You know what it's like, raising children.
The sounds ... wailing over skinned knees … giggling at the cartoon on television … chattering about what happened at school. And the sight of them, running around and rolling in the yard … tangled in the covers of their bed … staring, wide-eyed, at a still big, strange, fascinating world.
You know what it's like, to feel that small hand in yours … to field the endless questions you have no idea how to answer … to watch a little soul changing, growing right before your eyes.
Christer and Annie Johansson have missed out on most of that. In 2009, they were leaving their home in Sweden, boarding a plane for India (Annie's homeland), where they had previously served as missionaries. With them was their seven-year-old son, whom they had been homeschooling during their furlough time in Sweden.
Just before takeoff, government social service authorities boarded the plane and took the Johanssons’ son away. They had no warrant, nor did they charge the Johanssons with any crime. Yet they did the unimaginable, and took away their child.
Shortly afterward, a Swedish court ruled that the government had every right to do such a thing. Home-schooled children, the court said, don't do as well socially or academically as youngsters placed in state-run schools. Parents who want to instruct their own youngsters clearly don't understand what's best for their child - so the state has to step in and take over.
It was the horrific beginning to a nightmare that just goes on and on. For a while, Christer and Annie were at least allowed to visit their son for two hours each week. But the government soon cut off that contact, too, and barred visits from any extended family, as well. When his grandmother died, the boy wasn't even permitted to attend her funeral. For five and a half years, the Johanssons' child has grown up without them.
Christer and Annie have never stopped fighting to get their son back, working their way through every level of the Swedish court system for their child. Three years ago, a court ruled that the Johanssons were good and loving parents to their son - they just couldn't have him back. Last fall, the Swedish Supreme Court dealt another crushing blow, refusing their appeal.
That only leaves one option: the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which exercises authority over the laws of member nations in much the way federal law in the U.S. can trump state regulations. On May 23, ADF International attorneys filed an application with the ECHR on behalf of the Johanssons.
"The Swedish authorities have clearly violated the Johansson's right to family life," says Lorcán Price, ADF International Legal Counsel. "This is a fundamental right expressly guaranteed by the ECHR. Separating a young child from his parents without even allowing them access to each other is an extreme and unnecessary interference with this right."
"Every child deserves to be raised by his or her loving mother and father," says Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International. "The European Convention on Human Rights requires the cutting of that bond to be the nuclear last resort. In this case, it seems to be the government's first resort and so we are asking the European Court of Human Rights to intervene."
When you look at your children and grandchildren tonight - when you're checking their homework, or listening to them complain about what's for dinner or what they don't have to wear, or giving them a hug on their way to bed - think about the Johanssons. Think about a world where governments, on a whim, can take all of that way.
And when you pray, give thanks for the time you've had with your children. And ask God, in His mercy, to work in one last courtroom, to give a little of that back to Christer and Annie.