BY ISSY MITCHELL
“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.” Mark 9: 37
In an attempt to create a community that values and empowers children, where they would previously have been excluded from all or most church activity, 20 churches in the Nuwakot area of Nepal have now become ‘Child Friendly Churches’.
The churches – who are members of Viva’s partner network CarNet Nepal – were selected for the programme based on the commitment of the church to the community and their leaders’ good reputation.
Prior to Child Friendly Churches, there was little or no provision for children in the 20 churches – even though the number of young people totalled more than 300.
Twenty pastors and ten church leaders took part in a training day where they were encouraged to accept children as a gift from God, and therefore protect them and help them to grow. As a result, each church has set up a child protection action plan and they have now adapted their churches to create a secure environment for children.
These changes include buying carpets so that there are places to sit and play, and recruiting volunteer Sunday school teachers so that children have an alternative to playing on the streets.
Prayer groups specifically for children have been set up to encourage children to get to know God personally and more deeply. Awareness campaigns invite parents to involve their children in devotions at home as well as bringing them to church services and social outings.
For Jyoti Nawajeewan Church, part of ensuring that children attended more often involved them displaying a code of conduct, which demonstrated that children are protected from abuse from everyone attending the church.
Its pastor Rajan Gurung said, “Church can be vulnerable in terms of child sexual abuse and other exploitation. If any abuse happens inside the church we get opposition from the community people.”
The result has been an increase in attendance for the Sunday school classes themselves, as well as at the Child Learning Centre held at the church during the week. Parents were initially reluctant to allow their children to benefit from these crucial classes but, since the implementation of a child protection policy, they were far more satisfied that the church is a safe place for children.
Pastor Ganesh Shrestha from Believers Church Battar, Nuwakot, also participated in the training, and said, “Our children used to learn the biblical message by sitting with the elders in the same service. But now I realise how important it is to teach the Bible to children in a way they can understand.”
Another church leader, Bakta Tamang, said: “I did not give any importance to children, but now I know that children should feel comfortable and welcome in the church. They are the leaders of tomorrow.”
And Pastor Chandra Malbul explained, “Children need to learn their rights. This can impact their whole lives. A good church protects the rights of children.”
Issy Mitchell is a student at Bartholomew School, Oxfordshire, and spent her work experience at Viva’s office
Photos: CarNet Nepal