'LET THE LITTLE CHILDREN COME TO ME,' AT INDOOR PARK
Jesus did, indeed, love the little children. He always managed to find some time for them. Many people believe the moments Jesus spent with the littlest lambs of his flock were the Good Shepherd's happiest moments on earth.
The Bible has several accounts of Jesus's interactions with children, along with his teaching that children were valuable and should be treated with love and care. He set them up as an example to his disciples, saying that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, the believer's faith must become like that of a little child.
In the first century, Jesus's concern for children Â— as well as women, the elderly and servants Â— were the exception rather than the rule.
According to the Christian History Institute, children, along with women, old men and slaves, were viewed as physically weak burdens on society who had little value. In Greece and Rome, it was an accepted practice to abandon unwanted children along the roadsides to die. Christians began collecting infants abandoned by their parents to raise them as their own. The early Christian recognized the child as a person, and believed that both children and adults are equal in the kingdom of God.
Jesus confronted the abandonment practiced by the early pagan communities. His outcry against such acts Â— and worse Â— toward children were partly why Jesus and his followers were labeled radicals and condemned as troublemakers.
But, in fact, one of Jesus's most severe warnings was against those who would harm children or cause them to stumble, or sin.
"It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones," he is quoted in Luke 21.
In Matthew, when his followers asked him why serving the most needy members of society pleased him so much, "The King replied, I tell you the truth, whatever you do for the least of these, you also do for me."
Today, right in our backyard, there is an opportunity for the greater community of Union County to support an outreach program that has benefitted "the least of these" for 12 years Â— the Indoor Park.
"Indoor Park is a mission, it is intended as a gift to the community," says Sharon Trimble, who currently volunteers her time to oversee the operation of the park at the United Methodist Church. She says Indoor Park is now in need of funding.
Indoor Park opened about 12 years ago with grant monies and a vision by then minister Tim Overton-Harris and his wife, Amy. It has since operated several mornings a week loosely based on a couple of things Â— everything about the park is completely free, and everyone, whether churched or not, is welcome to come.
Though they don't keep a head count, on some mornings Â— especially during the colder months Â— the church parking lot is completely full.
"It isn't manned or staffed by the church. Nobody keeps track of who comes or when. There's no sign-up sheet. We do rely on the secretary unlocking the doors, so it is tied to her hours. But it's not a church program," Trimble says, although the Methodist church does subsidize the park by paying for lights, heat and keeping the bathrooms stocked.
Trimble has also organized special monthly events Â— Valentine's Day and Halloween parties, pizza parties, special craft projects, kinder music and even a magic show. Most of these events are aimed at bringing entire families to the Indoor Park.
Saturday night, a St. Patrick's family dinner and dance is scheduled. There is no cost, but a free will offering will be taken.
After 12 years of giving freely to the families of Indoor Park, the grant money is now running out.
Indoor Park needs help. The last thing Trimble wants to do is even consider charging for these special events, especially since she has heard there seems to be more and more lower income and poverty level children attending.
"We don't want to charge for this. We don't want to exclude anyone," she emphasizes. So, Trimble has come up with another plan Â— the Indoor Park's first fundraiser.
"I considered different things, but thought a concert would work really well with our space, which serves music really well," she says.
On April 3 at 3 p.m., there is to be a children's concert in the sanctuary of La Grande United Methodist Church. Tickets are $5 per adult, $1 per child. On the program is pianist Matt Cooper, who will be playing, quite appropriately for the occasion, selections made famous by the Charles Schultz Peanuts gang. Also scheduled are the Union County Children's Choir and local musician Carla Arnold, who will play "a selection of goodies" on her fiddle, Trimble says.
"I'm really hoping there are some 12 and 14 year-olds out there who went through Indoor Park and have benefitted from the fun. I hope to see some of them at the concert and meet them," Trimble says.