Of the three parallel passages which tell the story of Jesus receiving children to Himself (when His disciples tried to hinder them), the most descriptive is Mark 10:13-16:
It was traditional in the Jewish society of Jesus’ day to bring your children to a rabbi to be blessed. Since Jesus was considered to be a rabbi, it was natural for parents to bring their children to Him in order to receive this traditional blessing. Blessing children with the laying on of hands was a tradition that went back to the days of Isaac and Jacob.1
But Jesus’ disciples were preventing these parents (and their children) from approaching Jesus, perhaps because the children and their parents were interrupting the conversation the disciples were having with Jesus about his teaching on divorce (Matthew 10:1-12). The disciples considered the children to be an interruption of a more important conversation.
But in preventing the children and their parents from approaching Jesus, the children were being kept from the blessing that God desired for them.
And this angered Jesus. He was indignant and displeased with His disciples’ actions, and told them to allow the children to come to Him to be blessed.
Mark’s version of this story is my favorite because it adds two descriptions of how Jesus interacted with the children that are not mentioned in either Matthew or Luke’s version of the story.
Jesus “took them in His arms …”
And He “began blessing them …”
Notice that Jesus did more than simply lay his hands on the children and bless them. He “took them in His arms …”
The original language used in this passage suggests that Jesus took each child in His arms, one by one, and fervently blessed them. It was not a rote recitation of some traditional blessing. Instead, Jesus expressed tenderness and affection as He spoke with each child individually and pronounced God’s blessing upon them. And the blessing which He gave them was no less than relationship with Himself, the opportunity to be loved and cared for by God.2
The Plight of Children in Africa
Currently, there are over 400 million children in Africa. According to the Population Reference Bureau’s 2019 World Population Data Sheet, 46% of the population of the African continent is under the age of 15.3
The fertility rate for sub-Saharan Africa in 2019 was higher than any other region in the world at 4.6 children born per woman. In contrast, the next highest fertility rate in other regions of the world was in Oceania (excluding Australia/New Zealand) where there were 3.4 children born per woman. In North America and Europe, the fertility rate was at 1.7.4
Based on this data, the United Nations Population Division estimates that the world’s population will grow from approximately 7.8 billion people to 9.7 billion by the year 2050, and that half of that population growth will occur on the African continent. This means that we can expect nearly 1 billion new children to be born in Africa over the next 30 years.5
7.4% of these children will die before they reach the age of five.6
In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 33.4% of children under 5 are “stunted” (too short for one’s age) and approximately 7.6% of children under 5 are “wasting” (too thin for one’s height). Approximately 65% of children under the age of 5 in sub-Saharan Africa experience hidden hunger (deficiency in micronutrients). All three metrics are leading indicators of malnutrition.7
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 in sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school. One-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14 are not in school. And 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not attending school.8
A rapidly-growing segment of the African population with a high mortality rate, malnutrition, and inadequate education. All of these statistics combine to paint a bleak picture of the future for African children.
Countless children in Africa are being kept from the blessing God desires for them.
If Jesus were on earth today, He would tenderly and affectionately take these children in His arms and bless them, inviting them to relationship with Himself.
And yet, He is here today — living through the community of His followers.
Can we do any less than Jesus would? Will we embrace the children of Africa and bless them? Will we invite them to relationship with their Creator?
Or will we be like Jesus’ disciples and hinder them (through our attitudes and inaction) from coming to Jesus?
Embracing and Blessing the Children of Africa
For over 20 years, Mike and Kari Ness have answered God’s call to embrace and bless the children of Africa, to take them into their arms and lead them into God’s blessing, inviting them to relationship with Him. Their vision is to work in partnership with national churches to reach Africa’s next generation, one child at a time.
In their initial missionary assignment, Mike and Kari spent 15 years in Tanzania, creating a training program for children’s ministers for the Tanzanian national church and helping to develop tools for training and teaching in children’s ministries within individual Tanzanian churches.
Today, they work in the central African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and continue to work with local churches to reach and disciple children.
And as Empowering team leaders with the Africa’s Children ministry, Mike and Kari focus on working with national church leaders and missionaries to build strong national children’s ministry programs across the African continent.
Joining Mike and Kari’s team is one way we can embrace the children of Africa and not hinder them from life-giving relationship with Jesus. In a moment, we will list some specific ways you can join Mike and Kari’s team, but first, we invite you to watch this video about the Africa’s Children Now initiative:
Here are four ways you can be a part of Mike and Kari’s team:
- You can pray for them on an ongoing basis. The best way to stay informed of their prayer needs is by subscribing to their newsletter at their website or following them on Facebook.
- You can give to them financially by signing up to support them on a monthly basis or to contribute a one-time gift at their online giving page.
- You can join a children’s ministry project in Africa, either on a 1-2 week trip, a 1-2 year assignment, or as a career missionary. More information is available at the Africa’s Children website.
- If you are a pastor or missions leader in your church, we would encourage you to get in touch with Mike and Kari to see how they might be able to encourage your people for the cause of children in Africa and also to find out how you can be of service to them.
1 Genesis 27:18-29; 48:14
2 Matt Champlain, A Biblical Theology of Blessing in Genesis, Themelios 42, no. 1 (April 2017), accessed April 26, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/a-biblical-theology-of-blessing-in-genesis/.
3 Population Reference Bureau, 2019 World Population Data Sheet, accessed April 24, 2020 https://prb.org/worldpopdata/.
4 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects 2019, accessed April 25, 2020, https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/files/documents/2020/Jan/wpp2019_highlights.pdf.
5 United Nations, World Population Products Data Booklet (2017 Revision), accessed April 25, 2020, https://population.un.org/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2017_DataBooklet.pdf.
6 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects 2019.
7UNICEF, Children, Food and Nutrition: Growing Well in a Changing World, accessed April 25, 2002, https://www.unicef.org/media/60806/file/SOWC-2019.pdf.
8 UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Education in Africa, accessed April 25, 2020, http://uis.unesco.org/en/topic/education-africa.