I’ve been a big fan of Lisa Van Engan for awhile now, especially after reading her book, And Social Justice for All. It’s tangible and applicable, and as such, it’s not an understatement to say that every person who teaches children (and youth) in the church should get their hands on it. All that to say, Lisa joins us today for a “Listen, Learn and Listen Some More” post all about justice + young people, so, enjoy. Proceeds from today’s post go to RAICES.
I stand positioned in a reflective vest between a church parking lot and a back playground entrance. A thin layer of frost coats the grass along the sidewalk. Kids top-heavy with backpacks careen toward the gaga ball pit, soccer space, and jungle gym.
“Good morning.” They greet me breathlessly, sometimes pausing for a hug or to share news.
Along the fence two little girls sit on swings while big girls stand behind them braiding their hair. A pile of backpacks and coats lay discarded along the fence. Many kids at the school have played soccer since they were in diapers. Even in the early morning hours they play seriously. A fourth-grade girl, heavy-set and ill-experienced, ran to the goal.
“You want to be goalie, Hao?” another student yells.
She nods proudly. They let her take up the position.
A third-grader struggles along the sidewalk with an extra bag. His father has recently been released from jail.
“Cupcakes for my birthday! My Dad took me to get them.”
His broad grin lights up the gray February morning. A classmate catches up to him, and having noticed his struggle from behind wordlessly takes the bag. They walk side-by-side deep in conversation to their classroom line.
In a space of five playground minutes I watch these interactions unfold. I listen to young people everyday. I teach reading and writing to struggling students at a K-8 school. Kids often model to me the love of Christ, simply and effortlessly.
How do we live in a way that respects the dignity of those who will inherit the world we leave behind? Like the older girls braiding the hair of the younger girls, we need to take care of those that come behind us.
How do we set aside our privilege to allow those that are different from us have a platform and spaces of leadership? Like the kids on the soccer field we sometimes need to set aside ourselves to give others a chance and not judge ability by the world’s standards.
How do we come alongside others in reciprocal partnership? Like the third-grade classmates we need to walk with others in their joys and hardships.
When I am around young people, I am reminded that justice for all should not be so complicated. It is seeing a need and quietly filling it. It is setting aside our own perceptions to make space. It’s slowing down to give to the people in our lives.
We have a responsibility to the generations to come to face injustice head-on. They are coming up behind us.
Are we going to join them?
Are we clearing a path to make their burden lighter?
Are we showing them what a more just world could look like?
Lisa Van Engen lives in Holland, Michigan with her family. She is the author of And Social Justice for All: Empowering Families, Churches, and Schools to Make a Difference in God’s World. She loves working with young people daily at a K-8 school. Have a message for Lisa? Leave it now!
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