August 12th is International Youth Day. There are many reasons for celebrating youth, and in 2017 the United Nations is dedicating the day to “celebrate young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation, as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.”
At The Rees-Jones Foundation youth are celebrated every day, and the reason is simple: “… for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14, ESV) Children belong to God, and he has entrusted them to parents, caregivers, and communities for their formation. As the Foundation continually reflects on its role in supporting youth formation, two elements consistently rise to the top: character and value.
Below are photos from a Living Water International project site in Uganda where school children are teaching their communities the importance of clean water, community sanitation, and personal hygiene. Though young in age, these adolescents are leading a movement of behavior change that is creating healthier living conditions in their communities. Even more significantly, as they recognize the value of healthy practices, youth are beginning to care for neighboring communities that have not yet been reached with the tools of change. This care embodies a host of character traits that are consequential. It is in these instances we are reminded that youth throughout the world contribute to the wholeness and happiness of their families and communities.
In celebrating all youth, we must also recognize that in far too many places, youth with intellectual and physical disabilities are often shunned and discarded from society. When children’s disabilities can be healed, or when they are taught skills to live happily with their disability, many times their families and relationships are restored. In this scenario, it is important to remember that it’s not so much the healing that matters as it is recognizing the value of a child, no matter what. Today, many children will live with lifelong disabilities or in significantly impoverished communities, but their value is in no way diminished in the eyes of God, so they should not be diminished in our eyes either.
As International Youth Day is observed, the Foundation urges a year-round celebration of youth and an affirmation of their value and the importance of character formation.