Saturday, August 11, 2007
Parenting By Grace
Stu and Ruth Ann Batstone testify to the Gospel by sharing their experiences with parenting, and drawing parents to see themselves as sinners in need of God’s power to love their children. Saturday we asked them to lead a seminar on parenting, and invited about 40 couples (80 people) to come and participate. The cloudy morning and the Saturday market bustle meant that by 10:30 only a half dozen had arrived for the 9 am meeting . . . And I wondered if we were making a big mistake. But within the next half hour everyone congregated and I counted 86 participants! It was one of the most diverse groups we’ve ever had together for Biblical teaching—church leaders from five denominations were present, as well as headmasters or senior teaching staff from 6 schools, another contingent of people associated with WHM extension work, and a strong showing from the health center. I enjoyed seeing some very young couples, whom I have known since they were younger than my kids are now . . . All the way up to graying elders. And God surprised us by drawing in two of the men whose repentance (conversion?) we have been praying for for years. Children are essential, the goal of every family is to have many of them, successful children who care for their elders. So this was a hot topic.
We began the day by asking two groups of four volunteers to act out a typical household morning, and evening, to demonstrate parent/child relationships. Improvisational drama is a strong point of this culture—the skits were dramatic and captivated interest as they acted out their heart-felt issues: parents unable to provide school fees for their children, not enough food to go around, lack of respect from the children, and on and on, with lots of accusation and argument. In the discussion that followed various people gave their ideas about the main problems and then we probed: does that happen in your places? Why? Some of the older men blamed laziness, lack of hard work by parents. But one of the younger pastors gave me a lot of compassion and insight when he described how shaming and stressful it is as a parent when your child comes home saying that he needs a few shillings for something at school, and you can’t provide it. The reaction is to bluster and blame, to send the child away with condemnation or excuses, and eventually to turn to alcohol or begin absent as a way to escape that painful reality.
Then Stu and Ruth Ann each gave two talks, aimed at probing parental hearts. This was not a “how-to” set of lectures, not a “fix-your-children” approach. Instead they tried to show parents that our call is to love our children, to teach and guide them, to not provoke or exasperate them, to deal with them as God deals with us. And we fail daily, more than daily, hundreds and thousands of times a year. But the good news is that God uses broken families full of sinners to bring His Kingdom into this world, and He forgives and changes us. They used the stories of the Isaac/Rebecca, Jacob/Esau conflicts, and of Hannah’s heart-wrenching prayer, to really connect with families here. Our homework was to ask our children “how do you wish God would change me?” That’s a dangerous question. One of the most interesting parts of the day: Scott ran home to get something and decided to ask our kids that while he was there. Then he came back and gave his testimony, describing the four things Luke immediately said, which were all very true though hard to hear about anger, unfairness, putting work before family. Since people know us very well, they were very engaged with his honesty. In this culture, such a conversation is pretty hard to imagine. So we ended and prayed and wondered what was happening around the family fires last night. Maybe the first seeds of parental awakening to a different way of relating to their children . . . Maybe the seeds of a hunger for Jesus in our need.