In a perfect world children are loved, protected, cherished and nurtured. But, in an imperfect world of populations that are seismically shifted by war, economic instability and prejudice, some 26 million children are lost, expatriated, refugees, displaced, exiled, vulnerable, exploited, and often unaccompanied. There have never been so many children in this condition in the history of the world!
Recently, while I was in the Dominican Republic with other women on an Awana vision trip those statistics became flesh in the form of one young boy’s story.
We were visiting Fountain of Love Church, They have an Awana program and preschool. Johan was there to welcome us. He told us his story. He is a doctor and cares for a lot of children. But one day, as he heard the pastor speaking about the negative things happening in children’s lives — the exposure to things on the internet that destroy their innocence, the exploitation of and lack of care for children in their own town who were often left to roam the street unsupervised — he realized that he needed to do more.
Listening to that sermon, tears came to his eyes. He knew that if someone had not been there for him, he would have been lost himself.
He began to volunteer at Awana with 10-14 year-old boys. One of the boys was 12-year-old Jeremy. Jeremy, his father and two other siblings came to Dominican Republic to find work and to escape the economic instability of Venezuela. Unfortunately, his mother was not able to get a visa and she was left behind. This family had to make an excruciating choice between starvation and separation. Jeremy often cried when he spoke of his mother. He was deeply worried about her. Johan felt an immediate connection to him. Johan noticed how quickly he memorized his scripture verses and how he was always asking questions about God. Johan’s heart was deeply moved by this boy’s displacement and separation from his mother.
One night, when the Awana Director asked the boys who loved them besides Jesus … Jeremy pointed to Johan, his small group leader, “Johan is my best friend.”
This story touches me. It puts flesh on the 26 million children in the world with torn up and displaced lives. It shows that what the experts are saying is true. One caring adult can make all the difference in a child’s ability to cope and survive their life circumstances.
But that is not the only reason I am moved. I sense that God has a plan for Awana in 2017 and beyond. It involves a unique space in children’s lives that He is asking us to fill. What does Awana have in abundance? Caring adults. Every week 450,000 adults in over 120 countries show up to minister to 3.7 million children!
I take comfort from knowing that God is not surprised by this crisis in the lives of the world’s children. Sixty-seven years ago He creatively prepared a highly relational kid ministry, one with a high adult to child ratio to fill in the gaps for children. Awana, through the local church is the most stable, most present, most loving adult presence in thousands of child’s lives.
And whether these children are ever asked, “Who loves you besides Jesus?” they will know a place where they are loved, sheltered, treated with kindness, and where Jesus looks a lot like a caring adult who shows up in their lives every week.