We live in the richest county in Kansas. We have a beautiful 1,500-square-foot home. Each of my girls has her own room, plenty of clothes in their closets and enough food to eat any time they're hungry. We have two cars, two TVs, three computers, a Wii, a couple of Nintendo DS consoles and a couple of cell phones. We may not be in the top 1% in wealth in the United States, but we're certainly in the top half.
My girls really lack for nothing. We take them on vacations, they play sports, they play instruments, we think nothing of going out to eat once a week. In this environment, it's tough to raise kids who are aware of children living in poverty. It's hard for them to realize that there are children who go to bed every night without enough food to eat or clothes to wear. All of their friends live a lifestyle that mirrors the one we live. As a matter of fact, most of their friends have more "stuff" than my girls do.
Yesterday, though, my oldest got a glimpse of poverty. Her Girl Scout troop took boxes of cookies to a homeless shelter for teens, not 20 minutes from our house. Just north of here is the poorest county in Kansas. Homeless teens are not uncommon. My daughter was horrified to know that kids just a little older than her were homeless. While they were there, the woman leading their tour told them about one of the residents -- a young girl, just 18, who was living in the shelter with her four younger siblings, one of whom is less than a year old. My daughter couldn't imagine how difficult that would be.
As my daughter talked, I realized how important it is for us to expose our kids to the realities of homelessness and poverty. Our children can't know how rich and blessed they are if they don't know the other side of the coin.
Our instinct is often to shield our kids from the injustices in the world. We want to keep them in a little bubble where everything is happy and nothing can hurt them. But if we raise children who are unaware of the injustices in the world, then they can do nothing to change them.
It's not just a good idea to help our kids understand injustice, it's required of us. Micah 6:8 says, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." In order for our kids to "act justly," they have to know what injustice is. The only way they can know that is if we let them see it.
We are called to take care of the widows and orphans, to provide for the poor. Proverbs 14:31 says, "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." We want to raise children who are kind to the needy, who are concerned about those who are homeless, hungry or in pain.
But how do we do that? We expose them to the needs. We let them see poverty. We help them to understand that poverty exists both close to home and far away. We stop letting them live in a bubble. And we assist them in finding ways to help solve the problem. Now, I'm not suggesting you take your kids and drive down the most dangerous street in your city, but somewhere near you, there's a homeless shelter or a food pantry that would be happy to give you a tour. There might be a needy family even in your school that you can help. Your kids can collect canned food from their friends. They can collect art supplies to donate to the local children's hospital. They can collect coats to clothe the poor during the winter. But they have to know the need exists before they can decide they want to help.
There are plenty of age-appropriate ways to introduce your kids to the injustice in the world without scaring them. Try one of these:
- Sponsor a child. There are several great organizations that allow you to sponsor a poor child in another country. When you are assigned a child, learn all you can about that country with your child. Compare that child's life to your own.
- Buy a goat or a pig or some fruit trees. Several organizations like World Vision and Heifer International allow you to buy farm animals or crops for a family that will help feed them. Talk with your kids about how just one farm animal can be the difference between eating and not eating for some families.
- Serve together at a local homeless shelter or food pantry.
- Start your own canned food drive or coat drive to benefit the needy in your community.
Our kids need to know that injustice exists in the world. They need to know that poverty and hunger are real. They need to have their eyes opened. They don't need to live in a bubble. They need to be able to count their own blessings and be a part of serving the poor, which honors God.
It's OK to pop the protective bubble around your kids when it comes to injustice and poverty. Your kids will probably be ready to jump in and help solve the problems.