The MB family of faith includes people from all walks of life, and all corners of the globe, as recognized in the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB). This month’s entry in our new column, called Beyond Borders, comments on the issue of children and faith from the perspective of Angola.—Eds
In the 16th century, one of the causes of the radical reform in Zurich was infant baptism, which Conrad Grebel and the early Anabaptists opposed. In the public debates of the day, the issue of a child’s faith for baptism was troublesome.
One of the questions was: do children have faith to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ? Are they able to give their free and true confession so that they may be baptized and take the responsibility to become his disciples?
These questions remain in our time in the family of God around the world. I think the answer to these kinds of questions must first take into consideration the context in which children are socialized and their cultural behaviour is learned. Even though biologically they share the same process of growth, their spiritual growth may not be the same because the contexts are different.
However, the context of biblical teaching, on which we all agree, tells us that God requires the instruction of children so that when they grow older they will not forget what they were taught from childhood (Proverbs 22:6).
In Deuteronomy 6:7, God commands parents to inculcate his commandments in their children so that God’s words may not be forsaken. When the books of the prophets announce the new covenant that God will make with Israel, it says that none will teach the other because everyone will know the Lord. Children are not left out of this divine plan of God’s salvation and knowledge for his people: “‘they will all know me, from the least to the greatest,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:34).
Sunday school should be seen as a process in developing a child’s faith, which starts within the family and goes from childhood to adulthood. Historically, Sunday school was started to educate children who were subjected to forced labour. It helped many children to discover and grow in Christian faith.
A well-trained Sunday school teacher knows that children are captivated by teachings that tell stories (Bible stories) from which a key verse is set apart to be memorized.
Children’s faith can also be transmitted through songs. Singing, as well as hearing stories, in the African context in general, and Angola in particular, is the way we enhance children’s faith. Songs can reflect what has been taught so that the children will not easily forget what they learned.
For example, I taught my own children the story and a song about John the Baptist: “Joao Baptista prefeta de Deus, seu o pai Zacarias e a sua mae Isabel.” This is Portuguese for “John the Baptist, God’s prophet, his father’s name was Zechariah and his mother’s name was Elizabeth.” My son has kept this song and the lesson of John the Baptist in his heart, from learning it at age seven until now at age 16. Children’s faith is a process in which God uses our teaching to help children grow.
Sunday school should normally be a special place for kids to understand what they are expected to do as they live in this world. But the question of age should not be forgotten. A newborn child would not have faith, but a child of 12 years can demonstrate reasoned faith. As a child grows, we should expect to see the seed of the good news of salvation take effect through teaching in Sunday school, at home, and as the child grows in consciousness.
We need to consider teaching and the training of teachers an important issue, because children’s faith remains challenging even today.
The Mennonite Brethren Church in Angola (Igreja Evangélica Irmäos Menonitas em Angola) began in 1980 when Angolan refugees, who had joined the MB church in Congo, returned to Luanda and started a church under the leadership of pastor Makanimpovi S. Sikonda. ICOMB membership reported more than 4,500 members in 49 churches in Angola in 2007.