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Let the little children come…

We picture the scene of Jesus surrounded by little ones, some cradled in his lap. The disciples want to dismiss the children as interruptions, but Jesus insists that they are ‘precious in his sight.’ That’s the ‘what a friend we have in Jesus’ image we all love. We want to imagine that we, too, are among the little ones he welcomes.

Now picture the scenes that have flashed across our TVs and internet feeds this past week, of little ones cowering in hospital corridors, cut and bloodied, some fighting for their lives. These children live north and south of a border not of their own making. They are just pawns in an ancient drama that has torn babies from their mother’s arms for thousands of years. The fight for Palestine has played out generation after generation since the days of Abraham, each battle creating what we insensitively call “collateral damage.” The media focuses on the children because it pulls on our heart strings, drawing in the audience they need to win the ratings war. Some of us cannot turn away from our screens as the horror unfolds, while others refuse to watch because it is all too awful. I would imagine that some have already put this letter away because they do not want to hear any more about the war unfolding in the ‘holy land.’ But for Jesus, each little one is a life too precious to ignore.

Think of the children of Be’eri, an Israeli kibbutz just 3 kilometers from the border with Gaza. The residents of that town describe their home as idyllic, a wonderful place to raise a family. The community lived together, working the land, sharing resources, eating meals at a common table. They knew the terror of air raid sirens as Hamas fired missiles toward their location time after time. It was the one reality that kept Be’eri from being perfect. But the residents of that town had safe rooms in their homes for such moments- fortified bunkers designed to withstand a missile strike, so they lived relatively without fear. Until Saturday, when ‘militants’ stormed the kibbutz and left devastation unimaginable. We could conclude the story of Be’eri with the fact that 120 people lost their lives that day, still more taken as hostages. Or we could take the time to see the face of Emily, a vivacious 8-year-old with mop of golden curls. She had gone to her friend’s home on Friday for a ‘girly night.’ On Saturday morning, her father Tom could not reach her to protect her from the horror. Emily’s father wants her to be remembered by pictures from before the horror, but the terrorists have posted pictures on the internet of little ones mutilated in the raid. Those pictures are so horrific that even the ratings-hungry media will not show them; each little one, a precious life lost too soon.

Think of the children in Gaza, living in surroundings not nearly as idyllic as Be’eri. Gaza is a strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea just 25 miles long with a width varying from 3-10 miles. Over 2 million people live in this densely packed tract of land, controlled by force since 2006 by the terrorist group Hamas. Over half the population of Gaza are children. Over half the population of Gaza lives in poverty. Nearly one third of the population live in what the UN calls ‘deep poverty.’ The suffering in Gaza on a regular day is heart wrenching. Now they have been told to flee to the south as Israeli forces mass on their northern border, but Egypt has closed the southern border, so they are trapped. Again, we could look at the numbers. The UN estimates that one Palestinian child dies every 15 minutes. Or we could see the face of Ali, an 8-year-old boy, born blind with other physical and intellectual challenges. We will have to see Ali in our mind’s eye, because no one has taken his picture. He has been cared for in a special-needs orphanage in Gaza City since birth. He shares that home with 25 other children, all with different special needs that make their daily lives challenging. But now, most of their caregivers have fled, leaving just two brave souls to protect children, who cannot be moved from Gaza City to somewhere south that might be safer. They sit in harms way, with no protection from either side of this war. Each of these little ones, a precious life.

Think of Wadea Al Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian American boy living in Chicago. On Saturday, just one week into this war in Israel-Palestine, Wadea was stabbed 26 times by his family’s landlord. In an act of hate, one of our own little ones was taken too soon. Wadea’s murder is a stark reminder that this war has no borders. The hate and division threatens every one of us. Our children are easy prey in a society where life has no value. We have forgotten the lessons of Genesis 1, when humanity is created “in the image of God.” The Imago Dei sets us apart from the rest of creation, placing God’s handprint on each life. In the eyes of the Creator, no life can be reduced to mere “collateral damage.”

As we watch the devastation of this war unfold, we can feel helpless as one precious life after another is desecrated by hate. Yet, when we answer God’s call we are not helpless. Our Church Has Left the Building mission work this month is our stand against hate and inequity. Each project is designed to value and support some of God’s children. I stood on Thursday with our team at Barclay Elementary School as we shared food with some of the families in our community who are hungry. We laughed and played with the children and listened to the stories of the parents- each life imprinted with the Imago Dei. At the end of the day, our team felt blessed to have served such ‘precious’ people.

I hope you will see the face of Jesus as you serve- each life precious in the eyes of the Savior.

With you, privileged to serve God’s children,
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