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When Every Day Is Saturday, Children Preach

Children here have been out of school since November, when strikes in the Anglophone regions of our country began. What initially seemed like an extended holiday has become something entirely less positive. A full year of school is lost for tens of thousands of students, despite the fees that families scraped together to enroll their children last September. Every day, multiple children knock on our door, desperate for something to do. They work on their family farms some of the time, but their minds are begging to be engaged. Most have never owned a book, except for the occasional required textbook for school (which are sold back or given to family members the following year). We are living in a no-end-in-sight extrapolation of the Summer Slide.

If this were happening in any state in America, it would be all over every major news outlet. But this is Africa. And who knows what's happening in Africa? Moreover, who cares? While media cowboys (social and otherwise) pontificate about the relative disadvantages of certain students in our passport country, millions of children worldwide will never have access to the smallest fraction of education available to nearly every child in the developed world. I have yet to meet a poor person in the majority world who would not gladly trade places with anyone (of any race, class, and education level) in the United States.

Yes, America has problems. Yes, we should fight injustice everywhere. And yes, we should triage our attention and our resources to areas of greatest need. To close our eyes to suffering elsewhere makes us both myopic and ignorant. Catastrophizing about the current administration in a democratic republic (where the leadership will be enormously different in four years) is inane. Many countries limp along beneath decades of corruption, without the possibility of change anywhere on the horizon.

So, what? Guilt is powerless to motivate long term change. Don't be guilty: be different. There are very practical ways we can leverage our privilege for good (if you are reading this, you are privileged; if you want fifty reasons why, I will gladly supply them).

First, in our thoughts. Refuse to be consumed by family, community, or even national issues. If we tend to perseverate on ourselves, the people immediately around us, or one or two social issues that affect only those in the minority world, we should consider: there are millions (billions?) who would gladly trade places with us. Instead of worry or complaint, we can commit to habitual gratitude. Listing five things every day for which we are thankful will dramatically shift our perspectives.

Second, with our words. Do we simply add to the morass of self-concerned social and political criticism so prevalent in first world conversations, or do we speak up for the voiceless? We can steer conversations away from topics that affect only our immediately family and friends. Chemical bombings in Syria? That's not just a news byline. Those are lives -- lives forever lost to this world -- that were just as valuable as ours, and far more valuable than our perceived slights. We can give weight to those lives, by considering their discussion more important than airing our personal gripes.

Third, with our money. We recently received $18 raised by a group of fifth graders in Peru, who wanted to send Bibles to another (impoverished) part of the world. This was very likely the most humbling gift I have ever received. I can only imagine the hours and the sacrifice that went into such an offering. With that in mind, how long does it take me to earn $18? How likely am I to spend in on myself, my family, or my friends rather than on people I've never met? As Americans we are removed from cost and value, because we often earn and spend money without handling actual cash. We escape conviction regarding our spending because we are physically removed from the truly poor. Imagine eating at a restaurant in front of a young girl whose family cannot pay for her third grade education, knowing that the cost of your family's meal could send her to school for an entire year. Wise stewardship is not just about paying off our debt or accruing sufficient retirement funds. We will not have financial peace unless we are leveraging our resources for the Kingdom of God (which includes care of the poor).

Finally, with our prayer. We may not know where to begin in helping the poor, the weak, the sick, and the broken. But God is not at a loss. He will happily use us to bring relief, healing, and development to the needy. We can ask Him to open our eyes to the suffering of the world, to forgive our selfish focus on our families and friends, and to empower us to bring hope in situations we had never previously considered.

An entire year of Saturdays sounds like every educator's nightmare (No school! Hooray! Mental atrophy!). But we are not powerless, even in this setting. I have thoughts, words, money, and prayer to employ every time a bored child knocks on our front door. And so do they! Who knows? They might again preach to missionaries by raising money to send Bibles to another (impoverished) part of the world.


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