God is Love
Imagine if our children and young people understood that God is Love; that He is good, not only when things are going well but also when they are not; that He loves us unconditionally, always and forever, never stopping, never giving up.
Let’s challenge ourselves: Have we been too focussed on story-telling in our work with children and teenagers? Have we missed something crucial about the Christian message: Love?
This is the time of year when we hear a lot about love, having had the celebration of an obscure saint who died a martyrs death for love of God turned into a celebration of love and devotion. Some historians point to the amalgamation of the anniversary of St Valentine’s death with a celebration of romance and devotion being down to Chaucer and his contemporaries in fourteenth century England. In any case, at this time of year all the media messages are about being ‘in love’ or part of a couple; when I was a teenager I really struggled with Valentine’s Day and the messages around it. Each year I would feel the same sense of desolation and rejection. Of course, as an adult I know that romance is only one expression of love, Valentine’s Day is but one day in the calendar (it’s also my husband’s birthday so these days we only ever celebrate that!) and the gospels don’t mention romantic love very much bar the brief mentions of marriage! The Bible is, however, full of teachings about a different kind of love: we are called to love our neighbours, the stranger or refugee, the lost, the lonely and the poor. These are themes throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus’ life was devoted to showing outsiders the new covenant and what it was like to live for God, to be loved by God. Today we are called to follow his example, not out of sense of duty but as a response to God’s love for us, as an overflow of our understanding that God is Love.
There are a huge variety of national and local organisations who are working to show love to our neighbours, refugees, the poor and the lonely/lost.
- TLG work out of that overflow to see young people at risk of exclusion from school re-integrated and achieving
- Christians Against Poverty have a vision that is an overflow of the love of God to see people free from debt
- the YMCA work with homeless young people showing the love of God to those in their darkest times
- Open Doors work with persecuted Christians across the world to show them the love of God
- your local Foodbank works with families and others who have lost their benefits/jobs/homes to show the love of God through the provision of food, and other essentials
- The Salvation Army take Jesus’ words about feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and gathering in the lost and lonely very literally
I have no doubt there are more – you probably know of others that are very local to you as well as others with a national platform.
As those working in schools you and I have a unique opportunity to present a God of love to those students we interact with. This will be easier in some circumstances than in others, easier with some students than others! Not only do we need to be modelling that love to our groups but we also need to show that God’s love is for everyone, not just those we feel a sense of duty to love, or those we find easy to love. But everyone.
We are also called to be counter-cultural, to speak out against the narrow messages from our media, to give our children and young people hope in something bigger than themselves.
So how about, as we approach Valentine’s Day this year, changing the message from ‘Romance=Love’ to ‘We love because God loves us’. Instead of hearts and flowers, which there’s nothing wrong with but probably don’t strike a chord with very little ones, and leave many of the older ones feeling left out, let’s make this Valentine’s Day about showing love to those who need it most.
Certainly this might mean sending cards, chocolates and/or flowers to people, but it might also look like encouraging the students to arrange a food collection at school for your local foodbank; or co-ordinating with the school’s choir-leader to go to your local Residential Care Home and sing with the residents; or get in touch with your local YMCA/Housing provider and co-ordinate a visit to your school from them.
Here are a couple of suggestions for how you might put this into action. You’ll need to plan over a few weeks to make this meaningful for your group of children or young people.
Start with the story of the Good Samaritan http://www.barnabasinschools.org.uk/who-is-my-neighbour/ would be a good place to find ideas and resources! These are aimed at whole school settings but you can adapt them for use in a smaller group if needed. You might be able to lead a whole school assembly and then follow it up in a smaller Christian Union or RE lesson setting the following week.
Follow up ideas:
Support your local Foodbank
If you don’t already know, find out who runs your local Foodbank, go and speak to them telling them what your role is and ask what they need most. You might be able to invite them to come and talk to your group in school about the work the foodbank do, and how they can help. If so your job is only to make the link between the story of the Good Samaritan and showing love to our ‘neighbours’ and co-ordinate a collection with someone in school. If your group is in Secondary School you might find that one or two of the older students will take the lead on this, encourage this! In Primary you may need to co-ordinate with the Head Teacher or another member of the Senior Team.
One very lovely thing to do is make cards for persecuted Christians across the world. This is perhaps best done with a group of Christians, but it can work in a RE lesson context where not everyone will be a believer.
First of all go to https://www.opendoorsuk.org/act/letter/ to find details about how to set this up with Open Doors. You’ll find some letter writing frames that can be downloaded from their site. However, for a mixed group where you might not have too many Christians in the group I would suggest you take with you some card templates and pictures/coloured paper/bits to stick on which the students can decorate and prepare some Bible verses of encouragement that students can stick inside their cards. Some suggestions would include: “May the Lord bless you and keep you” Num 6v24-26 or “Emmanuel: God with us” or “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” Is 40v1 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Is 43v2. You could even get these translated into the language of the people you’re writing to.
When you get to the group: Tell them that Christians believe we are called to show love to all sorts of people, especially those in need like the man who was beaten up in the story of the Good Samaritan. One group of people who need to know love and encouragement are those who are having awful things happen to them because they are Christians, across the world that includes being arrested and imprisoned, being beaten up or severely injured, it might mean being restricted in where they can go and what they can do.
“We are going to do something to show love to these people today by creating cards to encourage them. Then at the end I will collect them up and get them sent off,” Make sure you tell the group about the people who will be receiving the cards from the Open Doors website.
Support your local Residential Care Home
Have you seen the recent Channel 4 programme ‘Old People’s Home for 4yr Olds’? It’s still available on All4 and very much worth watching as a group of Pre-schoolers go into a care home for the elderly. You are unlikely to be able to fully replicate this but one way to show love to these often lonely people would be to organise a trip for your school choir or even a whole class to your local home, to lead some singing with the residents. You’ll need to co-ordinate with the Head or Head of Year or Choir Leader, and also be speaking to a local care home – choose the one closest to the school for ease of transport! It’s an ambitious plan but imagine the potential impact on both young and elderly lives. If you do this we would love to hear how it goes!