250 Million Dreams

by Wess Stafford

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you, like many children, dream of being a fireman or a policeman? Was your goal to become a ballerina perhaps? Maybe you longed to be involved in the ministry. Maybe you're reading this article right now because you are living the dream that you held on to for so many years—leading others to Christ.

Children love to imagine what they will become in the future. For them, the future is a wide-open space of time, full of potential and possibility. That is, for some children. Some don't know how to dream. Imagine that. Imagine not being able to at least hold on to the idea that you will grow up to do something wonderful or exciting someday. That's reality for a lot of children in our world.

Today, half of the world's children live in poverty. And poverty alone can steal dreams. It will force many of them into working at a very young age. Studies estimate that 246 million children are working to provide for their families today. Precious children who should be playing and fantasizing about their futures are instead toiling away every day for pennies.

Child trafficking has become a lucrative, though despicable, underground industry. UNICEF estimates 1.2 million children are illegally trafficked each year. Often, parents are misled into believing that giving their child to strangers may provide a better future for that child. But the reality is that almost all of those children become the victims of unspeakable acts. Ironic, isn't it, that a desperate effort to give a child a future can actually steal it away from him or her?

Every year, 2 million of God's precious children are sexually exploited through pornography or prostitution. The international sex trade industry is fueled by tourists who are willing to travel thousands of miles to satisfy their sick desires and millions of others who scan the Internet for these perverted pleasures.

More than 300,000 children are conscripted to fight in wars for their countries. Adolescent boys, forced to carry weapons and fight for a cause their young minds can't possibly fully understand.

By my count, that's nearly 250 million stolen dreams—250 million children so desperately focused on how they will simply survive today, instead of what tomorrow holds. Tomorrow is too far away to think about. Hope is a luxury they can't afford. My brothers and sisters, how can we stand by and let this happen?

If I may be so bold, we—the church—have a critical role to play. And if we do not take up our God-given role in advocating for these precious children, they will be forever lost to us. For too many years, we have forgotten that we are supposed to be dream builders. We have forgotten the power we have to shape our future by focusing on the importance of children today. There are 250 million dreams waiting to be dreamed and only we—through the grace of God—can do something about it. No government is going to solve this. No single agency can fix all the complex problems facing children today, though many are making great strides. Only the church can stop it. In fact, we have been specifically called to this great task:

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute"  (Prov. 31:8).

For the past 28 years, I've been involved with an organization that has taken that verse to heart. For the last 12, I've had the honor of serving as that organization's president. And if I've learned anything during my time at Compassion International, it's that the only way to bring dreams back to children is by doing it one child at a time. Every one of these children trapped in slavery, prostitution, and war needs a champion—someone who will pray for him/her, someone who will speak up for him/her, someone who will give him/her the opportunity to dream.

We can do that in a number of ways. Get involved in the missions ministry at your church. Volunteer with an organization that focuses on children in poverty. Sponsor a child in poverty. Share your blessings. It may not seem like much but you'll be adding one more faithful voice to those already speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Before long, the voices will be too loud to ignore.

The truth is, the number of children who have lost hope for the future goes way beyond 250 million. There are countless untold stories of children in your own community, your neighborhood, maybe even your own family who have lost their dreams and hope for tomorrow. If we look at the numbers alone, we'll convince ourselves that it's too much. If we try to tackle all of them at once, we'll fall flat on our face. But if we treat each child as the precious individual God sees, we can join forces to defeat poverty and become dream builders. We may not be able to change the world but we can change the world for one child and then one more child and one more and so on.

How can you restore the great lost art of dreaming for a child in your world?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Enter the world of a child. Dress up and have a tea party with your daughter. Join your son as he explores the extra-terrestrial world of your backyard. By entering their world of fantasy, you encourage dreaming.

2.  Bring children into your adult world. Another wonderful way to connect with the children in your life is to bring them along as you go about your daily duties. It may not be as exciting but it's a great opportunity to involve them, to teach them and to build their self-esteem. You can invite a child to tag along as you work on the car or do fix-it jobs around the house. Letting your child help in preparing dinner is a great way to invite him or her into your world.

3.  Merge the two worlds. When the pathways of our lives and our children's lives blend together, when we get into their world and bring them into ours, the result is something called friendship. They'll have a blast helping you do laundry, if you pretend the washing machine is a robot that doesn't eat whites and darks together. You're not mowing the lawn; you're exploring the surface of another planet. Why can't the drive to the grocery store be "sing-along fun time?" Too often, we adults forget how to have fun in our own environment.

All of these little efforts go a long way in telling a child that he or she really matters—to us and to God. When a little boy knows that he matters, he starts to believe that he has something to offer the world. That's the important prerequisite to dreaming. When a little girl believes that she plays a vital role in someone's life, she starts to realize her worth in God's eyes. Then she can start dreaming about her future.

In Jeremiah 29:11, we are told that God knows the plans He has for us—plans for good and not for evil. Without hope the future is nothing but a treadmill of darkness where we plod along, never expecting to get anywhere. God sincerely wants all His children to have a future and a hope. Start involving a child in your life today. I believe there is nothing closer to the heart of God than when you reach out to make one of His precious children feel loved, affirmed, accepted, and ready to dream big.

All figures from UNICEF's State of the World's Children report, 2005.

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