by Doug Nichols
Many consider street children to be trash. Local businessmen in Brazil call them “vermin” and “garbage.” They say, “If we let them grow up they will become criminals—a blight on our society.” From time to time, some of these businessmen have even hired assassins to kill them.
Street kids. Thousands of them. A staggering 100 million extremely underprivileged and street children struggle to survive in the world’s largest urban centers. In Manila alone there are an estimated 100,000 children on the streets, one million throughout the Philippines.
Some are young and cute and can still smile. Most are older, have rotten teeth, and have scarred faces. They are disease-ridden, flea- and lice-infested, shifty-eyed, suspicious, and fearful. They are the poor, the outcast, the abandoned, the exploited who exist by begging, stealing, eating out of garbage cans, and selling their bodies. These are the children of the streets.
Many of these children are sold into prostitution, some at as young an age as four. It is estimated that at least 20,000 and possibly up to 60,000 children are engaged in prostitution in one Asian country, many living on the streets!
On one occasion I was ill, but had a bed to sleep on in a comfortable room near a window with fresh air. The bathroom was nearby, and provided potable water and clean fixtures. My wife took care of me with soup and medicine. What do street children do when they are sick? Where do they sleep? Where do they go for water to drink and food to eat? Who cares for them? There are unfortunately no answers to these questions.
Sadly, street children are bypassed by many relief, evangelistic, discipleship, and church-planting efforts. It is expensive to work with such children, they lack the appeal needed for a sponsorship program, and they don’t make good church members!
However, God’s Word teaches that we should reach everyone with the Gospel, whether they be poor or rich, or whatever race or level of society they are from, regardless of their ethnic background or age. “…Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man (which includes street children) and teaching every man (the 10-year-old prostitute of Manila or Bangkok) with all wisdom, so that we may present every man (all street and underprivileged children) complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:27-28, nasb).
Should care for these children not be one of the goals of each local church and Christian? Street children are starving for bread — physical and spiritual. Their needs must be met on both levels. Without the gift of physical care, only rare opportunities arise to communicate with street children.
Each church, denomination, mission, and Christian should emphasize underprivileged and street children for ministry – to pray for them, send them assistance, and even go to them. This is a challenge to the people of every congregation — the young and the old, the inexperienced and the highly experienced – in long-range evangelism and discipleship of street children.
In Zambia, I was asked to encourage older men from Canada, the USA, and the UK to serve as missionaries to work with street children, as AIDS has killed off most of the fathers and grandfathers of the children and they have no grown men in their lives.
This Herculean ministry cannot be limited to those with a natural affinity and love for children. The need is so massive, it simply cannot be met by a few children’s workers. Church and mission leaders need to aggressively pray and plan to reach underprivileged children.
Who will reach the children in crisis?
- 300,000 young people under 18 have been exploited as child soldiers
- 100,000 children are on the streets of Manila, Philippines
- 7 million children worldwide are refugees of famine and war
- 250,000 children and young people are infected with HIV/AIDS every month
- 13 million AIDS orphans are suffering in Africa; 1 million in Malawi (10% of the total population) and 800,000 in Zambia
- 800,000 girls ages 12 to 16 are involved in prostitution in Thailand
- Over half a billion children are struggling to survive on under $1 per day
- 100 million street children worldwide
- It is estimated that 25 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS
- 143 million orphans worldwide
- 130 million children lack access to education
- 246 million children are child laborers
- 8.4 million children are trapped in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities
- An estimated 24,000 children die each day from preventable diseases and hunger
(NOTE: The figures above are estimates that are constantly changing, but which do represent a realistic indication of the problem. Statistics from: the United Nations and its system organizations and publications, USAID, the U.S. Census Bureau, other humanitarian organizations and Action International Ministries, www.actioninternational.org)
Someone said, “If 60 Boeing 747 planes carrying 400 people each crashed every day, the governments of the world would take action; but an equal number of deaths (24,000) occurs daily amongst children throughout the world, but there is little comment!”
Despite current evangelical missions emphasis on peoples, one of the world’s most significant people groups—children—has been neglected.
A leader of Compassion International lists four basic reasons for emphasizing evangelism among “the smaller half of the world”:
Scriptural: Helping children is central to the Ten Commandments
Statistical: Child evangelism is important because the bulk of the world’s population is children.
Sociological: Children play important roles in society. The majority of the world’s 100 million street children are becoming a plague to society and must be reached with the Gospel.
Strategic: By reaching children we can reach the whole society.
There are several effective ways to minister to street and underprivileged children in the needy areas, especially cities of the world:
Begin outdoor evangelistic programs in the late evening. This is an excellent way to reach children on the streets. Each major city in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America could have teams working throughout the city, ministering the Gospel and loving care to children in crisis.
Use evangelistic camps for underprivileged and street children in cooperation with local evangelical churches. Church members can be trained as counselors to assist with the recruitment and follow-up of children in their local church and area.
Establish rescue and discipleship homes, especially for older street children who have trusted Christ and who want to leave the life of the street.
Start temporary homes in major cities to care for younger lost or abandoned children until their parents can be found, or until they are adopted or placed in a foster home.
Establish residential centers for youth who have trusted Christ — homes for Christian discipleship and vocational training in jobs like welding, carpentry, mechanics, and sewing.
Open long-term homes and orphanages for special-needs children who have no hope. There are an estimated 13 million AIDS orphans in Africa alone. Extended families will not care for all of them.
Let us trust the Lord for many more missionaries to devote themselves to long-term ministry among the neglected children in urban centers of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. May God raise up many missionaries for evangelism, discipleship and development among street children — missionaries who can run camps, work on the streets, begin children’s homes, and teach in vocational training centers.
Our prayer should be to reach all the street and needy children of the world — not just a few, for “The Lord is . . .not wishing for any to perish!” (2 Peter 3:9, nasb).
ACTION Founder & Street Children Advocate