I just finished a book called "There are No Children Here, the story of two boys growing up in the other America" by Alex Kotlowitz. This is not normally the type of book that I read (I usually stick to history books) but I knew this was an area where my viewpoint needed to be expanded. I was raised by and still very much believe in the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" principle. I believe that through hard work and good choices, most Americans can do just about anything they set their minds to. There are thousands of stories from before the founding of our country up to present day that back up that principle. (Interestingly enough, the book that I've chosen to read next is "Driven" by Donald Driver, and his life is definitely an example of this). The opportunities that Americans have are almost unprecedented in the world.
But it's easy for me to believe this. I was born into a white, two parent, middle class family who taught morality, valued education, and pushed us to succeed. I was not exposed to drugs or drinking, poverty, rampant immorality, or violence. That is not everyone's story. And while I still truly believe that it's possible for a person to work their way out of poverty and make a better life for themself, I know that I need to have my eyes opened to what it's truly like to be born into horrible circumstances. This book really helped to open my eyes. It didn't, however, make me change my mind about the bootstrap principle. It just made me realize how difficult it is for some people. These two young boys, 7 and 10, were surrounded by drugs and violence. Growing up in the projects in inner city Chicago, all they knew was what they saw around them. It was difficult for them to believe that they didn't have to join a gang and sell drugs. Many children were pulled into gangs, even when they didn't want to be, and selling drugs brought in money. They didn't know that they shouldn't start fathering children at 14 years old. Almost all the young people they saw around them had 3 or 4 children by the time they graduated high school... IF they graduated high school. They despaired of ever getting out of the projects and with the violence that almost daily erupted around them, many times they despaired of even living past their childhood years. They saw their friends, children, killed by stray bullets when the gangs would start fighting. What was the point of working hard in school if they didn't even believe they'd be alive at 18 or 20?
My heart was broken as I read this book. Parts of it were very difficult to get through. And although I think there are things the government should be doing to help alleviate the suffering of those who are in poverty, the answer is not the government. The government has had a "war on poverty" for decades now and poverty is still winning. No, the answer is Jesus. The answer is God's people, the church, being motivated by the Holy Spirit, rolling up their sleeves and going to work to help those who are suffering. This has always been the answer. For some, this will mean working with their church body to provide food and clothes for the homeless (I have an amazing uncle who does this with his church). For others, it will mean going to teach in inner city schools. Some will be called to pastor churches in the inner city. Some will be called to adopt orphans out of poverty. Some of us will be called to hire those who can't find a job and give them a chance at a better life. Others will be a role model, a big brother or sister, for children in vulnerable situations, to show them a different way of life. There are those who will be police officers, risking their lives to protect the innocent; lawyers and judges, who will bring justice; journalists, who will shed light on what life is really like for these people; and social workers, who daily have to carry the burden of not being able to fix bad situations and broken children.
The call to help the vulnerable, to defend the widow and orphan, is put on all of us who claim the name of Jesus. It is not an option. But as we face the reality of what Jesus has done for us, going to the cross and bearing the weight of our sins, what He has called us to seems small in comparison.