The desperate sound of a child crying is the same in every language. It does not deviate by culture, race, economic status, or background. Although each cry may hold different motives, the weeping is significant and acknowledged by the alert and attentive. I have no recollection of the first time I truly noticed the desperate cries of children, but I will never forget what awakened my silent voice. It caused me to reposition my role as a children’s pastor and step out of the four walls of the church.
Taylor Memorial Church sits in the center of one of our city’s lowest-income demographic areas, referred to as “red-zones” or high-crime areas. Countless at-risk children reside in the area, and many times throughout the years, these kids have flooded our Wednesday night programs with their presence. While some are as hardcore as their environment, others are gentle in spirit and innocent of their surroundings.
During the two years of her absence, one child’s cry still lingers. Beautiful, smart, and friendly, eleven-year-old Ja’Naiya Scott was full of life. She had been a part of our children’s ministry since the age of four, and she was one of the many God used to open my ears and heart to the voices in our community. It was a Sunday morning in July of 2019 when we received news that Ja’Naiya had been fatally shot as she sat in her living room during an early morning drive-by shooting. I rushed to the home just a few blocks from the church but was unprepared for the reality that Ja’Naiya’s family was facing. My heart was breaking, yet my brokenness could never measure the devastation of this mother who had just lost a piece of herself.
Standing on the porch, I hugged this lady I had come to love over the years as she asked me why God would allow something so horrific to happen. My eyes passed over the thirty-seven bullet holes that marked the front of her home, but I could not find the words to comfort this mother. There were none.
The enemy holds no sympathy or mercy for the children or their families scattered throughout our communities. Neither can their cries be heard through the walls of the church. However, we have the opportunity to speak life into families who are searching for hope. To be unalert is to miss a God-ordained chance to share that God is that hope. Comfort can be found in knowing that not one sparrow (or tear) falls to the ground apart from God’s notice (Matthew 10:29). We will not always have words for those who reach out to us, but we always have the answer.
The days leading up to the funeral, Ja’Naiya’s gentle voice began to echo in my head. I felt a strong sense of shame and guilt. This child may not have known the extent of the sin that plagued her community, but I did, and I had turned a blind eye to her tears. As a Church, how often do we hear cries from other nations and envision ourselves engaging in ministry there, yet we fail to act on behalf of those right outside our back door. If neither a cry (or laughter) differs among languages, and if those cries are as similar as they are peculiar, then the only thing subject to change is our response.
We will not always have words for those who reach out to us, but we always have the answer.
A generation is crying out to the local church to acknowledge them and to respond. Imagine if Pharaoh’s daughter never heard the cry of Moses or if she hadn’t responded with compassion. Would Israel still be in bondage? We carry a similar responsibility.
Through the church doors at Ja’naiya Scott’s funeral, there stood several children dressed in white and greeting those who came to pay their respects. Several of those young children, now more aware of the hate and violence that covered their streets, surprisingly greeted me by name. At some point, our paths had crossed, but this day I saw their faces and heard their voices for the first time.
We must hear, acknowledge and respond. We must realize that God wants to have a personal relationship with every child and that these relationships can be birthed through you. Build strong, meaningful relationships. One by one, turn toward those voices that call out.
Walking down the center aisle of the funeral that day, God awakened me to see the many Ja’Naiyas beyond the walls of our church. As I moved across the front to the perfectly smooth and beautiful purple casket, I saw a little girl who had taken captive my phone, as well as my heart, on countless occasions. Her tender voice still lingers in my head, and I knew that despite every tear, not one moment escapes the attention of the God who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). God has always valued the cries of tender children like Ja’Naiya long before I grasped that what is done to the least of these is done unto God (Matthew 25:40).
I believe seeds were sown in Ja’Naiya that took root and that God knows her name. The anchor proved its value–and “Ja’Naiya Scott” was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. God longs to tell ALL of those outside the church walls, “Well done thy faithful servant,” but they need someone to show them the WAY, to tell them about Jesus. Hear the call, acknowledge the need, and respond to the call!
Jan Cromer has served as a children's pastor for the past twenty years. She serves as the Spirit Life Conference Children's Ministry Director, as well as a member of the IPHC Children's Ministry Council. Jan is passionate about involving children in ministry. Reaching at-risk kids is a ministry she deeply values and does so through a sidewalk Sunday School program called Upstreet. Jan resides with her husband, Stephan, and their two adult children in Anderson, SC. They attend Taylor Memorial Church where she serves as the Children's Pastor.