By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—Forget “simply trying to survive.” It’s time to help children know their worth—that they are loved by God, loved by us, and important enough to raise our voices loud enough to help.
That was the message brought by the Rev. John Holler, president of Epworth Children’s Home, who brought a keynote message for hundreds of South Carolina women gathered Feb. 12 for the annual United Methodist Women Legislative Advocacy Day.
Drawing from Matthew 19:13-15, on Jesus validating the importance of children, Holler underscored the importance of helping children know this.
“All of us at different times and in different ways ask the question: ‘Do you love me?’ And the younger we are, the more desperate we are to know we are worth something,” Holler said. “If we are disposable and disposed of then we die. Emotionally, we fail to thrive if we do not matter to those important to us.”
Citing what he called disturbing statistics, Holler noted that child abuse and neglect in this nation cost more than $100 billion a year—$33 billion in direct costs alone. Every 10 years, he said, that’s a trillion dollars.
“Our child welfare and child protective systems are failing us. They are a mess, and it appears they are going downhill rapidly,” Holler said.
It’s easy to blame departments, politicians and leaders, he said.
“But we need to look at ourselves because we have not objected strongly enough or loudly enough to change a system that’s been in existence longer than any of us have been on earth,” Holler said.
In the meantime, South Carolina remains in the bottom tier of child wellbeing. In effect, he said, we are saying we don’t love our children enough to lift our voices.
Together, he said, United Methodist Women—and all people of faith—can stand together and stand up for these children.
‘Every Child is a Miracle’
Holler was one of a number of speakers at the legislative day at Epworth, each lifting up this year’s theme, “Every Child is a Miracle.”
Sen. Gerald Malloy, who was the event’s morning speaker, lifted up the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“You have a voice, and my encouragement to you today is to raise your voice,” Malloy said to applause.
Malloy spoke about important issues currently facing the state legislature, such as “Raise the Age” legislation and other incarceration issues, as well as education legislation.
“If we like the status quo then we just sit there,” Malloy said, “Anything in motion stays in motion. Something not in motion does not move unless you move it.
“It’s time to get to work.”
Malloy said politics by definition is how you allocate resources, how you prioritize what you put first, second and third.
“What are we doing for our children?” he asked, noting we can ruin generations and generations with how we treat one child.
Malloy urged the women to remember Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Don’t get tired of doing good.”
A future with hope
Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, the resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, also spoke to the crowd, emphasizing the importance of a future with hope.
“The themes for this day include education, health and more, and these are important issues because these impact our children in South Carolina,” Holston said. “As Winston Churchill said, ‘We have the responsibility for looking out for others.’ And the cost of leadership is responsibility.”
Holston called on United Methodist Women to continue to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
“Your presence makes a difference,” Holston said.
Cathy Ford, president of South Carolina Conference United Methodist Women, thanked those present for caring and being passionate about these important issues.
“It takes courage and boldness, and that is who we are,” Ford said.
The Rev. Brenda Kneece of the South Carolina Christian Action Council, called on attendees to learn what the issues are and what buttons to push.
“We have to be willing together to raise our voices, even in misery,” Kneece said. “You may be pushed down, you may be kept from rising, but nobody can keep you from raising your heart to heaven. It is in the middle of misery that much becomes clear.
“United Methodist Women, listen up, speak up and hold your hearts to heaven, for the filling of your hearts will change the lives of our children.”
Workshops for the day were led by Christy Mooneyhan (on becoming educational champions for highly stressed/traumatized children), Kendra Faile (on promoting quality care in children’s homes), Michelle Dhunjishah (on becoming an effective advocate), Beth Williams (on campaigning for grandparents and other non-traditional kin who are rearing children) and Kimberly Seals (on maternal and child health).