Church renews effort to nurture children

"Behold your little ones." - 3 Ne. 17:23

Helping children achieve their divine potential is the objective of "Focus on Children," a renewed Church effort in which leaders and members are encouraged to care for, teach and protect these "little ones."As explained in the guidelines for "Focus on Children," the purpose of this on-going effort "is to direct the attention and efforts of adult members to caring for children in a way that will enable them to have a strong foundation of testimony and faithfully live the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Since Aug. 1, when the First Presidency issued a letter (see text of letter on this page) on the responsibilities members have to children, "Focus on Children" has been discussed in stake auxiliary training meetings and will be addressed in a Church satellite fireside on Jan.

23, entitled, "Behold Your Little Ones." During the telecast, messages will be delivered by a member of the First Presidency, a member of the Council of the Twelve and Michaelene P. Grassli, Primary general president.

"We're taking a worldwide perspective," Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, who will speak during the telecast, told the Church News. "Children are not regarded worldwide as the precious spirit children of our Father in Heaven. So what we want to do is not only awaken in the minds of members how precious children are, but also awaken in others who are not members that children are precious.

"Children deserve better, careful, loving treatment," he explained. "Hopefully, the words spoken during the satellite broadcast will reach out beyond just the limits of Church membership."

The telecast will begin at 6 p.m. (MDT) and will be transmitted to more than 3,000 meetinghouses in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, the West Indies and the Dominican Republic. Listeners can hear the broadcast in 11 languages. The fireside will be re-broadcast over the Church's satellite network at 8 p.m. (MDT) and KBYU Channel 11 at 8 p.m.

Preceded by a 10-minute local opening, the broadcast presentation will last 80 minutes. Bishops are instructed to encourage all who care about children, including parents, leaders and teachers of Primary-age children, to attend the telecast in their areas. The presentation will offer suggestions on ways of teaching children that will help prepare a righteous generation. Portions of a new Church video, "Teach the Child," will be shown during the broadcast. The 23-minute video will be available at distribution centers soon after the broadcast.

The telecast will include messages relating to the four suggested goals of "Focus on Children," which are:

Teach members to recognize the worth of children.

Identify and invite each child.

Give children quality gospel teaching.

Ensure that children receive gospel ordinances.

These goals are to be used as a guide for local leaders as they implement "Focus on Children" in their units, the guidelines state.

In speaking of the importance of "Focus on Children," Elder Ballard explained: "Children are the spirit offspring of God the Eternal Father, and He has a vested interest in them. We have a very sacred responsibility to shepherd every child and try to bless the life of every child, that none would suffer."

Elder Ballard discussed the "tremendous challenges" faced by children today. He spoke of the challenges of hunger among children, of child abuse and of violence against children.

"We would hope no child would ever suffer in any way - emotionally, physically or spiritually," he said.

He also spoke of the need to belong. "Our Church and other churches ought to be reaching out to children and youth, solving their problems at a spiritual level rather than trying to solve them totally on a social level."

Elder Ballard emphasized the need for Church quorums, auxiliaries and individual members to be involved in "Focus on Children."

"We're calling upon every adult and every young adult to have a sensitivity in shepherding children and focusing on their rights and needs. Young men and young women can have a tremendous impact on children. Relief Society sisters have a responsibility. The brethren of the priesthood quorums have a responsibility. The bishoprics have responsibility. Stake presidencies have responsibility. This is a universal thrust in trying to focus and lift, help and bless the lives of children."

Quorums and auxiliaries can help nurture and bless children in many ways, Elder Ballard counseled. For instance, he said, priesthood quorum presidencies can ensure that every family has home teachers. He also encouraged members to be sensitive to the needs of children in single-parent families.

"If children can capture the vision of who they really are, their potential is unlimited. Most important, they will become successful parents because they see the role of how valued parenting is. They will carry that into their own marriages and see that their children have love and come to know that they really are the sons and daughters of God."

Pres. Grassli also spoke on ways to "Focus on Children." She encouraged parents to be aware of what their children are learning in Primary, and for home teachers and visiting teachers to be aware of special events in a child's life, such as baptism.

"We have already heard reports of sacrament meetings in which bishoprics taught ward members about the importance of attending to children," Pres. Grassli related. "We hope that bishoprics will meet regularly with Primary presidencies, that they will be aware of the needs of children."

Pres. Grassli expressed gratitude for the "great work" of those serving in Primary. "Primary teachers need to be called in such a way that they will want to love and teach the children," she added.

"One of the best things about children," she noted, "is that they remind us that we can change the world through the next generation.

"When children have a firm testimony and commitment to doing what's right, to follow the Savior and to depend on the Spirit to guide them, then even when unhappy things happen in their lives," she explained, "the children are likely to have the strength to survive and to feel peace. Then, when the children are grown and have families of their own, they are able to transmit this peace to their children.

"The mission of the Church includes the children," Pres. Grassli said. "We are to invite all to come unto Christ - including children."

(Additional information)

In a letter dated Aug. 1, 1993, the First Presidency wrote to General Authorities; regional representatives; stake, mission and district presidents; bishops; and branch presidents to "Focus on Children." (Please see accompanying article.)

"In many areas of the world, children are increasingly at risk from malnutrition, disease, and war. Abuse and neglect of children, immorality, and violence are becoming more common. The children of the Church need to be cared for and taught gospel principles.

"The best place for a child to learn the gospel is in the home. Mothers and fathers have the responsibility to teach and care for their children. (D&C 68:25-28.) It is also important for extended families, priesthood leaders, auxiliary leaders and teachers to help strengthen children. The principles children learn at home and at Church will help them gain a strong foundation of testimony that they can use to make righteous choices and faithfully live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"The Lord has said, `All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.' (3 Ne. 22:13.) We reemphasize the need for all adult members to focus on our children in an ongoing effort to help them learn to follow the teachings of the Savior. We encourage priesthood leaders to help parents understand their role and responsibility to teach their children. Priesthood leaders should also consider prayerfully how they can help to bless the lives of children. Because this responsibility for our children is so important, we must rededicate ourselves to nourish and bless them temporally and spiritually. Attached are some guidelines and suggestions to assist you in this effort.

"We pray that all Church members will continue to improve teaching and caring for the children and bless their lives as the Savior did."

Sincerely your brethren,

The First Presidency

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