As Jim, our kids, and I prepare to move to Swaziland to live and minister for the long-term in a nation filled with extreme poverty, disease, death, and a growing number of orphans, it is important for us to plant deep within us now words of wisdom and life that will help carry us through the dark and discouraging places of the future. I read something today by Pastor John Piper that fits in this category. I wanted to share it with you because I think the truth of it is an important one for all of us who are followers of Jesus, no matter what particular ministry He has placed us in.
"This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." --- James 1:27
Local businessmen in Brazil call them “Vermin. Garbage. If we let them grow up, they will be criminals, a blight on our society.” There are an estimated 12 million homeless children on the streets of Brazil. The parents lost them in the crowds, put them out, died. However they got there, they are there. They beg, they steal, they sell their bodies. They eat garbage. They start scared, and end scarred, hard, and dead.
Some policeman and others “moonlight” by contracting to kill street children so that they will not menace the city. In 1992, an average of 400 of these children were killed monthly in Brazil.
Same in other big cities. The Philippine government estimates that there are 15,000 child prostitutes in Manila between the ages of 9 and 12. One estimate suggests that in Thailand there are 800,000 girls between 12 and 16 years old involved in prostitution.
Is your first thought merely human? Like: “If I can barely rear my own children to walk worthy of the Gospel, what hope would there be to change the lives of street kids?” Or: “If it takes 10,000 dollars worth of Christian counseling to stabilize a mature American Christian who was sexually abused, what in the world would we do with thousands of adolescents who knew nothing but abuse and lawlessness and violence on the streets?”
Do you find yourself looking (in good American fashion) at the bottom line and saying: “The turn around on this investment would not be good”? Or: “The growth potential in planting churches among street kids is not very great. There are too many obstacles”?
Shift your thinking for a minute (or a lifetime). What about the widow who put in her last two pennies? Jesus said she gave more than anyone. What about John the Baptist who got his head whacked for a dancer’s whim and never did a miracle? Jesus said, “Among those born of women, no one is greater than John.” What about the poor in spirit? Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. What about the meek? They inherit the earth. What about those who receive one child in the name of Jesus? At that moment they receive God (Mark 9:37).
What effect does it have on your longings when you think that God says “true religion” is to “visit orphans”?
The effect that it has on me it to make me want to love like Jesus loved and not always be thinking of earthly payoff. Face it, a few kids are cute, but most street kids will be thankless, rude, dirty, diseased, scar-faced, shifty-eyed, lice infested, suspicious, with bad smells and rotten teeth. If we minister mainly for the earthly payoff, we will burn out in a year.
Jesus did not say, “True religion is converting orphans.” He did not say, “True religion is making orphans mature and successful adults.” He said, “True religion is visiting orphans.” Results are God’s business. Obedience is ours. Perhaps when we grasp this, we will be freed from our earth-bound way of thinking and released to minister to the ones who are least likely to thank us.
Praying that God will raise up some of you for this,
Pastor John Piper
P.S. For more information on street children visit http://www.actionintl.org/.