The last few years our family has been trying to learn more about what life is like for our brothers and sisters around the world and to follow God’s commands and Jesus’ example throughout scripture to care for the poor and oppressed. We want to raise our children in a way that they are aware that the comfortable North American existence they enjoy is not the norm for most of the world – not to fill them with guilt, but to give them hope that even they can make a difference in the world. This has not been an easy task!
So, we did this crazy thing this year. It started with an invitation to our friends and family to join us for a gathering of sorts. We timed it to coincide with the start of Lent – the Christian tradition of a 40-day season of reflection and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus. During this period, some choose to fast or otherwise give up things that hold us to our material world in order to recall our need for Jesus Christ, consider his sufferings, and repent of sin. It is a good season to rethink about how we live, develop some new habits, or make sacrifices.
We wanted to enter the season of Lent with a reflection on Isaiah 58, which describes the kind of fast God desires from his people:
No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Using a resource developed by Live58:, we planned an afternoon at our home the weekend before Ash Wednesday. We served a simple meal of rice and beans, showed the video “58:The Film” (a story of the global church in action on behalf of the poor), and discussed the implications of the film. We had a variety of hands-on activities for families to guide children in understanding issues of poverty, lists of resources and organizations, and ideas for follow-up action steps.
We ended up having 31 people at our house that afternoon, ages 1-61.
Rice and beans were (mostly) happily consumed.
The kids loved the book table.
Grownups had a book table too.
Consistent with my nerdiness for such things, I prepared a folder with a few documents for each family who came. It included a list of organizations we love with their financial/accountability ratings, a summary of their work, and ten key areas related to poverty that they address; and some lists of action steps for raising funds, identifying with poverty, and serving your local neighbors.
An Offering of Letters station for people to write to members of congress about hunger issues.
An Offering of Letters for Kids – a station for kids to draw or write to a sponsored child. Jack drew a volcano because he loves volcanoes. I reminded him that Gerson, one of our sponsored children, lives near a volcano in Nicaragua. Ta-da! Random drawing turned into a picture for Gerson.
The Live58: film was very moving. It captured the hopelessness of people living in the majority world without access to basic needs, highlighted evidences of hope in the midst of poverty and injustice, named encouraging statistics of progress already accomplished (e.g., the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has been cut from 52 per cent (1981) to 26 percent (2005)), and called the North American church to action – directing our abundance to help meet the needs of our neighbors here and abroad. After the film, the kids drew some pictures about what they saw and we talked about “needs” vs. “wants”.
In Jack’s bedroom, families took a journey around the world through a series of eight hands-on stations. Each station corresponded with one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (Click on the symbols on this page for descriptions and fact sheets). These goals have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. A few years ago I came across a resource by Micah Challenge which put together “prayer stations” for each of the MDGs. I tweaked them a little and used them over a period of four sessions of my Summer Book Club for Moms and Daughters in 2012. I pulled these out again and we set up all eight around Jack’s room.
These were the highlight of the afternoon. The wording of the MDGs are pretty abstract for kids, but each one addresses something that kids could understand if given some support. So, each station had a short story and a practical activity to bring it to their level.
MGD 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
MGD 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
MGD 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
MGD 4: Reduce Child Mortality
MGD 5: Improve Maternal Health
MGD 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases
MGD 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
MGD 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development
Yes, this afternoon was a lot of work. But it was so fulfilling to put into action the many things we have been learning and share it with others. We find that working through these things in community is so, so good. I am deeply grateful for our family and friends who daily point us to Jesus and care for the poor and powerless.
Finally, we give thanks to our God, the true sustainable solution to poverty and just living, because: