|Source: Paul Terry Productions, "Mighty Mouse"|
As you may have noticed today (Dec 6), cartoons have invaded Facebook in an attempt to raise awareness of child abuse. The simple idea that a cartoon seen would trigger memories of a simpler, care-free time where we remember just how vulnerable we were as kids... then realize that kids all over the world are being abused right around us. My prayer is that it causes all of us to take some action to empower and protect a child today.
When I learned of this Facebook movement yesterday, I was struck instantly by the story of a 6 year old child in Zimbabwe that I do not know and haven't figured out how to help YET. He dominated my mind throughout this last trip to Africa. Early in the trip, a dear friend of mine in Zimbabwe asked me for some advice about child abuse case law in Zimbabwe knowing I have studied under one of the most respected child rights advocates in the world during my time at Harvard (You can read some of my research on widow & child rights here). Yet, nothing prepares you for the story my friend told us. I don't want to trouble you with the same images that trouble me.
But the big picture is this --- A 6 year old child orphaned by AIDS was being abused by his own grandfather, yet no one in the family was willing to file a complaint to the police fearing reprisal and violating the sacred trust of family. Like in any society, families experience great shame in sharing family secrets of this horror and in a male driven culture this was especially true.
I didn't know what to tell my friend then, but I promised to ask everyone I saw who may be able to help her as she begins trying to intervene. This child needed a church champion. Pray with me for his liberation.
Over and over, as I asked pastors in Zimbabwe and Zambia, I was saddened to hear that abuse among children orphaned is VERY common. Every pastor had first-hand experience with my question and almost all of them had personally intervened where culture and lack of laws protected the abuser. Though I was struck by the horrors of abuse I heard, I was also struck by how amazing Christians can be by the courage that God provides. Pastors shared stories of their interventions, how sermons and time with families began changing cultural habits to value kids, and how Christ's love trumps pride we fear will be tarnished. Kids were being saved by these champions. Kids were being protected by churches that were taking kids in instead of leaving them alone and vulnerable.
Without their own "mighty mouse" in the local church, even more abuse would happen. These theologically sound, vetted pastors are checking in on the kids, taking many of them into their own homes or finding quality caregivers within the church community. They are doing what they can.
Daily, I hear stories of vulnerable kids our church partners in Africa know about but can't help because they lack funding. This trip, more than any before, I connected our actions to equip churches with stopping abuse of children orphaned by AIDS. We are not just sending kids to school, but getting them out of being home alone. We are not just providing them seed & fertilizer, but giving them their own food source so they don't have to beg or barter themselves.
You and I are like simple mice, presented with giant problems. How will we respond? Will we harness the courage of our childhood cartoon inspirations or let this suffering slip away into the busyness of our adult lives?
Our local partnering churches in Africa are working in very adult scenarios, full of bleak conditions, where hope should not win by all logic. But, the story of Jesus coming in a manger reminds us that hope springs out of the poor. The faith, love, sacrifice, and joy in the midst of fear for Joseph and Mary shows us that God can equip us to be champions and shepherds for His desired work in the world.
Jesus came to redeem the world. He came, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again. As He left us to return to heaven, He left the church behind to demonstrate the love of Christ. To bring hope to the hopeless. To defend the fatherless. To take our mouse like bodies, inept by the world's standards, and offer ourselves up as living sacrifices to bring God's hope to our still hurting world.
This Christmas, I'm reminded of our need to not fear what we cannot solve in our world. Instead, may we offer our best before God and do what we can. Thanks for helping local churches be courageous to protect children from abuse. Their mighty efforts are made possible in part because of your mighty efforts. For that and for the kids we all get to serve, I'm forever grateful.
Have courage today,
President of Forgotten Voices International
Be a champion for a church looking to be a Mighty Mouse for a child orphaned by AIDS in their community. Give today at www.ForgottenVoices.org/donate.