This isn’t a grand social experiment. We don’t poke some street kids, an orphan, a few trafficked girls with the needles of our conscience, feed them a bit of gospel along with a bowl of rice, and then leave the rest to nature. So you fed a thousand kids today, and gave them a drink of clean water.
Good, fine. Now what happens?
I want to know what happens to these kids five years out, and I want to know what happens to their eternities. And, not or. Only when we keep both in focus will we truly be faithful to the New Testament call. We see the dire needs of children in distress, and we apply stopgap fixes. We feed them, we take them out of brothels, we salve their wounds, and perhaps put a bit of ointment on our own guilt. Far, far too often, that is the endgame. No long-term fixes—for them or us.
Truly caring for the least of these demands transformation–not only of the children in our care, but also of our own hearts and our minds.
Cures, not Band-aids.
One of the most disturbing realities of the abandoned or exploited child crisis is that it is almost always multi-generational. As such, it is self-propagating and constantly growing. Virtually every child who comes into our care from the streets or from a situation of abuse is “simply” the most recent in a family lineage of lost children. A prostitute mother has six or eight children for whom street life, abuse, and exploitation is the norm… and then each of those children (or at least the ones who survive) repeat the cycle.
Generation… after generation… after generation. A geometric progression that ends up with millions upon millions of children trapped in a morass of profound poverty and exploitation.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a child, when telling the story of his or her life, say, “I never knew my father, and my mother was a prostitute….” The attitude is I was born in the slum, I live in the slum, and I will die in the slum. I don’t deserve anything else.
Every story is unique, but none exceptional.
Perhaps the most important task for those of us in orphan work is to break the cycle, not only rescuing the child, but changing the trajectory for the generations yet to come. Our work is not done when the child stops crying from the pain in his belly. Rather, success comes when the subsequent generation—when that child’s child—is living a life that is stable, free from abuse and exploitation. Our intersection must be in the very center of the cycle, not a tangential encounter with its edge.
And that work is much harder.