Elaine Watt’s moving experience of working with children


(I loved this talk from Elaine Watt this morning. It’s about Scripture Union camps and the love that motivates them; about the value, uniqueness and preciousness of individuals, about listening to God’s whispers, about an opportunity to support a Holiday Club in October. Above all its about the love of God which was very evident in the loveliness of spirit with which Elaine spoke.)

Names are important, don’t you think? New parents sometimes agonise for days over the name of a new born child, because they realise just how important it is. The name of a person can change the way you think about something. It can even change the course of your life.

Almost exactly three years ago, Chris and I were presented with a list of names. We didn’t have much else, just a list of names. But of all the names on that list three names stood out. It wasn’t that they were particularly different names or special names compared to the others on the list, but we knew when we saw the names that these were the three children that God wanted us to become parents to. All we had were names. Names are important.

Every year, twice a year, I work with a list of children’s names to sort them into groups and work out where they will sleep and who they will share a room with. I work out which children’s names will be looked after by which group leader. All I have are names.

But as time goes on, everything is ready and I pack my bags and head off to our Scripture Union holiday. The buses arrive and suddenly the names on a page have a face. And each face has a story. And each story is different.

I know from personal experience that some children will have experienced difficulties in their short lives far greater than a lot of adults in this country. Some children are hurting in ways we don’t believe is possible when they are so young.

Some children come to an SU holiday with mountains to climb in their own lives, but in a relaxed and friendly environment with lots of friends around them children learn to both support and be supported by each other.

For some children, coming to an SU holiday is a means of escaping the reality of life at home…and that can be for all sorts of reasons.

And for some, it’s a chance to learn a little independence and grow as a person.

For us all though it’s a time to relax and be with old friends and spend lots of time getting to know new friends.

The beauty of a Christian environment is that no child should ever feel that they are not known and cared about. Every child has a name. Every child has a face. Every child is important.

One of the things I love about being part of a team of volunteers working alongside a group of young people is the sense of purpose, fellowship, and the knowledge that when the hard stuff happens (and invariably you do find yourself dealing with difficult situations), people start praying for you…as it’s happening. You don’t need to ask, people just know because they are there and you are a team. It’s a very special bond that I have only ever experienced when a group of Christian adults work together, particularly serving children. They don’t all know each other beforehand, but God draws them together to serve Him…and something special happens.

It’s not an elite group of people or confined to young adults. God uses everyone he calls whether they are 16 or 80…and that is the range of ages I’ve had on my teams in the past!

I don’t believe children see age in the way we as adults do. They are more interested in how they are treated. What interest we show in them. Do we want to hear their stories? Do we want to spend time with them?

I often tell leaders on my teams that some of the best conversations they will have with children will be sitting colouring at the craft table, walking to the go-karting track, hanging out at the beach volleyball, standing in the tuckshop queue or sitting enjoying the sun and the view at the picnic tables or on the tree swing.

What children want is not just someone who can jump around and be a little bit crazy (although it’s good to have someone on the team who can do that)…what they really want…and what they really need… is to know that someone likes them enough to spend time with them, to laugh with them, to chat with them about stuff they are interested in, to hang out with them in free time, to help them fit in with the other children…and when we’ve done that enough… and they trust us enough… to simply listen when they do want to tell you their story. What a privilege it is to be trusted with a child’s story and to pray with them and for them.

A huge part of an SU holiday of course is sharing Jesus with the children. Many of the children, who come to an SU holiday, as you have seen from the pictures, are children who go to church with their families and know about SU.

But children come through lots of means. Some Social Work departments in Scotland refer children in care to camp to give them a holiday but also as a means of respite for their carers.

There is a charity working with families in the central belt where one or other of the parents is in prison and they refer their children to SU for a holiday.

Other children come because SU staff workers like Colin Carmichael have been to their school and advertised the holidays.

All this is to say that for many of the children who come to camp, this is the first time they have met Jesus. There is something quite wonderful about watching a child’s face as they face the reality and the reality sinks in of who Jesus is and what He has done for them.

Can I take you back to the names on the picture at the top. These are not random names on a page that I have chosen. These are the names of every child I have worked with in the last 12 months. These are no longer just names on a page for me. I know the faces behind these names and I can tell you that

M loves doing drama…

J couldn’t wait to do go-karting…

M is a bit scared of dark places…

I gets homesick every time she comes, but she battles through it because she loves being there…

T is a very different boy at camp to the boy he is in foster care…

Two weeks ago, Duncan was referring back to the day we had and the three outcomes that he felt we as a church were bringing to his attention as our priorities. These were centred around the Lighthouse, small groups and bridging the gap between our church and the children in our community.

I have to say I felt a strong sense that God was challenging me about reaching the children in our own area. I stand at the school gate waiting for my daughter and see all these faces. I don’t know most of them and I don’t know their stories. For some of them, they won’t have anyone who is willing to listen to them and spend time with them. I know that – I know that from talking to the head teacher.

So I am challenged…to do something… not taking children away on holiday, but to do something here…in Hilton…to organise a holiday club in October. It’s been quite a few years since I organised holiday clubs in Hilton, but I felt God reminding me that I had planned to take time off work in October and I will be here and I know from past experience that a holiday club is a very good way to work together as a church and start bridging that gap between us and the children in our community.

I think we are in quite a unique position here in Hilton in that there are quite a number of people around who don’t come regularly to church, but they do see Hilton as THEIR church. They come to parents and toddlers, they come to Messy Church. I believe that God wants to bring children into our church and he wants us to share Jesus with them and he wants us to show them we care enough.

I’ve talked a lot about what we can do for children, but what about ourselves – what do we get out of it… other than of course the satisfaction of doing what God call us to… First of all, I am going to expand the age range of all those that can be part of a team for holiday club to 12 to 100. I would love to have a good group of young people of secondary school age willing to get involved in the holiday club and my hope would be that we would run something specifically for the youth in the evenings as part of that holiday club week.

I would also love to see something akin to Messy Church happening in the Lighthouse on a drop in basis for parents with younger children over the course of that week. Maybe that’s something some of you would feel drawn to helping out with?

But for the holiday club itself we need to put together a team of adults also willing to give just 3 hours a day for five days to be part of something unique…to experience that special team bond I mentioned earlier. You don’t need special skills…I am hoping we will have Out of the Box to help us with fronting the holiday club so they can do the specialised stuff!! We will be doing training for all those working directly with the children…all you do need is to be willing to get alongside the children and listen to them and care for them.

Of course if being with children is really not your thing, then there are lots of other people needed for things like organising snacks and doing registration and other background stuff.

Just before I finish, can I say something particularly to parents of primary and secondary aged young people. Having done several SU holidays with Chris and my own children now, there is something really quite unique and special about sharing in that kind of an event together as a family. I thoroughly recommend it.

In closing, come October, I would love to see 100 more names on that picture and be able to say that these are the names of the children we as a church have worked with and are working with directly. We know their names…we know their families…we know their faces…we have laughed with them…we have played with them…we have shown them we care…and, most of all, we know their stories.

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Elaine Watt

Apr 26, 2015

Just to confirm folks that the holiday club will run in week 1 of the October holidays i.e. 12-16 October followed by the Sunday morning service together.

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