I was having a conversation with a friend one day about how we should think about mercy ministry, what it means to give generously (in this particular context, of our money, though it certainly includes time and energy as well), and how we should walk this out day-to-day. We were talking about beggars and street kids, how situations are different in Romania, the US, and Nigeria, and what we think about such practical situations as giving money to a person vs buying them food. There is certainly poverty everywhere in the world, but I tend to be particularly tuned into it here because there are so many street kids, so many children beggars, so many sad situations involving children, and it just breaks my heart. And so I have oft wrestled with what MY particular role is (or should be) in helping and reaching out.
Interestingly enough the very next day I was looking through some books that a couple left here when they moved to England, and I saw this book, Street Children. So I picked it up, started reading it, and finished it within the week. Butcher does an excellent job of making a massive worldwide epidemic tangible at the individual level. Yes, he gives the overwhelming and massively saddening statistics and paints broad strokes of street children worldwide. But mixed in with that he tells the stories of individual street children, as well as stories of individuals reaching out to them.
The book begins with an overview of poor/abandoned/street children in various time periods in history, and Butcher defines and characterizes the different types of street children, why they’re on the street, and what they do. Which varies greatly from the developing to the developed world, from Manila to Rio de Janeiro. He also devotes a few chapters to the life of street kids. I was a bit shocked to read the chapter entitled “The Killing Fields,” in which Butcher describes how and why street children are killed. I knew to some extent the violence amongst street children (which he talks about), but I didn’t know about how some governments and peoples commit atrocious acts of violence against street children. His chapter on the worldwide child sex industry was saddening and sobering.
The second half of the book beings by bringing the situation under lens of Christianity, and explains the rationale for why in particular we as Christians should care for street children (not least of all that Jesus said that true religion is caring for orphans and widows…). A few chapters detail a variety of stories about individuals and organizations that are working with street children from India to Guatemala to Colorado. It closes with a chapter on how individuals can reach out to street children. I really appreciated the fluid mix of macro and micro in this book. Butcher moves from general trends and statistics directly to specific individuals. Names of children are in bold font, visually emphasizing the individuals and their stories. Yes there are 18 million children on the streets of India, and one of them is named Pradip, a boy who spent 6 years in the Calcutta train station until he was rescued by a Christian orphanage.
I found the book to be sobering yet encouraging, overwhelming yet motivational. I left more aware of the massively enormous (is that big enough?) complexity and sadness and depth and breadth of the issue of street children. But I also left believing even more that I as an individual can and should have an impact where I am and how I can. A section of the lyrics of the song Who Will Save the Children (which appears in full in the book) aptly bring together these two ideas, and I will leave you with these words:
As we observe them through our TV screens
They seem so distant an unreal
But they bleed like we bleed
And they feel what we feel
Oh, save the children
Save the children
Now we decide that nothing can change
And throw up our hands in numb despair
And we lose a piece of our souls
By teaching ourselves just how not to care
But Christ would have gone to the Cross
Just to save one child from being lost
And we are His hands
We are His voice
We are the ones who must make the choice
And it must be now
There’s no time to lose
It must be you
No one can take your place
Can’t you see that only we can
Save the children