Charles Spurgeon, known as the great Baptist “Prince of Preachers” of the 19th century, was credited with saying that we must read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. While Scripture stands as our ultimate authority in mission, the current context in which the Church finds itself shapes and prepares us for a biblical integration of faith and practice.
This article, written by two theologians and mission practitioners, performs a sort of duet: All four hands are at work, engaging our readers around one of CBM’s core causes – kids at risk. Jonathan plays the lead, or melody, of God’s immeasurable love and acceptance of children, and calls us to both patience and presence in response to God’s command to attend to children and the fatherless. Terry adds the harmony to the article, enjoining us to consider specific or particular examples of CBM’s commitment to kids at risk.
hen we commit ourselves to be on mission with Jesus where kids are at risk, we are moving to the very heart of Jesus’ life and teaching. Jesus welcomed children and set them before his disciples as exemplars. He tells us, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37) In this call to welcome children, Jesus fulfils the call of the Old Testament to care for children (for example, Deuteronomy 6:4-9), and especially for children who are most at risk: the “fatherless” (Psalm 68:5).
Our commitment to “kids at risk” is our act of obedience to the call of God in the Old Testament that is embodied in Jesus himself. When we are called to welcome children and defend the cause of the fatherless, we are confronted with the conflict at the heart of this world and the kingdom of God: the conflict between life and death.
According to the United Nations, every five seconds, a child under the age of 15 dies. The risk of infant death for a child in sub-Saharan Africa is 15 times higher than that of a child in Europe. The risk of dying before reaching the age of 15 is twice as high if you are born into a poor family in the Global South.
Shouldn’t it trouble us to the depths of our being that humans create a world that puts so many children at risk – and perpetuate such a world? To understand how this can be and how we as followers of Jesus may respond faithfully and hopefully, we need two stories, two practices and three prayers.**
uguette* is a young, single mother who lives on a small plot of land in Rwanda with her two children, aged nine and three. Her smile and self-confidence belie a deep inner pain. She is struggling to live with HIV. Huguette contracted the virus after being raped. “My first child is now nine years old. I borrowed money from our church and bought two goats so that when I die my mother would have enough milk to sell, so she could raise my children,” says Huguette, who participates in CBM’s Guardians of Hope program, a strategic response to the global HIV and AIDS pandemic. “Today, I now manage a farm with 60 goats. I only hire people who are living with HIV and AIDS. Soon I will die, but my children are able to live because of the revenue of our little dairy.” ~ TS
elodie Bissell* leads an incredible program for Canadian churches and community organizations called Plan to Protect, which provides the needed tools for abuse prevention and protection. It is staggering to hear her recount the devastating stories of brokenness she has witnessed while helping to bring about healing. Although most of her work focuses on training and equipping churches and church leaders in abuse prevention, Melodie has frequently been called upon to walk alongside families and groups where risks have turned into abuse and violence. She has witnessed this enslavement first-hand and is driven by a holy rage to redress the power of death over children who are facing this. ~ TS
The two stories we tell are the story of creation and the story of the fallen world – the story of life and the story of death. When we confront the number of children at risk in our world, we are facing the “story of death.” This is the story of a world having fallen away from life as God intends it, into the rule of death – “the last enemy to be destroyed.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) So many kids are at risk in so many ways because so much of the world is trapped in the story of death and enslaved to the fallen world.
In Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 10, the “secret agents” of death are the “gods” who take life away from the most vulnerable. These “gods” are the powerful warlords, human traffickers, and oppressors who are captive to the rule of death. They are slaves to the story of the fallen world, believing that whoever controls death rules the world. And much of the world is in thrall to these “gods,” trapped in a delusion that violence and death are the most powerful forces in the universe. When we get trapped in this way of thinking and acting, the fallen world (and death) are secretly in control of our actions.
It is almost certainly the case that kids at risk are the most vulnerable. The number of children at risk around the world is staggering. And the factors are overwhelming.
Globally, children face various situations that put them at risk:
- loss of childhood
- child labour
- child marriage
- lack of clean water
- lack of footwear
- sex tourism
- sex trafficking
- emotional abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- lack of education
- the absence of parents
- no family
- child soldier recruitment
- forced migration
How can so many children be at risk – and in so many ways? Doesn’t our humanity rebel at this reality? Doesn’t it trouble our souls? How can we perpetuate such a world?
But this story is not the ultimate reality. When we read about how many kids are at risk in various ways, we may feel despair. However, like Melodie, we can also think of ways to change the world – because we know that God is the God of life, and this is where we are called to the deepest acts of discipleship.
If we focus on the story of the fallen world – as if some account of the fall, its origin and its logic can explain the presence of evil and guide our thinking and living – then we will be trapped in the logic and the story of the fallen world. If we begin to think the way the world appears to be – with children at risk and oppression and injustice being the most powerful forces – then the fallen world wins. It becomes the most real world and any other “world” becomes subordinate to the fallen world.
But we also see and hear human beings decrying oppression and injustice and defending the cause of kids at risk. We who believe the gospel and follow Jesus know why we cry out against this injustice: our Creator has made us for everlasting and overflowing life. The cries for justice that we hear around us are the echo of God’s image in human beings. We know – through the Spirit by whom we believe in Christ – that the story of death is part of a larger story.
The story of the fallen world and death is the smaller story; it is a story that is limited and constrained. But the big story reveals evil to be a weak, defeated power, a power whose wounds and devastation will one day be undone. This is the promise and the warning of Deuteronomy, the Psalms and the Prophets. It reaches its culmination in Jesus Christ. His crucifixion exposes death and defeats the rule of death. His resurrection announces his rule over all creation. His return will bring judgment on all who serve death and bring the new creation into full reality. Only this story guides us and sustains us in our commitment to kids at risk.
If we bring these two stories – the fallen world and the redeemed creation – together in the midst of evil, then we will be called to two practices: presence and patience. These practices are possible as Christian practices only by the grace of God, that is, by our participation in the redemption of creation that comes by faith in Jesus Christ.
To be present with kids at risk is to follow Christ, the Word made flesh. The Incarnation is not some new turn in God’s disposition toward humankind and the fallen world. The Incarnation is a new way of God being present. It is a coherent continuation of the story of the God who sought out the first humans in the garden after their sin (Genesis 3), who came to Abram and called him (Genesis 12), who appeared to Moses and came down to deliver the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 3), who continued this same “condescension” until its cosmic climax in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. He will culminate it as he dwells with redeemed humankind in New Creation (Revelation 21). God is present with us in the midst of evil, but in that very presence transforms the reality of evil, humiliating evil and triumphing over it in the crucifixion of Jesus.
If we locate our practice of presence in the redemption of creation, then we place ourselves in Christ by the Spirit and know that we are already participating in the conquest of evil and the victory of life over death. This way of telling the story of what we are doing can sustain us for a lifetime – across generations – of joining God in welcoming children and serving life amidst death. But if we make the mistake of locating our practice of presence in the story of the fallen world, then we effectively remove ourselves from Christ. In this case, we become an anxious presence. Sure, we may make some things better, but we will always live with a sense of defeat and failure that will drive us to greater anxiety and more frantic activity that deepens our quest for control of this world.
Our participation in the redemption of creation forms a second practice: patience. Patience is a primary mark of God’s work in the world. Just as God took time to form a people through whom the Saviour Messiah comes to us, God continues to work patiently. In the midst of the continuation of evil and the seeming lack of consequences for evildoers, we must remember Peter’s words of instruction and encouragement:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)
If patience is the key to understanding God’s own response to evil, then it must be key to ours as well. Patience means being steadfast in faithful obedience, knowing that the way Jesus calls us to is the way of life – life that overcomes death, life that is everlasting because it is aligned with God’s intentions for all creation. And this will sustain us in our commitment to kids at risk, even when so little seems to change. The end of the story has been written in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; we have the calling to live now knowing that ending.
Presence and patience are key elements of Christian faithfulness in any part of life and teach us the depths of God’s redemption of creation in Christ. Properly understood and lived, our participation in God’s work of creation and redemption does not remove us from the world but thrusts us into the world with renewed life grounded in hope.
ranco* is a 10-year-old Bolivian boy who lives in extremely poor circumstances adjacent to the municipal dump in Cochabamba, Bolivia. His father was a violent man who threatened Franco, his siblings and their mother. After his father left, his mother couldn’t provide food for the children, and they suffered from malnutrition and disease. But a community development worker helped register Franco at Jireh, a CBM-sponsored children’s program offering nutrition, education, and spiritual and psychosocial care. Jireh is the ministry of Sinai Baptist Church, which ministers in an impoverished area of the city. They are living out the story of the redemption of all God’s creation, which is the bigger story. It is not the story of death and pain, but the one that cries out to a broken world that God’s Son, Jesus, is the healer of brokenness and the giver of life. ~ TS
arie-Joseph* was introduced to Terry Smith last year while Terry was visiting a high school in Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This nice, neat-looking 17-year-old young man told Terry about his past. Between the ages of 11 and 16, he served as a child soldier with one of the horrific armed militias in the DRC. Through his tears, he described the atrocities he was forced to carry out: torturing women and children, living for months in a state of hypnotic delirium, deprived of life and taking the lives of others. But he was rescued, received trauma counselling and rehabilitated by one of CBM’s local partner churches. Through the faithfulness of God’s people in caring for the vulnerable, even at such great cost, the work of redemption is carried out. ~ TS
ebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD). Few of CBM’s global partners demonstrate the practice of presence better than our sisters and brothers of the LSESD. Every year, their devoted and highly gifted team of ministry leaders incarnates the gospel in the dark places of human suffering for kids at risk, children with disabilities and refugee families living in shanty towns across the Bekaa Valley and in Beirut. Terry has written in the past of his wife’s Lebanese roots. She is the granddaughter of a Lebanese refugee who fled to Canada after his parents died. Today, Lebanon has become the home of nearly 1.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees who had fled their homeland. In fact, Lebanon hosts more refugees per capita than any other country in the world. As a result, thousands of refugee children struggle to access overcrowded schools in Lebanon. To help address this unprecedented need, our partners launched an education project in a Baptist church in Zahle, a city east of Beirut. CBM has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past five years so that God’s people can be salt and light among kids at risk in Lebanon. While the general population’s patience has worn thin with the influx of refugees, our Baptist partners continue to be present, as God’s hands and feet, in the Middle East. ~ TS
ndrea* is a 12-year-old Honduran girl who was baptized at Hillside Baptist Church in Moncton, N.B. We want to use her own words, which she delivered in front of this very large and vibrant congregation. This is her testimony:
My name is Andrea. I am 12 years old. I am from Honduras. We decided to move to Canada because our country was no longer safe. After many years of prayer, God said yes. God has helped our family in many ways since we came here. He helped us find a school for me and a job for my dad. God showed his faithfulness to us just like in Deuteronomy 7:9 – “So know that the Lord your God is God. He is the faithful God. He will keep his agreement of love for a thousand lifetimes. He does this for people who love him and obey his commands.” (ICB)
When I was five years old and living in Honduras, I decided to become a follower of Jesus when I realized that I am a sinner and Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins. I decided to get baptized today because I feel like this is an important thing God wants me to do and it will help me grow as a Christian and bring me closer to him. To me, baptism is the proclamation of my faith and the next step to being a Christian. Baptism is like a way to tell the world that I believe in Jesus. Living for Jesus is important to me because it helps me have a happier life knowing that I will live eternally with him. I know God has a plan for me and I will always be loved, thanks to him.
Andrea, whose family has known the risks of violence in Central America, understood the importance of faith in God and living for him. Andrea could place her life in the story of the redeemed New Creation. This is what enables faithful presence and patience with kids at risk until these stories are brought to their fulfilment. ~ TS
The Scriptures teach us three short prayers that we would do well to utter daily as we contemplate the plight of kids at risk globally:
“How long, I AM, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?” (Psalm 94:3)
“Rise up, O God, judge the earth.” (Psalm 82:8)
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)
These three passages – How long? Rise up, and Come, Lord Jesus – represent a trilogy of Christian prayer in the midst of the fallen world and in the face of evil that is revealed in kids at risk in the world. They teach us to live most fully and faithfully in the story of the redemption of creation. As representative, they sum up the way that we pray so that we may be further formed in presence and patience, but most of all so that we may bear witness to God’s justice that has come in Jesus Christ.
“How long?” is the prayer of lament that reminds us that we live in a fallen world, revealed powerfully in the vulnerability of kids at risk and the ways they are exploited by evil. “How long?” forces us to direct our doubts, struggles, anxieties, frenzy and failures to God. We place evil and suffering within the story of the redemption of creation. Our lament is no longer centred in this world, on humankind or on ourselves: When will we ever learn? What can we do amid so much suffering and so few resources? What lies within our power? How can we change the world?
Our churches are populated with compulsive doers, busybodies, ‘Get ‘er done’ folk, who often think that the work of redeeming God’s creation falls squarely on their shoulders. We busy ourselves as if there is no time to waste. But we would do well to take hold of the truth stated by Helmut Thielicke who wrote, “One day, perhaps, when we look back from God’s throne on the Last Day we shall say with amazement and surprise … ‘If I had ever dreamed that God was only carrying out his design and plan through all these woes, that in the midst of my cares and troubles and despair, his harvest was ripening, and that everything was pressing on toward his last kingly day – if I had known this, I would have been more calm and confident; yes, then I would have been more cheerful and far more tranquil and composed.’” ~ TS
“Rise up” acknowledges that the world is out of alignment with God’s intentions for life. Whether during a Sunday morning service or the quietness of our own prayers, when we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are essentially saying, “How long? Rise up, and Come, Lord Jesus.” And when we avail ourselves to God, as we bear witness to God’s care for the most vulnerable, we affirm that God is the God of life.
The “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer teaches us that the redemption of creation does not arise from any power or process that is of the world. The same Jesus who tells us that when we welcome children, we welcome him – and the one who sent him. What could be more radical than recognizing that we are saved by a “childlike” Jesus and a “childlike” God?
The one who saves us and rules the world is also the one who grew in Mary’s womb and who lived as a “kid at risk.” Can there be a greater act of discipleship than for us to welcome children and defend the cause of kids at risk?
* Name has been changed.
** Adapted from Jonathan R. Wilson’s book, God’s Good World, chapter 11.
Jonathan R. Wilson
is Senior Associate for Theological Integration with CBM and Teaching Fellow at Regent College in Vancouver.
is CBM’s Executive Director. Terry and his wife, Heather, previously served in France for 20 years, focusing on inner-city youth, urban church planting, theological education and leadership development.