Beginning a vigil

The life of a pastor has many prayer vigils. There are the vigils that occur when we sit with someone who is nearing the end of their life. There are vigils when we sit with those who are grieving. There are the vigils that result from serious illnesses and extended times of recovery. One of the “when we always” vigils of our lives as pastors occurs every autumn, when we set aside 40 Days of Prayer for Children. The date of the vigil is established by Children’s Sabbath, which is the third weekend of each October. This year, that falls on October 16 - 18. The observance is different days in different religious bodies. It begins on Friday evening for Jewish participants. In our Christian churches it will be observed on Sunday, October 18. The 40-day prayer vigil begins 40 days prior to Children’s Sabbath. In the congregations we have served it was common to extend the vigil by a couple of days so that we could launch on a Sunday, so today marks the beginning of the vigil.

In this season of Covid, with the changes in our lives brought about by retirement, Sundays have been a bit awkward for us. We worship online with a congregation in Washington, and some weeks I connect with a small spiritual practice group in Rapid City, but it simply doesn’t feel like the face-to-face in-person worship that has marked our lives.

Last week, I re-read my journal from our 2001 mission trip to share with our sister church in Costa Rica. Every day’s entry ended with a prayer. I wrote prayers for the participants in the trip, for the people of our Costa Rica congregation, for our congregation at home, and much more. The discipline of writing a prayer each day helped me, now 19 years later, to reconnect with the sense of calling and vocation we felt on that trip.

Then, when our congregation had to make a sudden shift from in-person to online worship and ministry last spring, I began the discipline of writing a prayer each day. I posted the daily prayers on FaceBook and the impromptu prayer vigil marked the end of my time as pastor of the congregation we served for 25 years.

So this year, in preparation for Children’s Sabbath, I am going to write a prayer for children each day, starting today, through October 18. It will be my own personal 42 days of prayer.

Today I am thinking of the children of Japan as I prepare for prayer. A little over a year ago we were in Japan to greet our newest grandchild, who was born in Misawa in the northern part of the country. Upon his birth he had been rushed to nearby Hachinohe, where there is a neonatal intensive care unit. A few days later he was able to come home with his parents to begin his life. In 2021 his family will be returning to the United States to live. At less than 2 years old, he won’t remember much about his beginnings in Japan, but his parents and grandparents will tell him many stories and show him pictures of his early days.

Our visits to Japan gave us many opportunities to observe children. We saw school groups traveling together and touring various attractions that we visited. There were school children on nearly every train that we rode as we traveled around the country. We even saw children riding Strider bikes, toys manufactured in Rapid City, South Dakota as we strolled through a park near Tokyo.

Today, however, I am especially thinking of the children who live in the southern part of Japan. Typhoon Haishen is expected to move past Kyushu today with heavy rain, storm surges and winds of more than 100 mph. It comes just days after Typhoon Maysak, one of the strongest to hit the region in years. Factories, schools and businesses are closed across western Japan. More than 200,000 people have been ordered to evacuate. Shelters have been established in schools and community shelters, but some people have decided to shelter in hotels rather than the official shelters out of fear of coronavirus spreading in the crowded shelters.

Children are remarkably resilient and can adapt to changes, even sudden changes when they have their basic needs met. I have memories of Japanese children calmly and confidently negotiating busy train stations and displaying urban skills that our children didn’t develop until they were adults.

Gracious God, we are all your children. With great joy we remember the stories of Jesus welcoming the little children and we take delight in the children who have come into our lives. We know that you watch over all of the children of the earth and call us to protect and care for these precious ones. Today we pray for the children of Japan, thinking specially of those whose lives have been disrupted by storm evacuations. May they find shelter from the storms, and may they find protection from the pandemic that threatens the health of so many around the globe. In the midst of disruption, may they find comfort and care from parents and loved ones. May they find sleep without fear when they need it. Protect the children of Japan, gracious God.

And, dear God, we also ask you to give us a heightened awareness of children everywhere as we begin our prayer vigil this year. May our eyes be opened to their circumstances, may our hearts be opened to their needs, may our lives be dedicated to their nurture and care. We are grateful for the little ones who bring love and joy into our lives and renew our hope each day. May we learn to greet our days with the enthusiasm and joy of a child.

Thank you, gracious God, for the children of our world. Thank you for the many ways that they inspire us and call us to remember our vocation to love and care for all the children of the world.

We pray in your holy name, Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!