Author: Kara S. McCoy
When working with children in our community, we feel both the excitement and the weight of the opportunity. Many kids, especially urban ones, are living on the edge of danger and making life-altering decisions on a daily basis. Often, they are having decisions made FOR them– by their circumstances, their surroundings, their families, or their desperation. What can we do? Where does our responsibility lie? Where is our heart?
According to statistics published by UNICEF,
- 1 in 3 children in the USA live in poverty. This means a family of four is living on $23,000 or less per year. (2011 Census)
- Between 2004-2011, child poverty increased in 34 states.
When poverty increases, so do the potential of increased behavioral problems, food inadequacies, neglect/lack of supervision, language disorders, or mother/child dysfunctions. These poverty-related issues then may lead to reactive attachment disorders or other significant emotional/temperament disorders. Emotional disorders and negative or traumatic experiences can then be directly transferred into a significant lack of empathy, diminished morality, and the inability to have a sense of trust as adults.
The stark reality? We are faced with a generation of young people who have grown up hungry and forced to be street-smart to survive. They may feel betrayed by those who were supposed to have protected them and may never have established a tangible or emotional connection to their elders. How does the Church intervene? What can we do? It’s possible, in our current climate, that they might feel their society is unequal or unfair, which engages them in power struggles with leadership or authority– often to their own detriment. What is the answer? How do we solve these systemic issues?
My suggestion, when you begin bringing community children to your church or Sunday School, is to accept/adopt them immediately and whole-heartedly. Here are some Dos and Don’ts that may help:
DON’T try to change them– that’s God’s job. Accept them. Love them.
DON’T offer condemnation– they are already hyper-critical of themselves. They need love and support– someone who believes in them.
DON’T try to figure them out and then lose interest a few weeks after they start coming consistently. From their perspective, “everyone” leaves them. Be someone who STAYS!
DON’T minimize or compare their pain to others. “Well, you know, you have it easy compared to ____.” Their suffering is very real to them, and if you minimize it, they are less likely to connect with you emotionally.
DO Manage your facial expressions. They’re able to read them.
DO offer unconditional friendship. When they tell their problems, put down your cell phone and take the time to invest in showing by your actions.
DO listen aggressively. Don’t interrupt or “solve” things for them. Repeat back to them what they are saying– show them you hear them.
DO remind them that God cares. He has brought them to you on purpose so that they can meet Him and have a relationship with Him. He wants to be part of their life. Introduce them. Soon.
DO make the effort to maintain a scheduled/routine relationship with them. Show up and take them out to spend time. Maybe go walking in a park, flying a kite, shooting hoops, ANYTHING! Just show up. Often.
This is an investment. When you give your valuable time away to allow the Lord to use you to bless a child, He will bless your sincerity. Remember to UTILIZE your leadership. Always be in communication with your pastor or other leaders with any problems or suspected abuse. God blesses those who care for these children and show them love. Give your time. Give your heart. Let Him use your hands. Let Him use your face. BE Jesus to them. It will change their world.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.- Matthew 6:21