Responsively Yours: From the Mouths of Babes
If you are of a certain age, you will recall that a man named Art Linkletter, and later Bill Cosby, had a television show called “Kids Say the Darnedest Things.” You may prefer to call these young people children rather than kids, and you may think interviewing them for the “cute factor” is base commercialism, but it still is true: kids do say the darnedest things.
We quote them because they see the world just a little differently than we do. They are making connections in the world around them and trying to make sense of what they observe and what they feel. They also haven’t yet learned so much about what’s not acceptable to say out loud, so they sometimes say some things that we wouldn’t. This can be funny or difficult or can stop us in our tracks.
Other times children are mute witnesses. We see pain on their faces or in their attire or in other physical ways that adults might be more conscious of hiding. We come to know some children have buried their pain so deeply that it is expressed unconsciously in the inability to form relationships, in anger or in other ways.
I have been blessed with many opportunities to express my convictions about being called by Jesus to touch and work for change in a hurting world. A few times while telling stories about these experiences before audiences, I’ve had tears spring to my eyes and found myself “choked up” at the microphone. It’s always a surprise, and it’s usually connected to some way that a child has “spoken” to me.
Serving as an adult on a youth mission trip to Appalachia one summer, I had the privilege to work with a family weatherizing their home. The youngest child was an adorable 4- year-old who would wait for someone on the team to sit down or take a break then appear with a book, hoping to inveigle a story. Of course we loved this! But her mother mentioned that she had begun losing some teeth. The family did not have dental care. The realization hit me that this bright, funny, engaged youngster was bearing in her body our failures to address poverty in this region. The likelihood that she would fall behind in school and be unable to develop all that wonderful capacity was so high that I can hardly swallow as I recount the story.
United Methodist Women’s work with Red Bird Mission and Henderson Settlement in Beverly and Frakes, Ky., is a very important way to respond to stubborn poverty in this region. So is work to support access to health care that would provide a way for this family and so many others to thrive.
I was very moved on a recent visit to Spofford, a United Methodist Women national mission institution in Kansas City, Mo., when I met a little guy who was one of a few children in a special gathering area late on a Friday afternoon. He hurried over to show us his truck and explain how it worked. When I asked him what was up, the boy, not yet able to say his r’s, explained, “I got too many ‘reds’ this week, so I can’t have extra swim time. But, Sunday is the first day of a new week, and I can get more ‘greens.’” I’m sure I stood stock-still as I realized what I was hearing. This child is learning about himself, about hope and about fresh starts in ways that will shape his life. United Methodist Women helps make this possible.
In a recent conversation with a 9- year-old, I was informed that some children in Africa are hungry. “Their mommies and daddies can’t feed them.” I am no expert on child development, so I don’t know if this was a request for assurance, but I didn’t stop to wonder. I shared with him that some children in his own city were hungry. Their mommies and daddies couldn’t feed them either. Either this observation didn’t fit his worldview or interrupted his train of thought. He shook his head a little as if that would help sort it out. This is a child I’d like to see at a School of Christian Mission! His impressions about poverty and wealth reflect the world around him — parents, church, school, media. It’s the darnedest thing.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : March 3, 2010