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Parenting: Raising Citizens

Parenting: Raising Citizens

By Chee Siew Hoong

MY children and I talk about a lot of things together. We talk about how scruffy our dog has been looking lately, what their teachers said during lessons, what their friends said, books they've just read, food. We also talk a lot about the real stories around us. We also talked about Bersih 2.0.

"Are you going to march, Mum?" my ten-year-old asked me on the eve of that momentous event.

"We will definitely pray," I said. "That's marching too, for those who can't go, if you believe that prayer is work, and it is."

"What's Bersih?" asked my six-year-old.

"It means 'clean' in Bahasa Malaysia," quipped her elder sister.

Two to three days before that, we'd talked about what the movement stood for. I'd given a simplified explanation on the election process, and how it can be abused. My ten-year-old had read about democracy when studying about Greece, and how it had been started in order to get rid of "tyrants" - usurpers in ancient Greece who seized power unconstitutionally. It wasn't hard for her to understand what Bersih, the movement, was about.

It was harder to explain to my six-year-old, for whom most things are still concrete and immediate. So, I used the example of a classroom situation where each child has the opportunity to vote for change, e.g. to have park time each day of the week, instead of just on Fridays. Now, active six-year-olds really value park-time. It is their "thank God it's Friday!" moment after hours of being at their kindy-sized desks. But, what if bigger kids came along and squished up the voting papers, or wrote stuff on the voting papers and decided that you couldn't have extra park time because they wanted to have the park all to themselves? It was a simplistic parallel, but it made a point. My six-year-old turned bright-red livid.

"It's not fair!"

I was pleased to hear that. I'd heard it countless times from my girls when we had talked about the Sarawak elections, the plight of Burmese refugees, human trafficking along our borders and the displacement of the Orang Asli from their ancestral lands.

At ten and six, they can't grasp these issues in their entirety. But that's okay. They're not expected to at this point. But, they're old enough to respond thoughtfully about their country. How can authorities that are supposed to protect the helpless, abuse them for profit? Why don't they share the wealth? How can they just take away people's land just like that? It's not fair.

Just saying "It's not fair", however, is not enough. And so, my husband and I tell them that though they are little, they can do what mighty women and men do. They can pray. As a family, we've prayed over the floods in the north. For about a year plus, we prayed weekly for Burmese refugees in Malaysia and that God would protect them from cruel people. When we first began sponsoring needy children, we prayed for them nightly that they would be healthy, stay in school and study hard, and obey their parents. We haven't been as consistent in praying for those children this year, and we've got to begin again. During the Sarawak elections, we prayed against corruption, against the powers of witchcraft and for God-fearing leaders on both sides of the political divide. Last Saturday, as our brave friends were in the throng of marchers in KL, we were praying at home for protection and for justice. I showed my girls photos and live streams of the march on the computer. They saw me weeping and praying, and they were not upset at the sight because they'd seen me weep before in prayer.

But, it would be untruthful to say that they have not heard me rant against certain ethnic groups, or reinforce racial stereotyping. Like everyone else, history runs deep in our veins in the form of emotions, entrenched attitudes and thoughts. I tell my children that I have sinned in holding on to a communal history of resentment, and they have heard me repent before the Lord. And this has led us to talk about how mercy and grace must accompany calls for "justice" and "fairness". God's idea of righteousness was after all, a towel for foot-washing and a cross.

Pretty soon, they will be asking questions like: "If there's so much unfairness, what's God doing about it?", or "Where's the church in this?"

I'm getting myself ready for those questions. My preparation involves studying the scriptures and being prayerful throughout the day when I do my chores. And when those questions come, I want to move them to asking: "What have you made me for, Lord, in such a time as this?"


(Siew Hoong is thankful for her parents who continue to show her what prayer means in the walk of faith.)

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