Family is important.

The whole world will be celebrating the International Day of Families on Sunday May 15. This year's theme is: Family and Urbanization.

The history of these celebrations goes back to 1993 when the General Assembly “decided in a resolution (A/RES/47/237) that May 15 of every year should be observed as The International Day of Families.” And the main objective of these celebrations is “to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase the knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.”

Why families and do they matter?

A family is one of the oldest institutions ordained by God when humanity was created. This family institute is the one responsible for continuing with God's work of procreation and stewardship of the family. The story of the Bible from its beginnings in the book of Genesis is the story of families building up nations and continuing with God's work on earth. This is an institution that has gone through different phases of revolution and redefinition.

Today this institution is understood differently in different cultures, in some cultures it is becoming narrower with the focus being limited to the nuclear family while in some it still remains broader with focusing still wider and including the extended family. The theme of Family and Urbanization is an important one for the future of this oldest institution in the history of humanity.

The world is fast growing with many communities becoming more and more urban but the aspect of urbanization is also posing some challenges to families. Let me pose some few questions to you readers; when was the last time you had a meal together as a family? How many of you can sit together as a family in the sitting room without watching television or interacting with your electronic gadgets but only having an informal conversation? When was the last time you prayed together as family? When was the last time you visited one another as a family without being invited for a special function?

I grew up in an African context where the whole family would sit at a bonfire for two or three hours chatting and eating roasted maize or groundnuts. This was a rural setting and today such cultures are even disappearing in Africa due to urbanization and shift of economy models. Today what appears to be a family are different people living under the same roof each one doing his/her own business. The family fabric is fast tearing away.

As the world celebrates the International Day of Families coincidentally the gospel for the day is John 13:31-35 which talks about the new commandment. Jesus is having His last supper with His disciples and this is an opportunity for Him to say His last words to them. In the Israelite societies last words were very important and no one would forget or discard them. Jesus is saying these words at the excruciating moment when Judas has just left the table to betray Him. He takes this opportunity to give them an instruction that will strengthen their ministry and becomes the bedrock of the future church. He instructs His disciples to love another and that was going to be a true mark of discipleship.

The scarcity of love among families has become a major threat to the extinction of this institution which is the bedrock of any society and church. The contemporary family is faced with insurmountable challenges ranging from: abuse/neglect, addiction, communication, grief/the effects of bereavement, parenting, divorces, cultural/generational differences, and gender based violence, and balancing work/school and family life. These are some of the challenges facing the contemporary family institution.

As we celebrate this important day, we need to reflect on the future of this institution in light of wars and conflicts around the globe, massive immigrations and separation of families in the process, and the need to work more hours to earn a decent living. Young parents in the urban contexts are faced with this massive challenge of balancing professional requirements and family life. We need specialists in the developmental studies who introduce development models that are family friendly.

A societal structure without a solid family base anchored on love has no future. As we make significant progress in developmental projects let us not forget the significance of the family unit in society.