“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” – Mark 10.14Children have rights and as such they have the need to be empowered so that they can express and demonstrate those rights.
Empower [em-pou-er] –verb (used with object):
1. To give power or authority to; authorize, esp. by legal or official means.
2. To enable or permit.
One of the greatest needs we see in children today is their need for empowerment. While it is great to have foreign workers go into a place and do their best to work with the natives to changes lives and get children out of bad situations; unless the children are making these choices for themselves many times they will slip right back into those same patterns of life. It does not matter who the child is or what kind of situation they come from; many of these “at risk” situations do seem to have their perks for the children when they are in the midst of it. For child prostitution they are able to make more money with their lack of skill and education than they ever could otherwise. They can fulfill the pressure that is put upon them by their families to provide. Street children find security in their street buddies; they enjoy the freedom that they have found and safety from the abuse many of them experience at home. Tobias Hecht in talking about the street children of Brazil speaks of “the addictive power of street life itself” which is an important concept to keep in mind when advocating for children no matter what context they are in. Often times the risk situations they find themselves in are difficult to pull out of. They begin to think this is the best that exists for them and they get comfortable because it is familiar to them. Going in and simply telling them what to do, whether it is more beneficial for them or not, without giving them a choice is not the answer.
One of the major problems organizations face is a society that doesn’t believe these children can change; a society that has taken away what little self-esteem they once had. We must seek to give this back to them, to put the power of choice and freedom back into the hands of these boys and girls. They are worth something, they can make a change in their lives; they just need to make the decision to do it. Once that decision is made, organizations can be there for them to walk alongside them in the healing and restoration process.
In the Bible there are more than five hundred references to children, about half of which are literal. Jesus keeps children at the forefront of his mind – knowing that they are weak and vulnerable. In Deuteronomy 1.39 it says, “And as for your little ones, who you thought would become booty, your children, who today do not yet know right from wrong, they shall enter there; to them I will give it, and they shall take possession of it.” God keeps children on his mind being sure that he takes care of their needs even when those around them, who should be taking care of them, don’t. He empowers them with what they need in order to survive and thrive. God also put children in an exalted place among other adults when using them as examples. In Matthew 18.2-4 it says, “He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The child was empowered and told they had the key to salvation and success in the kingdom of Heaven.
“Children are in need of knowledge. Ignorant of good and evil, among other things, they need to learn” but there is a correct way of going about this. Too often children are talked about or around rather than talked to. Or all too often, even if they are talked to it is in a manipulative way. Dr. Bryant Myers told listeners at a Missiology Lecture at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA, that $20 billion each year is spent on advertisements targeted toward children. This adds up to around 40,000 commercials annually. It is guessed that around $500 million annually of family spending is decided on the basis of children’s influence. They can and do have a good sense about where they have been and where they would like to be or go. It is very life-giving and empowering of a child to consult them and listen to their ideas for rehabilitation. But we must also be a wise and guiding model for them.
This topic becomes especially important when dealing with advocacy for children in difficult situations. There are times when speaking for children and attempting to relieve them of their pain we end up doing more harm when we do not consult them first on what is in their best interest. Hecht reminds us “first you must work on the child, reconstruct the universe that the child lost, you can’t forget that the child has the right to be a child.” Panther-Brick in Abandoned Children lets us know that children “find their own strategies both to provide support and to elicit it from others” Children themselves are the best resource and insight we have into their needs so need to take time to listen to them and the implement what we learn.
Glenn Miles and Josephine-Joy Wright speak of advocacy in their book Celebrating Children. According to them the important things to remember are “learning from other groups that have experience in this area” so you are not shooting in the dark and repeating mistakes that were made before. Another important aspect of advocacy is “being involved in community, national and regional activities to lobby government, police and others for better child protection laws, procedures, and so on.” If you do not get the government on your side it will be a long and hard road ahead. They also say you want to focus time and attention on training persons who will be involved in the advocacy and be intentional about networking with others. And throughout all advocacy work Miles and Wright say it is important to keep a child’s confidentiality in mind.
“Jesus placed special importance on receiving with kindness and hospitality the least important members of society: children.” This seems to be the sense underlying Mark 9.33-37. “Jesus is encountered and helped when the child, who is the least of humans, is encountered and helped.” Jesus uses the example of children saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” implying that a choice needs to be made. Children are capable, and empowered, to make this decision welcoming God and bringing about the kingdom. The mission of God is in need of children and they are vital to the message and success of Christ and his kingdom.
In order to best utilize children in the mission of God you need to start from a relational foundation. Unless there is a relationship of trust, care, and listening as the foundation of advocacy minimal fruit will ever be seen. These children need a trusted individual in their lives to listen to them, to let them know God weeps with them hating what has been done to them, and to assure them justice will be done on their behalf; if not by government officials then by the Lord.