By Matt Chancey In Africa, children are everywhere. Whether in the big cities or in the middle of nowhere, children always outnumber adults. Lots of young people mean lots of future consumers needing mobile phones, clothing, food and other consumables. So popular Western brands are pouring into the developing world to go after these new customers.
On the other hand, many population experts see this as a major negative, as declining resources must be spread thinner and thinner. But to the people on the ground, more children equals security. Third world countries are often plagued by corrupt leadership, incompetent bureaucracies, archaic tax laws, crumbling infrastructure, and extremely weak "social safety nets." People are left with no choice but to fend for themselves - and lots of children are part of this defense and insurance for the future.
I've traveled for ten years in connection with my work at PPF, and I remember how initially shocked I was to land in a remote village and have hundreds of children pouring onto the landing strip to get a glimpse of a "kawaja" (white man). I had grown up in a western culture where children were in school most of the day, and organized sports after that. One did not see throngs of children marching around town during the middle of the week.
This exposure to communities where lots of children are so prevalent has taught me a lot about the family and its impact on society. Moreover, it has taught me a lot about the family of God and its impact on society. This is because in addition to seeing children everywhere in the communities I would visit, they were also in the churches. In fact, they constituted the majority of the church members.
Most of the churches in remote or refugee areas of Sudan and South Sudan have no nurseries or "children's church." Everybody worships together. So, unlike my western context, I get to see what the visible "Body of Christ" looks like when its totally under one roof - the least to the greatest.
And who are the greatest in the Body of Christ?
Jesus was asked that question by His disciples. Without hesitating, He took a little child and placed him in their midst and told the disciples that was their answer:
"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:3-6)
Wow. That's pretty strong medicine. And I feel that being exposed to communities in Sudan, which certainly must resemble the community dynamic in which Jesus' words were spoken, has really impacted how I look at the church and my role with PPF.
We tend to look at children as the perfect victim of whatever injustice we are trying to address. A picture of a starving man doesn't cut as deeply into our conscience as a picture of a starving child. And why is that? It's because children in our mind are dependents. They don't create policy; they are victims of bad policy. They don't start wars; they are victims of war. Children, in other words, are innocent. When they suffer, we automatically feel that it's wrong. Something bad has been done to them.
But in God's economy, children are not victims or dependents. According to Jesus, they are our role-models for the ideal Christian, and His "Kingdom." Their humility and simple faith are actually signs of strength, not weakness.
My exposure to all these children through the years has convicted me for playing my part in pushing them to the margins of society and the church. It has convicted me for seeing them as dependents - not leaders and producers. It has convicted me for seeing them as background noise, and not the most important members of the choir.
But even though I feel convicted in one sense, I am terribly grateful in another. I am grateful, because God has allowed me to work in an environment where I am constantly surrounded by the greatest members of His family. As a consequence, I am also grateful for supporters of PPF for their dedicated giving, which has allowed me to be the extension of their arms which have embraced so many children through the years.
Our goal at PPF is "Active Compassion for the Persecuted," and we try every day to work towards that goal. But I am now realizing how blessed we are to be working in areas where we can serve so many of "the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." A good friend of mine in the ministry once wore a t-shirt which stated, "I need Africa more than Africa needs me." I feel the same way about the greatest members of God's family. We need children more than children need us.