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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Reaching the Children: Regional Reports

By AG World Missions Staff Writers
Jan. 2, 2011

Reaching children in Latin America

They work on almost every street corner — washing windshields, selling candy and lottery tickets, or outright begging.  With sad expressions on their faces, children approach car windows and signal for a coin. Others juggle or turn flips in the street, doing anything they can do to get money and attention. These children usually make more money than regular workers, and many parents have no motivation to stop what they do.

However, hope can be found in the midst of poverty. When missionary Cindy Lucas drives down certain streets in Asunción, Paraguay’s capital, children call out her name. They know her well.

Lucas has ministered in Paraguay for 32 years. For seven years she taught at Asunción English Christian Academy while serving as children’s pastor in a local church. She then became national Sunday School director, which involved teaching in a Bible school and leading Vacation Bible School programs.

Lucas and a team of national believers met in a park for 15 years, feeding lunch to about 150 people. Eventually they began holding Sunday School on Saturdays to teach the group about God and His Word. Most of the people who come are beggars or street vendors. Often parents bring their children.

Liz is 11 years old, the oldest daughter of seven children. She comes to Lucas’ ministry with her younger brothers while her sister, Belen, begs on the street.

“Belen used to hide from me because she begs on the corner near where I live,” Lucas shares. “I often wonder how the schoolchildren treat her,  knowing that she’s a weekend street beggar.”

Just before school starts, many kids stop attending the children’s programs that Cindy and her team provide, so they can make extra money to pay school fees. Lucas and her team try to encourage the kids to stay. “If they come faithfully, then we give them a package of school supplies and shoes,” she says. Even during the winter many kids only wear sandals or sometimes no shoes at all. As a result, foot diseases are common.

Lucas and her team dream of opening a children’s home. “We run across many kids who don’t have a mom or dad,” she says. “We have also thought about opening a school, because there is no Christian school in this area. We have access to two classrooms and a multipurpose chapel/dining room with plans to add a second floor that would provide space for three more classrooms.”

Lucas is preparing to hold workshops to train more children’s workers. “We are planning several large outreaches, so we’re doing all we can to motivate our pastors and workers to get involved in children’s ministry,” she says. “Since 2011 is the Year of the Child, we want to raise up an army of workers to evangelize, disciple and even train kids to reach more kids.  Three million kids still need to be reached in Paraguay.”

Every Saturday and Sunday, Lucas and her Master’s Commission workers drive an hour outside Asunción to a church that was started in 2005 for one purpose: ministry to street kids. “The church is called In His Arms,” she explains, “because the best place for these kids is in Jesus’ arms.” As the children meet together, they do more than enjoy crafts, hot chocolate and cookies; they learn more about Christ and accept Him as Savior.

 

Reaching children in Europe

When missionaries Brian and Colleen Thomas began their work in Macedonia, a soup kitchen was the furthest thing from their minds. As they worked among the poorest of the poor, they saw great need and partnered with Convoy of Hope to do several large outreaches.  They also became involved with church planting, and with the help of a short article in the Pentecostal Evangel, they were able to buy a small piece of property located in a garbage dump area of Shutka, Macedonia.  From this location they started a work among the Gypsies. 

But God was not finished with Shutka. Despite Brian’s misgivings about time and finances, he knew he had to do more to help the people. “The love of Christ compelled me,” Brian says. “A soup kitchen was not my own idea.” 

In January 2008, armed with tables, chairs, spoons and bowls, the Thomases opened the kitchen. They served soup, bread and sweets to children three times a week. By the end of the year they were feeding anywhere from 35 to 85 children. Many of the children would leave the garbage heaps just long enough to eat before rushing back to continue digging through trash. Those who had homes often lived in ramshackle, one-room housing. At least 80 percent of the children were from Muslim families. 

For several months the kitchen operated with only a wood stove, which served both to cook and to heat the building. Finances were tight and the facilities were incomplete, but the Thomases relied on God’s provision. On June 15, 2009, a newly renovated kitchen opened to serve food to 100 children five days a week.  New chairs, a new stove and a new refrigerator make the work much easier. 

At the kitchen, the children feel valued as the Thomases make a point to spend time with each one. In addition to a Saturday morning kids club, Brian and Colleen have hosted carnivals, soccer games and more. 

Because Brian’s own childhood was a difficult one, he feels strongly about investing in children. “I was a bus kid,” he says. “I know the value of reaching kids like this who won’t come unless there is additional motivation.” 

New facilities have also made it possible for the Thomases to open a preschool. The area’s literacy rate is extremely low, and many children do not succeed in school. The opportunity to attend preschool better equips them to be academically successful and also provides daily Bible teaching. Approximately 25 children are currently enrolled.

Hope has come to Shutka and is touching children whose lives are filled with misery and need. The Thomases have heard the same plea that summoned the apostle Paul in Acts 16:9: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Day by day their needs are miraculously met. As a result, even Shutka’s poorest, smallest and least-noticed are being redeemed.

 

Reaching children in Africa

 

Smiles of joy light children’s faces in Mabutsane, Botswana, as they crowd around Pastor Ditiro. While they gladly accept the piece of bread or small treat he offers, food is not the main reason they press in closer. They know that Pastor Ditiro will talk to them, give them a hug and make them feel loved. More than a leader, he is their friend. For the children, the majority of whom are orphans, knowing an adult who truly cares about them is a precious gift.

Several years ago as a student at Assembly Bible College in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, Pastor Ditiro was involved in orphan ministry. Eventually he sensed God leading him to Mabutsane, a village in a remote area of the Kalahari Desert, to start a ministry among children who were unknown or forgotten by the rest of the world.

“The kids in Mabutsane come from a variety of backgrounds,” says missionary Pat Mahar, who taught Pastor Ditiro at the Bible school. “Most are from broken homes or their families have deserted them. All are orphaned, usually because of HIV/AIDS, while others struggle under other desperate circumstances.”

Botswana’s HIV infection rate is nearly 25 percent — the second-highest in the world. The death toll from AIDS has left an estimated 95,000 children parentless. Some are HIV-positive themselves. Often they face rejection and abuse from their communities and even their extended families.

Pastor Ditiro started his weekly outreach in Mabutsane with about 30 children. In only a short time the number grew to more than 200. Using his meager salary from the church, he endeavored to feed, clothe and teach the children about a loving Savior who cares about them and their basic needs.

When Pat and his wife, Brenda, heard about the ministry, they were determined to help. They supplied toys, clothing and school supplies, but they knew more was needed. The growing outreach needed more space.

With the help of a few building teams from the United States, the Mahars spearheaded a building project to give the church a permanent home and provide space for a variety of children’s activities. A church in Maryland donated playground equipment.  With these improved facilities, Pastor Ditiro hopes to offer after-school care and expand the feeding program so every child can have one meal a day.

“This type of ministry is quite new to our country,” says Mahar. “The easier way is to get the finances and facilities first and then start a ministry. But Pastor Ditiro started with nothing but a vision and a heart of compassion. He cannot meet every need, but the children sense his heart of love. I have seen children’s expressions change from despair to happiness simply from being around Pastor Ditiro and his wife, Anna. Because of them, they understand what Christ has done for them.”

The effectiveness of Pastor Ditiro’s outreach is extending beyond Mabutsane. Social workers in the surrounding area have asked for his input in addressing children’s needs, opening even more avenues of ministry.  The government recognized the importance of Pastor Ditiro’s work and expanded church property to accommodate growth.

Like a soaking shower in the sunbaked Kalahari, Pastor Ditiro is giving spiritual and physical relief to children who have known only suffering and want. As a result, children are finding hope despite uncertain futures.

“This ministry is a valid one, and we want to stand behind it,” says Mahar. “People are seeing how it is affecting kids’ lives for the positive, and they want to know more. We’re excited to see what God will do in Mabutsane in the days ahead.”

Reaching children in Asia Pacific

Children sit spellbound in a school auditorium as clowns do skits and tell funny stories. Suddenly music begins and brightly colored puppets pop up from behind a curtained stage. For the children, this visit from Children’s Lane ministry in Taiwan is a welcome break from the rigors of school. For those in charge of the program, it is an opportunity to let these boys and girls hear the gospel — probably for the first time.

Behind the scenes at the assembly is missionary Fari Rider. For nearly 20 years she has focused on developing Children’s Lane, a children’s ministry of the Taiwan Assemblies of God fellowship. With a team of trained workers, she organizes camps and holds assemblies in schools across the island nation.

The work is not without challenges. “Kids here live under unbelievable pressure,” Rider says. “Even the youngest children are expected to excel.”

In Taiwan, children must pass a test before they can attend high school, so preparations begin early. After high school they must pass another test to get into college. A college education is considered crucial to the ultimate goal — becoming wealthy — so excelling in school is ingrained in children from their earliest years. They attend school all day, go to cram school at night and often take classes on weekends. The only day they have free is Sunday, which is considered family time. Most have no time available to attend church, so Rider’s goal is to take Children’s Lane to them.

Woven into the team’s program is a clear focus on God’s unconditional love and the hope He offers. The message resonates with the children. “Even their facial expressions change as they realize that God cares for them,” Rider says.

While school assemblies are an important tool in sharing the gospel with large groups, summer camps offer opportunities for more one-on-one interaction. At camp, children experience God’s power in a deeper way.

Rider recalls one boy who came to camp against his will. The family had recently come through a split brought on by the father’s abusiveness. His mother had recently accepted Christ, but the boy was struggling emotionally. He was unenthusiastic about the camp and had little desire to participate.

At the end of a service, the speaker asked all children from broken homes to come forward for prayer. Reluctantly, the boy joined the group. As soon as Rider laid her hands on him, he began to cry. That evening God did a deep work of healing in his heart and life.

When his mother picked him up from camp, he immediately began to share everything that had happened. “I was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit this week,” he told her. “God has changed my life. I have even forgiven Dad for everything he has done.”

The mother was amazed at the change in his attitude. “He’s like a totally different kid,” she told Rider later.

Results like these keep Rider’s vision for Taiwan sharp. “People sometimes ask me, ‘Why do you want to waste your life here? The spiritual bondages of materialism and ancestor worship are too strong to make a difference.’ I tell them that Taiwan’s kids are the hope for the nation. As they learn the truth, I believe God will enlighten their eyes and open their ears. They are the key to reaching this nation. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here.”

Reaching children in Eurasia

In Mumbai, India’s largest city, a ministry in the heart of the red light district is providing hope and a haven for the children of women in the scourge of sex slavery.

Children of sex workers in Mumbai are loved and cared for on the third floor of a school building Pastor K.K. Devaraj has acquired permission to use. Until this home was provided, many of these children had to live in the brothels, sleeping in the same rooms where their mothers worked.

About 30 girls are crowded together in a room, sitting cross-legged on the floor. As they start singing worship songs, they lift their hands in praise. The girls pray with sincerity, fervency and reverence much beyond their years.

The girls have hopeful futures because of 20 years of compassionate and faithful labor by Pastor Devaraj, his wife, Latijah, and the dedicated workers here. If not for this home, these girls would be living in the brothels and raised to follow their mothers in a life of slavery.

Pastor Devaraj has also established a home for children who are HIV-positive. The joy and love on the boys’ and girls’ faces make it nearly impossible to imagine the lives from which they were rescued. The loving care given by the workers at the home is a direct reflection of the Devarajes’ leadership.

Mumbai has the largest red light district in India, but the plague of sex trafficking is rampant in every area of the country. Official estimates count more than 3 million sex workers in India — 40 percent of them are children. Many are brought to the cities from distant rural villages. The girls’ parents are duped by promises that their daughters will receive good jobs and an education in the cities. In reality, they live a nightmarish existence that few can fathom.

During the worship time at Pastor Devaraj’s church, the children jubilantly wave colorful flags as they sing. As in churches all over the world, the Holy Spirit’s presence lights up the faces of worshippers as they lift their hands in praise. In this place, it is easy to forget what surrounds the church building in every direction: streets lined with a seemingly endless succession of brothels.

After the message, women wait patiently to be prayed for — one by one. A woman asks to have her baby dedicated to the Lord. She has dressed him in bright yellow for the occasion. Because of Pastor Devaraj’s obedience to the Spirit’s call, this mother has hope for her baby’s future.

Lives are rescued in Mumbai the same way God’s kingdom is built — one at a time. The liberating and transforming power of the gospel and the passionate commitment of Pastor Devaraj and those who work with him have brought a shining light into the darkest place in the city.

Reaching children in Northern Asia

More children under the age of 18 are in China than are in the United States, Indonesia, Brazil and Ethiopia combined. Among the approximately 265 million children in the world’s most populous nation are countless children living in poverty and desperate circumstances. Many are orphans or homeless.

At the same time, more Christians live in China than in any other country. With an estimated 100 million believers, the Spirit of Christ moves them with compassion to reach out to needy children — especially those who have no parents to care for them.

One pastor is a telling example of showing compassion to the children of China. He was raised by a godly woman whom he refers to affectionately as his “grandmother.” She discipled him to live a life according to the principles taught in the Bible. He was caring for his congregation diligently, but looked around his community to see children who had been abandoned by their parents.

One by one, he and his devoted wife began to take children into their home. This stirred people in their congregation to have compassionate hearts as well. To provide rooms for the children to sleep, the pastor and his wife continued to acquire property around their home. Today, they have a family of more than 80 children from infants to teenagers.

Children who would otherwise be destitute, rejected and uncared for, now receive the love of a very large family. The pastor's home rings with laughter and singing and children playing in the yard. Many of them excel in school. Most importantly, they are raised in a truly Christian home where they know the Lord Jesus as their Savior and grow up to be devoted Christians who share their faith in the surrounding community.

This church and home stand as a testimony to the selfless love born of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who have experienced the grace of Jesus Christ.

In another city, a very large orphanage cares for hundreds of elderly and children who have no families. These well-run institutions are the legacy of Assemblies of God missionaries. The first, founded in 1916, rescued many hundreds of children from the streets and gave them an education. Many became prominent civic leaders.

The orphanage and home for the elderly and abandoned was so effective that it has operated now for more than 90 years and is a legacy to the transforming power of the gospel in the lives of desperately needy people. It became a model institution that has been duplicated elsewhere in the country and is now almost entirely funded by the government and a few private donations.

Through ministries such as these, the gospel is proclaimed, and the truth of God’s Word is lived out. As a result, countless children in China are cared for by Christians whose hearts and lives have been filled with the compassion of Christ. In turn, a young generation is being raised up to reach their nation with His life-changing message.

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