the church’s role in the First Thousand Days
Every church has a profound opportunity to care for and support families with lifelong impact.
The story of South Africa’s future is written in the quality of our children’s lives. To see the flourishing that we want for our nation, when we invest in children is critical. We must invest early, during the First Thousand Days of a child’s life. Who we invest in is also a decisive factor, and we know that the caregivers in a child’s life are truly significant for their development and thriving. When caregivers are held in supportive relationships, they are better able to consistently provide what a young child needs.
The church is already positioned and equipped to be this modern-day village around families, with geographic proximity, relational ties, influence and physical resources. At the heart of Sikunye’s work is mobilizing and equipping church communities to play their unique part in seeing greatness grow in the First Thousand Days. Whether or not you ascribe to the Christian faith, one can recognise the importance of local churches as social actors.
The strengths of local churches
Every local church has a set of strengths, or assets, that can be utilised to support and strengthen caregivers in this stage. Gary Gunderson, in his book, ‘Deeply Woven Roots’, outlines how the church is a social actor, with the following assets:
Do life together: to show up in each other’s lives, personally and physically; to visit, care, be present, attend, and listen, one human with another.
Gather: to bring people together around coffee tables and stadiums to engage opportunities and challenges of finding God’s intentions for people and communities.
Connect: to create webs of relationship among the complex lives of members and communities so that resources can be engaged, accessed, and aligned. This is a critical strength for children who cannot be expected to cope with the highly complex institutional systems that create, manage, and control critical resources needed for development.
Frame or tell stories: to place in context experience and data so that people can recognise and play their role amid their complex relationships with other humans and God. Congregations have the strength to answer “Who am I?” without dumbing the question down to a set of statistics, labels, and legal obligations.
Give safe spaces: for important programs and services that can be critical for individuals and for important dialogues necessary to align the social and political systems that determine health at community scale.
Bless: people, especially children, grow in the direction of that which blesses them and looks like life. Congregations have enormous practical power to bless.
Pray: to help people live at the boundary of human and holy with a rich menu of vocabulary, symbol, ritual, and religious practice.
Consistency: congregations are built for slow change, long-term mundane discipline, growth and development throughout the cycle of life. This gives them quite different accountability than almost any other social structure; it might even give them patience for the countless unremarkable things a child, or a hundred thousand children, might need in order to grow as God intends.
In every town is a local church. Every family is within reach of this modern-day village. Regardless of the church size, its denominational practice or its cultural heritage, they are already positioned and equipped to play a meaningful part in seeing young children thrive. Every local church can deploy volunteers in powerful ways to practically stand with and support families in this important stage of life. In this way, the local church can help change the trajectory of South Africa.