Why are the hands red?

“Why are the hands red?”

The children’s summer program from the First Chinese Presbyterian Church of New York City had come to the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations to learn about child soldiers and to participate in the Red Hand Campaign.

Due to the size of the group – 74 children and 12 counselors, we met at the Church of the Covenant. As always, we are grateful to our partners there.

After words of welcome and opening prayer, Elodie de Bethmann and Johnstuart Winchell started the day with singing. The counselors followed with another song. Great energy and enthusiasm flowed from the children.

Elodie then invited the children to share what they liked to do. “Read.” “Watch TV.” “Sing.” They answered quickly, responses tumbling over each other.

The conversation turned to the use of children as soldiers. All agreed that is not good and would not be what Jesus, who had the children come to him, would want.

Elodie explained that the Red Hand Campaign is one way we can work to make sure children are children, not soldiers. That’s when the question came.

“Why are the hands red?”

“Maybe Rev. Mark can answer that,” said Elodie.

I gave it a try.

“When you are walking. Or when you are in a car. And you come to a corner, how do you know it is safe to go? What color is the light?”

“Green!” Many voices said the word.

“And when you are supposed to stop?” I asked.


“Red,” I said. “The hands are red to say ‘Stop!'” I continued, “Red hands say stop using children as soldiers. Children are children, not soldiers.”

“And in a few minutes, you will make Red Hands,” said Elodie.

She reminded the children that their Red Hands would go to Myanmar. Peng Leong and the counselors had already told th children this. They could find Myanmar on the map. The government of Myanmar has created an action plan with the United Nations to prevent the recruitment and use of children by Myanmar’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, and allow for the release of under-age recruits. However Myanmar has yet to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children and armed conflict.

While the tables were prepared, the children went into the sanctuary for further singing and activies led by Johnstuart, Elodie, and their counselors.

They returned and made red hands – 87 red hands as one child made one for both hands. The red hands were gathered into an envelope addressed to the Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the United Nations. A prayer followed – giving thanks for the children and their witness and asking God’s blessing that the red hands may help speed the day when children are no longer used as soldiers.

After lunch, the group walked to the United Nations for a visit of the lobby. On the way back to the Church of the Covenant, we paused for a photo at the Isaiah Wall.

Commenting on the experience, Peng Leong noted “This is just the beginning for our children at the summer program.” We look forward to seeing what else the children will do. We look forward to further partnership with the First Chinese Presbyterian Church. We look forward to the day when children are children, not soldiers.

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