‘Let the Little Children Come’

On the 23rd November, on a storm-drenched afternoon, during a moment of sunshine, a few hundred people from Uniting Church congregations gathered at Circular Quay in Sydney to unveil a giant quilt in an act of public liturgy.

The quilt was made up of almost 300 pieces of cloth, each one painted by members of congregations, groups and UnitingCare agencies with the message that the detention of asylum seeker children in Australia’s immigration detention centres must stop. What follows is the short reflection on Matthew 19:13-15 I offered during our public prayers.

This is the Give Hope Campaign website and you can view the quilt pieces on the UnitingCare NSW.ACT Facebook page.

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them’.

Jesus had been wandering around the countryside preaching, teaching and healing people. It’s not surprising that at one stop on the journey, he was swamped with parents bringing their children to him. One of the things about being human is that we want the best for our children. These parents wanted Jesus to pray for their children. They wanted him to bless them. They wanted their children to have a decent life, to be safe and to be well.

The disciples, however, were offended and told the parents to keep them away. Maybe they were worried that Jesus was stretched too far, that he was too tired and had too many ‘real’ grown-up people and issues to deal with. Maybe they were worried that it was not acceptable for such an important religious leader to be giving time to children. Maybe those children were not from socially or religiously acceptable families.

Jesus told the disciples to let the children come. He told the disciples that the Kingdom of God was for the little ones – the innocent, the marginalised, the excluded, the abused, the persecuted. They were to come to him because in the household of God, the least will be first, the hungry fed and the persecuted set free.

In Australia, we have seen successive governments institute increasingly harsh policies against asylum seekers who come by boat. These are policies deliberately designed to punish and they are policies known to cause often irreparable harm to already vulnerable people, especially children.

Despite our international obligations under the Refugee Convention, despite our obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, despite our moral obligations as a rich and secure country within our region, in Australia we lock up the little children. We steal their freedom and deny them their childhood. We offer punishment not protection in order to send a message to persecuted others that they are not wanted.

Children in detention live in spaces surrounded by traumatised and suffering adults and with parents who are not free to care for them as they would want to. They don’t have access to decent healthcare and education. They can’t go to school like our children do, make friends, go to parties, have Friday night pizza delivered, play in the local netball competition, run in the local park or argue with their parents about whether they can have a dog. The children we lock away in our detention centres will be damaged and may never fully recover.

As Christians called to follow Jesus who blessed the little children, we have painted a quilt to say that locking up children in detention centres, separating mothers from their newborn babies and sending unaccompanied minors to Nauru, is not acceptable.

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them’.

As Christians called to follow Jesus who welcomed the stranger, the outcast and the persecuted, we have painted a quilt as an invitation to all Australians to join us in the call to be a more welcoming and compassionate country.

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them’.

As Christians called to follow Jesus who is the bearer of hope, justice and peace, we have painted a quilt to say that God’s love is for everyone, without distinction.

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them’.

And he laid his hand on them. Amen.

Give Hope: End Child Detention Uniting for Asylum Seekers 23 November 2013