[Perhaps the following may seem obvious to you--that children need to play. Perhaps safe places for your children to play are a given in your world. But that’s not the case for many. Much of the world’s children have no safe place to play. Much of the world’s children don’t play. Go with me for a moment to see such children.]
Children are supposed to play. The world is supposed to be a place where they can safely enjoy the company of their siblings and neighbors as they create, discover, and imagine. A child who doesn’t play is one who doesn’t know that safety.
Adults are supposed to ensure that the world is that kind of place, one where the next generation can thrive. And as children, to thrive is to play. Unless something prevents them, children will naturally play, and it’s good. But for many children worldwide, something is preventing them. Adults are failing them, failing to enact systems that make way for a playful environment. Adults are at fault when children don’t play.
Children are the most vulnerable population in the world. They, their innocence, their ability to play is to be protected, not destroyed. But for many, too many, such is not the case. Millions of children across the world are victims of war and poverty, devices of adults used to control ‘weaker’ populations. These ‘games’ adults ‘play’ put a stop to the games of children, the ones who should be at play. Playing, running, singing, and laughing are replaced by working, hiding, fearing, and crying.
Children are not supposed to know a world like this, where we sing songs about our children playing "one day," where such natural activity for children is not guaranteed. Children, not just my child or your child, but all children need adults to make their safety our priority. When they’re safe, they’ll play. When they’re not fatherless, afraid, living in slums and displacement camps, when they’re not hungry, sick, and exploited, they’ll play.
Jesus 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.” (Luke 18:16)
If you’ve ever wondered why so much of our activity is focused on creating an environment where children can play, now you know. The kingdom of God belongs to them. Kingdom work is wrapped up in ensuring that the next generation grows up healthy and happy, safe and playful. And when the responsibility is theirs, they’ll do the same for children. Not only their children, but for those who suffer at the hands of adults with a different agenda.
This summer, we're facilitating Camp Skillz, a character and skills development camp, in Old Hickory, TN, Antioch, TN, El Salvador, Uganda, and the Philippines. Hundreds of children are participating in Camp Skillz, giving them a safe place to play all summer long.
Leafa Vagatai is a committed preschool teacher. When her students arrive she plays the ukelele to ensure they feel at ease when they separate from their parents for a few hours, and then always has special lessons prepared.
At the Academy for G.O.D., teachers spend less time lecturing and gear most of their energy towards facilitating “play/exercises” for students to get the most out of the course through trial and error, or hands-on practice. Even learning can be playful!
Academy for G.O.D. students douse Mr. Ownby with a bucket of water during their field day. Children's safety is evident not just in a physically secure environment, but in the relationships they engage in with their teachers.
This priority is not just in the summer time. The Academy for G.O.D. prioritizes play through regular recess times (in an era where many schools are cutting back), as well as putting on wonderful events for the kids. This was during a worship service at the last day of school celebration.
In Africa, many people have resorted to their children playing with rocks, bottles or knives. Creating spaces like this one, specifically for children, is teaching both the children and their parents that their play should be a priority.
This month, our summer interns in East Africa made some new additions to the playground there, including tire swings and baby swings. When not in school or doing chores, the children are on the playground from sunup to sundown!
Please continue to pray for our kids' programs and camps. Not all of the children just have something fun to do, some of them are escaping much harder realities of life in a new world that doesn't accept them easily.