Children, prayer and justice

One of the great pleasures in my life is to be a trustee of Viva. Viva’s mission is to inspire and enable effective collaborations among Christians, providing sustainable solutions to the needs of vulnerable children. We’ve been thinking about prayer a lot and this report from Bolivia is what we are talking about!

Every year Viva coordinates a World Weekend of Prayer. This year more than 2000 vulnerable kids from Viva’s network of projects around Cochabamba, Bolivia flooded the streets of their city.
First they met for a prayer meeting in the stadium, then they unleashed their advocating power by marching through the city with banners and balloons. Everyone noticed! Local authorities, businesses, and government bodies ‘woke up’ and started asking questions about the kids living on their own streets. 

A few thousand kids who have caught the spirit of advocacy are literally changing their entire country.

This is exactly what our world needs – we have to start paying more attention to vulnerable children. For one thing, 56% of all children are living in severe deprivation. Not only are these children suffering in the present, but they’ll be woefully unprepared for the future. By advocating for children and teaching them to advocate for themselves, Christians have a chance to end poverty, abuse and ignorance.

There’s not a moment to lose. We need to be involved in these children’s lives now, showing them God’s heart by being God’s hands and feet. One of the best ways to do that is by spending time and resources on them, showing them how much they’re valued, and giving them the power and responsibility to change their communities. For many kids, it might be the first time anyone has ever demonstrated the words “I love you”.

So what’s Viva doing? We’re directly involved in helping teach children to advocate for themselves, so that they can represent the issues facing them to their parents, teachers and local leaders. And we’re training the people who work with children in projects, usually locals with big hearts, to listen to children and keep them safe. As these adults learn the importance of children, they teach their friends, co-workers and fellow churchgoers. This way thousands of influential leaders all over the developing world are learning that children need to be valued and listened to.

God himself has spoken up about child advocacy. He says:

“Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” (Isaiah 49:1-2)

This should be the war cry of every child who has experienced repression or discrimination because of his or her young age.

God made each child; we know that. We also know that he loves all children, including us! But many children are denied the right to speak out on their own behalf, or on God’s. This is disturbingly prevalent in our own culture as well as in developing countries, where children are often seen as economic tools for overcoming need – or just extra mouths to feed.

But God wants children to be advocates, and he requires adults to give them the respect that a ‘sharpened sword’ or ‘polished arrow’ deserves. We’re seeing cultures change as children speak out for their own rights and safety! Christians are called to protect children, and that also means teaching them to look out for themselves. By teaching vulnerable children to advocate before their elders and authorities on issues concerning them, we can help them become powerful bringers of lasting cultural change.

“I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances; to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’” (Isaiah 49:8-9)

God has used children to do incredible things. Today, he’s sharpening his swords to cut through the cultural legacies binding children to misery and poverty: things like abuse, lack of education, and forced labour. God is promising to turn today’s vulnerable children into tomorrow’s warriors, and as the work in Bolivia and Uganda shows it’s already started.

To shape the adults of the future, we need to reach the children of today. If we want men and women who stand up for justice, we need to bring up children who know what justice is. And so many children have nobody to bring them up. This is a job for Christians, but we need the help of anyone willing. So join us!