BY MARK STAVERS, VIVA’S CHIEF EXECUTIVE
Viva has a presence in 66 cities in 22 countries around the world by partnering with networks of local churches that help vulnerable children in those cities. Our work connects people together, which is a good thing in itself because many of the people working on the frontline need the support of others working in the same field.
We improve the quality of their work with a raft of proven training programmes and we run collaborative programmes with many of the different churches in the city and advocate and work towards a change in practice at the city level – changing the underlying situation of children who live there.
It’s a great privilege to travel with Viva and see local churches and compassionate Christians responding to the needs in their communities in very practical ways. They are the saints working day after day in heart-breaking situations.
At the same time I also see evil. There is no other word to describe it when I see children who have been sexually abused by multiple members of their family – people who should give their lives for these children, not scar their lives.
Or when I see families of 11 who have witnessed husbands and sons shot in front of them and now are forced to live in a small room fashioned from a hen-house.
Or when I see children so devoid of opportunities in life because education has stopped at age 11 and now they literally have nothing to do.
Some of the perpetrators are individuals; a lot is also down to a failing society – at both local and global levels. How else to explain the situation in Syria?
Last month I spent some time in Lebanon where my colleague Kezia is providing specialist child protection training to our partner, LSESD, as it reaches out to thousands of Syrian refugee families.
I saw local Lebanese churches responding to the great needs, setting up makeshift schools that they part-fund themselves, distributing food vouchers, setting up local businesses, showing God’s love.
I also saw so many children without education and so many people who have seen violence first-hand – forced to live in conditions from centuries ago.
I returned from Lebanon with these mixed emotions and the faces of the people I met very much still in my mind. I’m proud that other Christians are responding and wonder how much I would do in their shoes. I hope I would do the same, but who knows until we’re put in that situation. And, to be honest, I feel anger and guilt.
I’m angry that we as humans treat others badly and that our Western, materially-dominated society is not the ideal we should all seek.
It’s also hard not to be angry at God at why there are so many people suffering. How do I square praying that I will get everything done that I need to this week in my comfortable life in the UK when, in the Middle East, children are being abused and their parents shot?
I have to hold onto the fact that from evil, good can and does happen. Viva is using its expertise well in Lebanon and my feeling is that we shouldn’t be afraid of trying to scale it up. It’s amazing to me that the Church is the same everywhere – people who love God are responding – but we also mustn’t shy away from saying to the Western church that money achieves things and those of us with more material resources are called and challenged to give more.
We mustn’t become complacent and must always focus on spending each pound as wisely as possible to help children – children whose faces you don’t forget when you meet them.