Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, nearly half live in poverty. This is not just a staggering statistic; it is a deadly reality. Children in poverty are likely to be malnourished and to suffer physical and mental developmental delay or even permanent disabilities. They are prone to be in violent environments that traumatize. These children are the most vulnerable to sexual and slave trafficking.
Six Methodist denominations that are members of the Pan-Methodist Commission have launched the “Campaign for Children in Poverty” to increase Methodist involvement in the lives of these children. The Campaign’s goals are: 1) to renew and empower the efforts of Methodist churches, agencies, and seminaries already serving children and youth at risk to poverty; and 2) to challenge and enable all Methodist churches and seminaries to establish ministries to children and youth at risk to poverty.
Madeline’s Story (One of Billions)
Madeline sits in her third-grade class wanting to excel in her studies. But she came to school weak from hunger, and her mind is continually distracted by thoughts of food. This is not her first day being hungry. Most of her school days are days without a breakfast that would diminish the hunger pains and provide energy for the day’s challenges. So although Madeline listens to her teacher, she cannot concentrate.
Madeline has been labeled as “not very smart”, “not paying attention”, “lazy”, and “unmotivated.” These labels fail to recognize the real problem: Madeline is hungry. Her hunger will diminish her educational achievement, and her poor academic record will limit her future job options, and her low-income job will be the major reason that Madeline’s children are likely to be hungry and in poverty. Hunger breeds cycles of poverty and despair. Among the multiple needs of children in poverty, providing them nutritious food is a major expression of love and hope. Food alone is not the answer to the answer to these children’s realities of violence, poor healthcare, inadequate educational resources, and extraordinary family stress. Still, food is essential to empower children for meeting the other challenges they face.
The Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty: http://www.panmethodistcampaignforchildren.org.
The Children’s Defense Fund: http://www.childrensdefense.org.
Feed the Children: http://www.feedthechildren.org.
The General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church: http://www.umc-gbcs.org/search/categories/resources/childrens-concerns.
No Kid Hungry: http://www.nokidhungry.org
UNICEF (“Child Poverty and Social Protection”): http://www.unicef.org/socialpolicy/index_childpoverty.html.
World Vision International: http://www.wvi.org.
Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol; Broadway Paperbacks; 2012.
“Childhood Poverty Affects Brain Development”; Medical News Today; October 2013: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/268066.php.
Child Poverty, Evidence and Policy: Mainstreaming Children in International Development by Nicola A. Jones and Andy Sumner; The Policy Press, University of Bristol; 2011.
Child Poverty and Inequality: New Perspectives, Edited by Isabel Ortiz, Louise Moreira Daniels, and Solrun Engilbertsdottir; UNICEF: Division of Policy and Practice; 2008.
Child Poverty: Love, Justice, and Social Responsibility by Pamela Couture; Chalice; Press; 2007.
Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience: Confronting Global Realities and Rethinking Child Development by James Garbarino; Springer; 2008.
“The Effects of Poverty on Children” by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Greg J. Duncan; Children and Poverty, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1997.
Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations for Our Children by Marian Wright Edelman; Perennial; 2000.
Seeing Children Seeing God: A Practical Theology of Children and Poverty by Pamela Couture; Abingdon Press; 2000.
Suggestions for Action
- Pray for children and for God’s guidance and empowerment for you in your efforts to care for them.
- Be aware of the realities of children within your local area, region, and nation. Go beyond knowing statistics; tell stories about children. Christians are a people informed and inspired by stories that present the human condition and God’s transforming love. Most of all, be certain to embrace opportunities to personally know and love children in poverty.
- Visit the “Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children” website, and be informed by the information and stories in the “Resources” section immediately above these “Suggestions.”
- Join with others. Any hope of influencing the lives of children involves working with others who are committed to care for children. Search out professional service workers, volunteers, parents, mission groups, and social action groups as partners in this work. At the very outset, create an atmosphere to know the joy of the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children. Sustaining efforts to care for children, through times of frustration and defeat, relies upon fellowship with others that entails food, devotions, caring for one another, and laughter.
- Identify congregations and agencies in your region that are involved in ministries to children in poverty. Awareness of how persons are enacting their faith with children can inspire and motivate. It may also lead you to be supportive of initiatives for children in poverty that are already active in communities near you.
- Stay alert to the movement of the Holy Spirit in your commitment to care for children in poverty.
Read Luke 10: 25-37
After reading the text silently, wait prayerfully for two minutes and then read the text aloud with a feeling for the drama within this scripture.
What do you believe was the lawyer’s motivation in asking Jesus about eternal life? Looking at verse 29, what additional insight do you have about the lawyer’s motivation for questioning Jesus?
Jesus answers the lawyer’s first question by referring to a sacred command of religious law (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18). Why do you think Jesus made this reference to sacred text?
To the lawyer’s second question, Jesus tells a parable. How does a parable engage the mind and heart in ways that are distinctive from referencing law?
As you reread the scripture, imagine that you are each person mentioned in this passage: the lawyer, Jesus, the man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, the thieves, the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the innkeeper. As the story unfolds, note how you feel as you imagine yourself to be each person in this passage.
Now imagine that the person travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho is a child. Deadly forces of poverty assault the child: homelessness, illness, hunger, exploitation, and an environment of sustained violence. Who is passing by this child because of their fear or important religious appointments? As you travel this road and see the child, what is your response? How extensive should be the effort to restore this child’s wellbeing? What does it mean to you to hear Jesus tell this story and then say, “Go and do likewise”? What kind of neighbor are you to this child? What kind of neighbor is your church to this child?
Hymn “For the Healing of the Nations” [The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), Hymn 428].
Prayer: Dear God, may your love so overwhelm us that we love you with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind. May our devotion to you open our eyes to see the realities of children and to respond as caring neighbors. Too often our fears and busyness overwhelm us, such that we rush by your suffering children. Help us to honor the love we declare for you by caring even in the midst of our fears and busyness. And, dear God, may we come to know the joy of loving children abundantly as we cherish the joy of being abundantly loved. Amen.
Submitted by Luther E. Smith, Jr., Ph.D.
Professor of Church and Community
Candler School of Theology