This week California announced that the 2020–2021 school year will start online for several of its most populous counties. Many such announcements will likely be made across the country. For millions of Americans, the prospect of their kids doing school at home this fall presents yet another unprecedented challenge.
When I served in the military, I was required to have a family care plan. This plan outlined who would take care of our children while I was at work, on a work trip, or if I had to deploy. I assumed when my children were school age, school attendance would be part of my family care plan. If my children could not attend school, I could not fulfill my contractual commitment.
Now we are anticipating a full year of school at home. Over the last several months, families have struggled to sort out the tensions of schooling with working from home, childcare, and breadwinning. We thought it would be temporary. Now many are facing the reality that the new normal is a radical change from the past. Many will quit their jobs to stay home with their children. Some will choose to homeschool, dis-enrolling their children from last year’s school. Some children, barely old enough to prepare their own lunch, will be home without adult supervision all day.
For many parents, none of these is a viable option.
We thought it would be temporary. Now many are facing the reality that the new normal is a radical change from the past.
What might it look like for Christians and churches to practice radical hospitality this fall, serving the families who will be most affected by the closure of in-person schools?
Love Children Like Jesus Did
Those of us surrounded by supportive friends and community are able to rally, to figure out how to make it work. Creative rallying is what we do for people we know and love. But it’s not radical. This massive change in the school calendar is an opportunity for Christians to engage in a different type of radical hospitality.
What if we began to radically welcome children into our homes?
The account of Jesus welcoming the little children occurs in three of the Gospels (Matt. 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17). In blessing the children he also, in a sense, blessed their parents. His “let them come” invitation was a release for the parents who had been rebuked by the disciples for bringing kids to Jesus. The invitation was also not merely spiritual in nature, affirming their need for a Savior (though it wasn’t less than that). It was tangible. The children were invited to be physically close, invading Jesus’s personal space.
This radical change in the school calendar is a call for Christians to engage in a different type of radical hospitality.
In this season of great need for children in our communities, are we willing to welcome them in this way?
How You Can Serve
As people quick to acknowledge, rightly, that the government is not the ultimate solution to society’s ills, we should be equally quick to open our homes to children who need a safe place to do school while their parents work. In this tangible way, the body of Christ can serve vulnerable families in the long season ahead.
This could look like many different things, depending on the specific needs of your community and resources of your church, but—for the sake of sparking creative thinking for how we might all step up in service—here are a few ideas:
- Partner with a church in a low-income neighborhood to provide safe spaces where children can do online school while their parents are at work.
- Invite the children of your neighbor—who happens to be a school teacher—to your house while he or she teaches online.
- Donate computers to help close the technology gap for the estimated 17 percent of American students who lack a computer at home.
- Find ways to help immigrant or refugee parents who are ill-equipped to help their children with English online school.
- Ask your landscaper or regular barista if their “family care plan” is working out for them, and how you might help.
- Host the children of your church’s janitorial staff at your house while they work.
- Ask the military service members in your neighborhood or church if you can be part of their mandatory family care plan.
- Post an announcement at a local refugee or community center that you are available to help children with their online school.
- Invite your friend’s children to homeschool with you during the day while she is at work.
- Transition your church’s free after-school program to an all-day program, in accordance with local health mandates.
- Reach out to teachers and administrators at local public schools, asking about their biggest needs and how your church can best support them.
- Support local nonprofits—financially or through volunteering—that are stepping up to serve vulnerable children and families in need.
What other ways, in your own community, might you or your church practice radical hospitality in the face of school closures?
Across the globe, physical school closures are providing opportunities for Christians to step up in radical service. Recent reports from Kenya highlighted the plight of thousands of children in poverty who would otherwise be at school, but who must stay home alone while their parents work. Those experiencing distressing circumstances during COVID-19 aren’t just “over there,” distant and inaccessible. Parents everywhere are having to make difficult, life-altering decisions regarding education. They are sitting in our church pews, enrolled in our public schools, walking in our neighborhoods, or isolated at home with no community support.
Will we step into radical hospitality, inconveniencing ourselves to love and serve them? Let’s not waste this opportunity.