Family and children’s ministries were the focus of two conferences recently hosted by the South Pacific Division’s Discipleship Ministry Team (DMT).
The National Christian Family Conference, now in its 32nd year, saw around 120 people gather at the San Clinical Education Centre (Sydney) last week for two days of informative presentations. The keynote speaker was Dr Kiti Freier Randall, an Adventist neuropsychologist from Loma Linda, who specialises in the area of high risk 0-5 year olds who have experienced trauma and/or drug endangered environments.
“Our conference is always based on something to do with marriage, parenting or adolescents,” said Dr Trafford Fischer, conference organiser and family director for the DMT. “This year, our focus was on the risk and resilience of those really early childhood years, something we don’t often talk about.”
Topics presented included the maltreatment of children, drug endangered children, technology and the isolation of children, childhood obesity, mental health issues in childhood, and the risks of childhood and their long-term effects.
“It’s a professional conference, so it’s designed specifically for counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, and anyone who works with families,” said Dr Fischer, adding that there was a good mix of faith groups represented at this year’s event. “We provide current, up-to-date research-based issues presented in a Christian setting.”
For the first time, this year’s conference also brought around 25 children’s ministry leaders from the Trans Pacific Union Mission (TPUM) and the Papua New Guinea Union Mission (PNGUM), who said they thoroughly enjoyed the presentations.
“What I appreciated most about the conference was that it spoke about topics I didn’t even know about, especially about the mental health for ages 0-3 and how important it is for us to be connected to those children,” said Marica Tokalau, a retired children’s ministry leader from Fiji. “It was an eye-opener for me.”
“[When] Dr Kiti talked about exercise as being one of the most under prescribed treatments for depression and other mental health issues, that stunned me, because exercise is something we don’t really take seriously back home in Fiji,” said Fiji Mission DMT team member Alice Kaisuva. “That’s something that I intend to take back home to start with my family.”
Another highlight of the family conference was a presentation by clinical counsellor Dr Paula Davis and her daughter Rebecca Fahey, entitled “War, Peace & Love: A journey of healing intergenerational attachment wounds”, where they openly shared their family’s story.
“This spoke volumes to me as it was a practical example of what we had been learning about for the two days,” said Aggie Namakadre, a nurse for the Fiji Mission health department. “We heard and saw the effects of not being attached for generations, but they were an example of healing because they worked through what they had gone through.”
Family counsellor and educator Cherie Gibson presented on raising resilient children and said she was “truly blessed” to have been part of the conference.
“[It was] an absolutely terrific conference,” she said. “Kiti has such a wealth of knowledge.”
“I think we as a Church need to start investing younger, concentrating on those early years, and this is what Dr Kiti brought out really well in her presentations,” said Pastor Daron Pratt, children and family ministries director for the North New South Wales Conference. “We don’t often talk about that age in our churches, but there was so much presented on the benefits of belonging to the Christian community, an investment made early pays off in dividends down the track.”
After the conclusion of the family conference, the conversation on children continued, with the DMT hosting a one-day training session for all children’s ministry leaders across the South Pacific.
“Because the [family conference] focus was on children at risk, I encouraged the children’s ministry directors at the conference to attend, so that we could host them afterward for a day of upskilling,” said Litiana Turner, children’s ministries director for the DMT. “We’ve got lots of new leaders, and while they’re here they can meet each other, network and share resources.”
The training day was held at the SPD, and included children’s ministry leaders from several conferences in Australia, the Central Papua Conference (Papua New Guinea), Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa, as well as the directors from TPUM and PNGUM.
“I really appreciate [this training day], especially the resources,” said PNGUM children’s ministry director Jochabed Pomaleu. “Most of my leaders need a lot more resources, and I am looking forward to taking some back home to implement and try to help our leaders to grow.”
“I always go away with my head exploding, inspired to go back and write resources and preach better,” said Pastor Pratt. “I’m so passionate about seeing our children and our families to be equipped to be the best they can be in their church and community.”
Each of the leaders received more than 10 children’s ministry resources to use in their conferences, as well as a USB containing volumes one to seven of the Children’s Ministry Certification, discipleship videos, a bookmark, resourcing videos and PDFs of various handbooks.
“It was really great,” said Ms Turner. “The opportunity with this is that people can see how others actually work—they realise that the Church is bigger than just their conference or mission. It’s a way where we can share in each other’s journeys; when we’re working with children, we’re working together.”