One of my favorite college assignments came in a Children’s Literature class at San Francisco State University, when my professor asked us to read 100 assorted story and picture books. I spent several delightful Saturday afternoons in the public library, enmeshed in the mischievous mishaps of Curious George and fearless little Miss Madeline. Those were some of my most memorable and inspiring hours ever spent with my nose in a book!
It’s sad to think about what a Messianic Children’s Literature course assignment would entail. My former professors would certainly be hard-pressed to give a similar assignment today or to devise a challenging course reading list. In fact, the entire available library of such books would barely fill one short shelf, let alone an afternoon of reading.
As an editor, I regularly peruse articles, books, catalogues, book tables and Internet sites by other Jewish believers. Recently, I received a new catalogue from a reputable messianic literature ministry, one that carries an extensive range of helpful and quality materials. After glancing through pages and pages of up-to-date book offerings, I came to the children’s literature page—notice, I put that in the singular. The Jews for Jesus’ Purple Pomegranate Productions catalogue also offers only a few messianic children’s books.
It’s not that the messianic community doesn’t care. Countless articles, numerous classes, how-to workshops, camps, Ingathering Children’s programs, and teen retreat weekends have been produced to ensure that we and our children will have a strong and correct understanding of our identity as messianic believers. But where are the books which will help future generations fill their hours with challenging and culturally appropriate reading about Yeshua, His Jewish followers, and how God defines our messianic Jewish identity?
Do we feel uncomfortable or out of our depth in the genre of children’s literature? I don’t know the reasons for this glaring oversight but I hope it is not indicative of the importance we place on the spiritual education of our children. And certainly there are some who have taken the plunge forward to produce quality messianic literature and curriculum for children. But I would like to challenge us as a community to move forward in this area, for a generation’s identity is birthed and perpetuated through its literature. How then shall we write, and what?
For the Jewish Child Who Doesn’t Yet Know Yeshua
We must be careful to give a clear, yet culturally sensitive gospel.
Such literature should contain the message of salvation: that Yeshua came and died for our sins, that He rose from the dead, and that by believing in Him and accepting the forgiveness He offers, we too can conquer death and live forever with Him.
We must teach children that God is holy and perfect, and that we are not. It is not enough to teach them that they sin and do wrong things; we must find the words to teach them that they are sinners. Traditional Jewish thought teaches that mitzvot and tzedakah help make us right with God; Romans 3:23 and 6:23 give a more radical viewpoint!
- We must use literature to express how much God loves us, and that He didn’t want us to remain far from Him because of our sin. He provided His own way to bring us close, through cleansing us and making us right before Him through Yeshua. Hebrews 9:22-28 gives a picture of this.
- We must talk about the good effects of putting one’s faith in Yeshua. We must present to children their responsibility to admit that they are sinners, believe that Yeshua died on the cross to pay for their sins, and give them an opportunity to pray to receive Him as their atonement for sin.
- Such literature should also contain other truths of Scripture: that God is the Creator of everything; that He gave us the festivals—Passover, Shavuot, Yom Kippur, et al. He gave us His commandments and teachings in the Torah; He gave us prophets and teachers and priests (the greatest of whom was Yeshua!) to direct us towards Him and His ways.
Can these truths be communicated in children’s books? And would the readership be too limited to warrant the time, attention and cost of writing and producing such literature? What about the valid concerns of sharing faith issues with minors: are there creative and acceptable ways of making Messiah known to minors? And how would such books be distributed? These questions may seem daunting, but are they the bottom line?
It’s not a question of how or what, it’s a question of obligation. Are we as a messianic community prepared to bring the good news of Yeshua to the entire world? Does that include the next generation?
For the Jewish Child Who Knows Yeshua
We should reinforce what the child knows about God, and encourage him or her to grow to maturity in Messiah. Think of how we disciple new adult believers. We usually teach them the basics: Get into fellowship with other believers; Read the Bible and pray; Obey God; Witness to others.” In other words, GROW! What could be a more “messianically-correct” way to encourage a Jewish child’s growth in Messiah than to teach them the very things we practice ourselves and teach new believers to do?
Children learn by repetition, therefore it is right to repeat some of the basics of how they came to faith. You might use the ABC method: Have you ADMITTED you’re a sinner? Did you come to BELIEVE that Yeshua died for you? When you CALLED upon Him, did He come into your life and make you right before God? Reinforcing the basic acts of faith that the child took will help him or her see that the personal faith choices were real. In owning these choices, the child’s ability to grapple with peer pressure and even persecution will be strengthened.
We need to continually remind messianic children about the truth of what God has done for us in Messiah Yeshua. The Jewish unbelieving community will try to undermine and convince them otherwise as they grow older. Therefore, we must build upon such Bible promises as Hebrews 13:5-6 and I John 1:9 in the children’s literature we write.
As children grow, they will undoubtedly hear the message, “you can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus.” It would be good to write from the vantage point of what God has done for us in Messiah, so that this message will become embedded deep into a child’s heart. Then, when they hear such accusations, they will have an answer for the hope that is in them.
Stress the importance of a personal relationship with Yeshua; guide children towards establishing that relationship with God; celebrate and observe the Jewishness of your faith at home. Then, when children grow older, the two will go hand in hand in both their own minds and in their own experiences. They will have their own story, and it will be uniquely messianic.
But write about it! Write about it for the sake of the next generation, and the ones to follow after that. It will be a sad statement about the present generation of Jewish believers if we do not leave behind a legacy of literature for our children and our children’s children.
So I ask, not so much how shall we then write…but will we, and when?