By Bob and Dian Harner, Directors of Missions Mobilizers
We have protective gear for almost every activity you can think of these days. Protection for the things that we all used to do without thinking about safety, such as riding a bike without a helmet. Playgrounds have rubberized flooring. All kinds of pads exist for activities from skateboarding to roller blading all to prevent kids from scraping their knees or injuring their elbows. Depending on the state, children up to age eight (or older if they are small for their age) by law must be confined in car seats for protection from injury in case of an accident. Insurance can be purchased for almost anything you can imagine. We have become a very safety-conscious, risk-mitigating culture.
The other day I read an article my niece had posted on Facebook. It was called “The Most Overlooked Reason Kids Won’t Listen.” Intrigued, I began reading how the author had experienced repeated warnings from other parents while at the playground. They were worried because her children were spinning too long and too fast on the merry-go-round. Her son was in danger as he lay on top of the monkey bars to get across since he was not strong enough to go hand-over-hand. She overheard adults telling her children to get their bottoms on the seats of the swings, instead of laying their tummies across them so they could spin. “They’re going to get hurt!” They told her.
We’ve all been places where parents really weren’t watching their children and their children were truly putting themselves and others at risk of injury. But let’s say this mom was being responsible and the kids were just exploring, as the article implied. The author points out that helicopter parenting, where parents are constantly hovering over their children and not allowing them to take any risks at all, is creating behavior problems. Add to that the problem of spending too many hours on screens, and you find that children are not getting the kind of sensory input they need to develop properly. They are actually less safe in some ways by being kept from doing risky things because their proprioception (the sense that helps you know where your body parts are without looking at them and relates to your body working with gravity) and their vestibular sense (that provides information about what is happening around your body) are not being properly developed. An excessive concern for safety is preventing the children from becoming fit for the things they will encounter in life.
Not many days before reading this article, a couple of verses stood out to me as I was reading my Bible. Paul wanted to visit the Corinthians. “But,” he wrote to them, “I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Cor. 16:8-9, ESV) He didn’t say “BUT” there are many adversaries (implying that maybe he shouldn’t stay after all); he said “AND” there are many adversaries, as if that was just one of the conditions surrounding the exciting work he would get to do. Most people don’t think of opposition as being a reason to stay somewhere or a signal that there’s a wide-open door for effective work, but Paul did. Basically, he told them that he wasn’t coming to visit yet because he had some risky work that God wanted him to do in Ephesus and he expected it to be very fruitful.
God is opening wide doors for effective work in places where we might be tempted to say that the doors are closed. Increasingly, Alliance International Workers are being sent to the least-reached places in the world, the places where there is opposition from some, but where in other ways the door is wide for effective work. It is risky. So we must prepare those who are going.
Preparing workers requires allowing them to take some risks before they ever are sent. I laud the parents who allow their children to pursue God’s call, letting them take summer missions trip and internships to places that are far from their protective reach. They know that these experiences will better equip their children for future ministry because it helps them to develop the senses they need for cross-cultural service.
Are we going to allow and even encourage our children, our grandchildren, even our peers to go to the risky places when God is calling them, or are we going to get caught up in the fear of our safety-first culture and discourage them from obeying God? Disobedience to God seems far riskier to me.