By Dave Scott
Dave is a member of Viva Network, a network focused on meeting the needs of Children at Risk globally
it remarkable how often stories of transformation start with a child? It was an encounter with the homeless waif Jim Jenkins that changed Dr. Thomas Barnardo’s plan in the 1800’s to join Hudson Taylor in China and focus his life’s work on the street children of Victorian London instead.
For the evangelist Bob Pierce, the miserable circumstances of the Korean War orphan White Jade in the 1950’s provided the inspiration for child sponsorship, and laid the groundwork for the relief and development agency he later founded, World Vision. For Emily Poltis that child’s name was Osario.*
He was just a 5 year old boy from the Foleninka tribe, a people group in central Peru that Emily and her husband Vance had been working with for 23 years. Yet when Emily was visiting the local clinic one day last December, she was horrified to see the burns that covered his body.
When she asked the boy’s family what had happened she was told that it was done by Osario’s stepfather. Yet as she inquired further, she discovered that the local shaman had required that the stepfather inflict this pain on the child in order to atone for some unknown wrong the boy was accused of doing.
Emily felt compelled to act, so she began to inquire more broadly if this was an isolated case, or whether it represented just one story among many others.
To her dismay, she found out this happened more frequently than she could ever have imagined, and in the following months she began to see more and more instances of this horrific abuse played out on the weak and innocent members of the tribe.
The sad fact is, all too many Osario’s exist around the world. They don’t have the visibility of some, like those children on many of the streets of the world’s cities, asking for money in exchange for small trinkets or the service of “protecting” parked cars.
Rather, these faceless children are kept away from the eyes of societies either because those societies would prefer not to remember that they exist, or because their oppressors fear the consequences they would face if the circumstances of their captives lives’ ever came to light.
They are the millions of children trapped in forced prostitution around the world, ensnared in child labor, or trapped by other unfair and abusive cultural practices. They are crying out in desperate need of rescue.
And as message bearers like Emily, Dr. Barnardo, Bob Pierce, and Amy Carmichael encounter them, their commitment to Christ compels them to action.
Gary Haugen, of the International Justice Mission, reminds us with Micah 6:8 that our task as human beings who want to follow Christ is to, “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” Furthermore, in Psalm 146 we are reassured that God sees the injustice that Aurelio was faced with that day, and that he cares.
Our God, “lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.” This is an inescapable task of mission.
Driven by this new edge to their missionary task, Emily has begun to take bold action on behalf of other children like Osario.
Finding out that the Peruvian government has laws against these practices that have been ignored in the cases she has observed, she has embarked on a major advocacy campaign to motivate the government to become involved in the lives of these otherwise ignored “little ones”.
Yet, as shocking as Osario’s situation is, if we intend to do mission in the 21st century, we will have to be prepared for the fact that each one of us will face our own Osario’s. Each of us will have our hearts broken by the grim realities of children’s lives around the world.
The question is, what will we choose to do about it? Will we have the courage to stand up and defend the fatherless in their time of need? If so, are we willing to take the next bold step and reach out, boldly inquiring whether any Osario’s exist in our own worlds now?
As instances of injustice against children seem to multiply in the world today, it would seem that this attention to the hidden children of the world is more than just a good idea.
Whether we choose to embrace it or not, courageously confronting the injustice of the world is an essential task for global mission in this new millennium, remembering that there was once a poor little boy in Bethlehem that, like Osario, was born with nothing, and died with nothing, and to Him we owe everything.
*Names in this article have been changed to protect identities.
For more info on serving among Children at Risk:
Word Made Flesh – www.wordmadeflesh.org
Viva Network – www.viva.org
Compassion International – www.compassion.com