).
However, shortly after I read that passage, I came to a chapter in a new book I am reading called “Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time” by Jeremy Courtney. Courtney and his family have been living in Iraq for the last 10+ years and I heard of their story and this book through a podcast I listened to a few days ago. The book describes their calling to go to Iraq and the directions that God led them while they’ve been in Iraq, including helping provide medical care to the youngest and most vulnerable of Iraqi society.
The chapter I came to was devastating to read as he describes the chemical weapons attack that Saddam Hussein directed against the people of Halabja in 1988. I do not need to quote the descriptions to let you know how brutal it was and heartbreaking as he recounted several specific stories of people whose lives continue to be deeply affected. He shares, however, primarily about the effect that these attacks had on children at the time and children born since – birth defects, illness, cancer, and so forth. It is a heartbreaking chapter to read. It was one story in particular that led him to focus their organization’s work on children who need medical care and are unable to obtain it in the region.
In the chapter, he tells of how even the dirt became a threat to the people – could you trust the plants grown in the soil after such an attack? Could children play soccer on a dirt field without kicking up remnants of the weapons that were used? I think of how often my children come in from playing outside and their faces, legs, hands, etc are dirty and messy. We celebrate this as it shows how creative and active they are, but what about when the dirt and the soil is poison and dangerous? What about what we are doing in the world when children are the ones who bear the brunt of the suffering because of war and violence and hatred?
My prayer as I write this up this morning is for the world to be a place where children can play in the dirt, can get messy, can be themselves, and can be welcomed just as they are to Jesus, the one who welcomed them so warmly in this passage.
Social Violence Children Peace Justice War