Forced Submission: Children, Poverty’s Most Vulnerable Victims

By Chris Heuertz

Chris is the Executive Director of Word Made Flesh and is based in Omaha, Nebraska.

I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors – and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. — Ecclesiastes 4:2,3

Childhood is meant to be a time to enjoy life, to play and pretend, to be cared for and loved. It is a time for growing into an understanding of how society and culture function. On some level, all children learn about power and submission.

Ideally, these lessons are taught in the context of a community’s nurturing embrace – loving parents, extended family, church leaders, and teachers. However, outside of community, beyond the gates of isolation and neglect, lies a hard teacher: poverty.

Its cruelty often leads to death, and children are some of its most vulnerable victims.

Let me highlight a few stories: One of our teams in Bolivia was in La Paz working with a ministry among children living on the streets. A fight broke out between two of the kids, and one of the boys slit the throat of the other.

The team was at his side as he bled to death in the plaza. A sweet four-year-old girl in the care of one of our children’s homes in Chennai, India, couldn’t fight for life any longer.

She came to our community in a weakened and underdeveloped state because her parents were very poor and couldn’t cope with her profound physical and mental disabilities. Suspected to have been HIV positive, she died from congenital heart disease.

One of the boys on the streets in Galati, Romania, was building a fire in the sewer. The fire got out of control, and the boy was badly burned. He died a few days later, alone, in a local hospital.

Another child in Galati was begging at a street corner when he was killed by a hit-and-run driver who was never identified or arrested.

Poverty didn’t teach these children submission; it forced itself upon them, making them subject to its tyranny. Each one of these precious children carried the potential to establish a godly legacy – to become the matriarch or patriarch of a righteous generation.

Each one had hopes and dreams that were laid to rest with them in their premature graves.

But we must look beyond such earthly graveyards. Reading Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, He begins His story by introducing us to two people, two souls.

The first is a rich man who was “dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day” (Luke 16:19). The second man is a man who begs named Lazarus, who lay at the rich man’s gate and was “covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores” (20-21).

Only two sentences into the parable, Jesus has already hinted at a hidden truth and a magnificent love. The man who begs is powerless and ignored, while the rich man is self-absorbed and has less concern for the man who begs than the dogs that licked the poor man’s sores.

Still, Jesus does not give the rich man a name, but He names the man who begs Lazarus (which means “he whom God helps”). Furthermore, this is the only time that Jesus names a character in one of His parables.

God honors Lazarus by speaking his name and thereby including it in the Scriptures. The rich man’s name is neither uttered nor written because his wealth and power are fleeting if they are used without concern for the poor or regard for the Kingdom.

When Lazarus died, the angels carried him to rest in Abraham’s bosom, a place of blessedness and a home for the righteous. Though forced to submit to poverty in life, Lazarus received his reward after death.

Conversely, the rich man had many choices in life. After death, however, he was forced to submit to the torment of hell, where he was admonished by Abraham,

“Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.

And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” He answered,

“Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers.  Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them (Luke 16:25-29).”

In his disregard for the teachings of Moses and the Prophets, in his apathy and disconcern for the poor man Lazarus, the rich man showed his unwillingness to submit to God.

Lamenting his wrong choice, the rich man finally thinks of someone besides himself – his five brothers – hoping they might be warned to submit to the One he wouldn’t. Still, for him, it was too late.

Will we listen to the same teaching, we who, through Jesus, have even a greater revelation of truth than the rich man had? The words of Jesus and the Prophets are clear: if we claim to love God, we will have concern for the poor.

Today alone, over 16,000 graves are dug for children under the age of five who died of hunger-related causes. These children’s mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and communities go on, longing to eat the scraps that fall from the tables of the rich.

Will we show a godly concern and share our power, wealth, and love with them? The children we know who have died this year had little or no opportunity to choose something other than pain and suffering in their short lives.

During their earthly lives, they were oppressed and forgotten, forced to submit to poverty’s reign.

Their submission was forced upon them by poverty – an evil master. Thankfully, our submission is not forced but joyfully given. We voluntarily give it to a compassionate and just Master. Submitting to Him means accepting the hard teachings of Jesus and the Prophets.

We may be called to “throw away” our power, wealth, and prestige. It may mean giving away in love what we have saved for our whole lives, like Joseph of Arimathea, who gave his tomb to a poor Man. It may mean lifting our eyes to meet those begging at our front gate.

It may lead us to “waste” our very lives, throwing them at the feet of Jesus. Whatever our submission entails, we can rest in the joy that He goes with us, using our willingness to bring love and justice to the little ones whose names He holds close to His heart.

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