How do you handle a problem so big that it dwarfs every effort, yet so important that the muted voices of millions of helpless children cry out to God and to God's people for succor?
Millions upon uncounted millions of the world's children are at risk, even as you read these words. They are at risk of starvation, at risk of epidemics, at risk of exploitation- some as prostitutes, some as boy soldiers, some as slave labor-and most of all, at risk of dying without Christ.
What can be done? Well, many Christian organizations have long known the need and have buckled down to do what they can. In fact, there are an estimated 20,000 Christian initiatives, which reach millions of children on a daily basis. They do a super job, on the whole, yet because each organization generally works alone, the resources could be stretched further and workers could labor more efficiently in a cooperative effort.
Who Are the Children at Risk?
100 million children spend most of their lives on the street. (UNICEF)
1 million girl children become prostitutes each year. (World Vision, UNICEF)
17 million-plus children die each year of starvation. (United Nations)
200 million children under age 15 are exploited for their labor worldwide. (Child Hope)
From 1984 to 1994, 1.5 million children were killed in wars.
In the same period, 4 million children were disabled, maimed, blinded, or brain-damaged by wars. (Save the Children, 1994)
How do you save so many? In 1991, this question first troubled Patrick McDonald, a young man from Denmark who was working with a mission to street children in Bolivia. He needed to know if other groups were seeking solutions to the same problems he faced. He found many small organizations were laboring alone, hurting from lack of experienced counsel, under-supported financially, and were without much understanding or prayer support from the home front. It became McDonald's goal to bring as many as possible of these organizations together into a cooperative network where they could help each other.
Out of this, Viva emerged. Beginning as a network of Danish missions which worked in Latin America, it became a global network in 1994, with headquarters in England. In 1995 the first "Worldwide Day of Prayer for Children at Risk" was launched. Two years later Viva Network held its first conference for international agencies working with children at risk, and in 1998 the first Cutting Edge conference was held at Ashburnham in South England, as a forum for discussing international childcare issues.
McDonald sees two great needs: the first, of course, is the mission field: the millions of children who are hurting and without hope. The second need is to involve all Christians everywhere in helping to meet this need. "Whether it's knitting jumpers for babies in Bosnia, or filling shoeboxes for the Samaritan's Purse, or being a Big Brother for a thrown-out-of-school child in the United Kingdom, I don't really care. But I desperately care that people do get involved-and that's the message."
That, too, "is why we need a network that is neutral, in the sense that it doesn't sell a product; it's not saying ‘Support my organization, please,' but it's saying, ‘Support this issue. Get involved.'" The goal was and remains to "strengthen the existing work being done and provide a more stable platform for work in the future."
Some of the advantages Viva offers:
Savings on bulk purchases of rice, for example.
Evangelistic summer camps for street children are organized jointly by the network in Manila.
Network coordinators have linked up medical help for projects in Peru, and legal aid for projects in Guatemala.
In Cape Town, four new projects with street children have started in the last year, sparked by training received through the city network.
Part of the solution also seen is a forum for large international organizations called the Council of International Children's Ministries which has been set up to link large missions, such as World Vision, Compassion International, Tear Fund, and AMG International. The goal here is to provide a stronger, more unified voice to the church, and equally to present a unified voice to world governments.
The last word-again McDonald's-is a plea to Christians everywhere: "You can get involved. (Even) the little old lady at 32 Belgrave Terrace with her dog can get involved meaningfully in helping children at risk. It is purely a question of our willingness to do the job and to tackle this task."