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It is easy for us to forget that Jesus came to us as a child. We are always reminded of that at Christmas, yet during the rest of the year the significance of a child as the Savior is usually lost on most of us. During his adult ministry, Jesus welcomed children. He welcomed them in a time and place when children had little value and were easily ignored or dismissed. And it was more than a pat on the head, "How are you doing," type of greeting. Jesus stopped what he was doing, opened his arms, and embraced and blessed the children. Jesus' compassion for children is the basis for our faith-based child advocacy.
Truth be told, our society today talks a good game of love, care and teaching children, but talk is often where it stops. Children in America in 2005 are more at risk than they have been in years. Listen to the numbers:
In our nation today, almost 13 million children are living in poverty. That is an increase of more than one million in the last five years. More than five and a half million children... AMERICAN children... endure extreme poverty.(2)
In our nation today, nine million children do not have health insurance, although 90 percent of them have parents who work. Infant mortality in America has increased for the first time in 44 years, and this nation with its vaunted "best medical care in the world," now lags behind 22 other countries in keeping babies alive in their first year of life.
Although children's brains develop most rapidly in the first three years of life, only one in three eligible children is enrolled in Head Start, which some of our nation's leaders are proposing to dismantle despite the fact that this is the single most successful anti-poverty initiative in history. Millions more children lack quality child care and preschool education experiences and begin school not ready to learn.
In our nation, a child is abused or neglected every 35 seconds, and infants and toddlers are the most likely to be harmed. Four out of 10 abused and neglected children get no help at all.
In our nation, last year the richest one percent of Americans reaped 54 percent of the total from two tax cuts while the middle class got far less, and the poor got none. The gap between rich and poor in America has grown to the widest point ever. Yet our leaders proposed to freeze, cut, or dismantle numerous child investments.
In our rich nation, where $1,000 may buy you a seat at a politician's fund-raising banquet, more than half a million children are hungry and 13 million do not know when their next meal will be or if they will get enough to eat.
In 1993, our Presbyterian Church's General Assembly adopted A Vision for Children and the Church. It called for a "Year of the Child," that soon was acknowledged as woefully inadequate and became the "Decade of the Child." That is why the child advocacy office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) exists today - to continually remind the church that if we are truly to follow Jesus and welcome children, we had better be aware of their unique needs, and we had better be aware of the situations that put them at risk. Caring adults will make the difference.
"Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'"
In the name of the Jesus who loves children, what are YOU willing to do?
1. Mark 10:15
2. This and the following statistics are from the Children's Defense Fund, Washington, DC, National Observance of Children's Sabbath Manual, pp. 201-202