I played the role of a youth advocate in 1984 when I arrived in the DR Congo with a desire to start a youth ministry movement. The children and youth of the DR Congo were considered by many to be second-class citizens, having no voice of influence in their culture. Sadly, the cultural view of children and youth was also prevalent in the Congolese church. The modern concept of “youth ministry” began in England a couple of centuries ago and was later transported to America. To the Congolese church in the 1980’s, the very idea of youth ministry was an unknown concept. No one had ever heard of such a thing. I was there to advocate—to raise a flag for the importance ministry to young people and then wave that flag as hard as I could.
Jesus faced the same kind of situation in the first century, children and youth simply didn’t have a voice in society. One of my favorite scenes in Jesus’s life is found in Mark chapter ten. Mark records a time when the disciples tried to shoo away some kids and Jesus got very angry. In fact, he went ballistic. He stood up for the children, demanding the disciples let them come to him. He took the children in his arms and blessed them before sending them on their way. Similarly, in the letter of Philemon, the Apostle Paul was a compassionate advocate for a young runaway slave named Onesimus, a good parallel for many at-risk teens today.
The word compassion means “suffering with” or “suffering alongside.” Many different people are suffering today because they have no voice of influence—nor anyone advocating for them. If you are looking for voiceless people, simply look to the margins of society. Look at both ends of the age range—unborn children, still in the womb, and older, neglected people in nursing homes. Look at children who live in abusive situations, struggling single mothers, or immigrants who don’t speak English. Scripture describes God as a defender of widows and children and strangers—those who are marginalized, having no voice.
Life is too short not to speak up on someone else’s behalf. Wouldn’t you like to someday look back on your life, remembering all the voiceless people whom you helped to speak? Won’t it be great to meet people in heaven someday who thank you for speaking up for them when you could have just walked away?
REFLECTIONS: What is your opinion of children and youth? Do you value them as much as you value adults? Have you ever felt compassion for someone that caused you to come alongside them to advocate for them? Make it a regular prayer to ask God to help you see the marginalized who lack voices of influence.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.