by Steve Puffpaff
The amount of children at risk is multiplying around the world for many reasons. Extreme Poverty is the greatest cause of creating children at risk. Rapid urbanization in the 20th century has been accompanied by the development of slums. Children and adolescents make up a large proportion of urban population. Nearly one third of the world’s population and more than 60% of urban populations in the least developed countries live in slums (Samuels and Sugden, 1999,15). Kejeros quotes the United Nations Habitat Report for 2003 as saying that slum dwellers will double within the next thirty years to about two billion people (2007). It is crucial that the church provides life-transforming ministry to these children. Presently, quality ministry to children at risk in LAC is seriously lacking. This article serves as a “springboard” to consider ministry to children at risk and train leaders for effective ministry to them.
I. Definition of Children at Risk
Children at risk are defined as “ Children without adequate protection against exploitation, abuse, manipulation, and abandonment and without the basic living standards in order to maintain health, both physical and emotional. (Sudgen, 1999, 413) Children at risk are marginalized, broken-hearted and oppressed. The Lord is concerned about the child at risk and He hears their cry (Exodus 22:23).
II. Biblical Perspective on Children at Risk
The Old Testament extensively describes the framework for ministry to children at risk. The instructions begin the first chapter of the Bible with the principle of being “created in the Image of God”. Genesis 1:27-28 establishes the parameters for responsibility of the church towards children at risk. What are the ramifications for being created in the image of God?
- Every person has dignity as a result of being created in the image of God. Our dignity doesn’t come as a result of status, education or achievement. Dignity explicitly means a sense of worth (Chris Sugden, 1999,238). Dignity presupposes identity. Sugden says, “ Identity answers the question, who am I?” while dignity answers the question, “What am I worth (ibid. 238)?” Both creation and redemption are foundational to man’s identity, dignity and worth. The secular view of worth is established by status, education, achievement, gender and age.
- Each child is a gift from God (Psalms 127:3-5). The Old Testament measure of wealth is measured in the amount of children in your family. Each child should be treated as a gift from God and nurtured to develop their God-given gift.
- The Lord desires justice for the oppressed, widows and orphans (Psalms 82:3).
- The church has God-given mandate for children at risk. McConnell says, “God has a great concern for orphans, widows and the marginalized. How we care for them is an indicator of our real worship to God (McConnell, 2007, 5).
All human beings are of equal value to God according to “Imago Dei” and should be treated fairly (Murray Dempster, 2007, 132). The Lord defines how Israel is to relate to widows and orphans in Deut. 10:18,19. He says of himself that he defends the cause of the fatherless and widows giving them food and clothing. He reminds the Israelites that they were once slaves and aliens.
The law codes in conjunction with “Imago Dei” bring about fairness to the widows and orphans. The approach of the law codes is holistic. Widows and orphans were not to be oppressed by withholding of wages. They were to be paid on the same day that their labor was performed (ibid.,135).
Deuteronomy 24:19 reflect insight into the care to widows and children at risk. The Israelites were instructed not to glean the edges of their field, but to leave them for widows and the fatherless to glean. This is a holistic approach to ministry. It allowed marginalized children and widows to provide for themselves through hard work. This further enhanced their dignity and dependence on the Lord for their daily provisions.
The Psalms expand the biblical principle of ‘Imago Dei” in reference to children at risk. Psalm 8:2 expound the possibility for perfect praise coming forth from children. The church has a responsibility to teach children to worship the Lord. Today, children are still not a priority for evangelism and ministry in many countries in the developing world. The scripture explain that children’s hearts are pure. Their praise coming from a pure heart is describes as “perfect praise (Psalms 8:2). I have personally witnessed the ability of children to enter into worship with pure hearts at the City of Refuge children’s home in Jamaica.
Psalms 68:6a says, God is a “father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling”. The Psalms proclaim the Lord’s love for all children. The Lord becomes the father of the fatherless. He personally cares for them. The church needs to support children at risk within the community of believers. Men and women can become father figures, aunt and uncles to children without fathers. They become God’s hands extended fulfilling his concern for children at risk.
Psalms 82:3 says, “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed”. Children at risk are being exploited. Human traffickers prey on adolescents looking for love and affection. Adolescent girls around the world are sexually exploited because their mothers have no resources and power to resist the male predators. The church needs to become their advocates.
III. Characteristics of Children at Risk Living in the Slums of LAC
Ministry to children at risk in the slums involves an understanding of their plight, culture and worldview. It involves contextualization of basic children’s ministry normally associated with the local church.
- No concept of Christian family Values.
They normally live in single parent households. The father is usually a visitor that brings some form of support. Most children at risk don’t have people in their life to exemplify a Christian home and marriage.
- Live in survival mode
They will do whatever is necessary each day to survive. Survival causes young men to join gangs beginning at age twelve for survival. With no education, trafficking in drugs and guns becomes a way to earn income. Girls are brought into a life of sexual relationships at puberty. It is called survival sex when sex is bartered for food; basic needs have the family and school fees. This is considered socially acceptable for survival purposes.
- Extreme poverty is a day-to-day existence. There is not much thought about future goals and plans.
- Violence, physical abuse and sexual abuse is a way of life,
Many men believe that they have the right to sexually abuse their daughters, stepdaughters and other female adolescents living under their roof (Claudette Crawford-Brown, 2010,18). Many girls believe that sexual harassment is normal. Sexual abuse is not reported many times because the perpetrator gives financial support to the family in exchange for sexual favors from a female adolescent (ibid.,18).
One of the problems with children being victims is that they may become perpetrators when thy get older. This is true in Jamaica. Eighty-three percent of all murders in Jamaica are committed by youth twenty years or younger (ibid.45). Violence disproportionally affects children, either directly or indirectly (ibid., 23);
* 78.55 of Students have witnessed violence
* 60.8% have witnessed violence in their schools
* 44.7% witnessed violence in their homes
* 29% caused injury to another person”
Violence leaves children exhibiting depression, post –traumatic stress, aggressive behavior, bed-wetting and difficulty with concentration (ibid. 29).
- Lack of Trust for Adults
Authority figures, which include pastors and Christian workers, will need to earn the children’s respect over a long period of time. Most of the adults in their life have abused them and taken advantage of them.
Transformation through Jesus Christ must be the goal. Future drug dealers and gang leaders can become pastors, teachers, Christian businessmen and Godly husbands and fathers through transformation of their lives. Young ladies who could become involved in a life of sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy can become teachers, pastors, lawyers and Godly mothers and wives. The following is not an extensive list, but a starting point for your thinking regarding ministry to children at risk in slums.
It will take at least seven to ten years of consistent ministry to children at risk to see a transformation take place. One hour of Sunday school a week won’t accomplish this level of transformation. The ministry must be a separate church (youth church) or an arm of a local church.
- Pentecostal worship and ministry contextualized to a child’s level
Children at risk need the whole realm of full gospel ministry; salvation, healing and deliverance. Many people think children aren’t capable to comprehending biblical principles at a young age. They are able to comprehend biblical principles when they are taught to them at their level. They should be challenged to accept Christ into their lives, receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and be used in the gifts of the Spirit. They should be challenged to pray for the sick and believe God for miracles. I have witnessed many healings through children’s prayers.
- Mentors are needed to come along side of children at examples and surrogate parents.
Mentors need to have contact with the children each week, preferably visiting the home. They can become a welcome addition to the home in supporting the child emotionally, academically and spiritually. Mentors need to be prepared to help with homework, remedial reading etc. if needed. This is part of the holistic approach to the total development of the child. The whole person is transformed by the power of God; spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and mentally. The child needs to be lifted in every area of their life to see Christian maturity.
- Discipleship and leadership training is given to the children as they prove themselves to have a solid Christian life.
This process should start when the children are nine or ten years old. By the time they are teens, they move into leadership roles caring for the younger children and involvement in ministry. This helps the older children become focused, motivated young teens with a purpose in life. The church/ministry becomes a surrogate family giving them direction, love and support. Their solid relationship with the Lord helps them to withstand the cultural pressure when they become teens to get involved in drugs, gangs and sex. The leadership team at the church demonstrates Christian values such as sexual purity, integrity and Christian family life, which give them a basis of understanding for their future life.
- Advanced discipleship and leadership training.
At this point, they really become involved in ministry in their church and outreach around their country.
- Workers in the church
Hopefully, the mentorship and example of the leadership will produce solid, productive Christian families in the church after many years of consistent ministry. The cycle of poverty, violence and immorality is broken. A new cycle of righteousness and Godliness is established.
Children at risk in the slums of LAC are a big percentage of the children in our region. Ministry to them is crucial. They are in desperate need of a ministry that leads to salvation and transformation of their lives. Is. 61:3,4 says that as a result of salvation, “ they shall be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord”. Verse four goes on to say, “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generation”. This should be the end result of a transformational ministry to children at risk in LAC.
Crawford-Brown, Claudette. 2010. Children in the Line of Fire: The Impact of Violence and Trauma on Families in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Kingston, Jamaica: Arawak Publications.
Dempster, Murray. 1987. “Pentecostal Social Concerns and the Biblical Mandate of Social Justice.” Pneuma: Journal for the Society of Pentecostal Studies, 9 (Fall): 129-154.
Kejeros, Johan. 2007. Parenting in Urban Slum Areas: Families With Children in a Shantytown
Of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Stockholm Studies in social Work 25. Stockholm: Department of Social Work, Stockholm University
McConnell, Douglas, Orona, Jennifer, Stockley, Paul. Understanding God’s Heart for Children. 2007.Colorado Springs, Co; World Vision Press.
Sugden, Chris. Samuel, Vinay, eds.1999. Mission as Transformation. Carlisle, CA: Regnum Books.