“A death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic,” -Josef Stalin
What would happen if a four-year-old boy in your neighborhood died of measles? An investigation reveals that mom couldn’t afford doctor’s office visits. In fact, she is struggling to put food on the table for her four children, all of whom are malnourished. Local news channels pick up the story and find that the children’s father died three years ago. The woman worked odd jobs where she could, often leaving the children home alone. None went to school because they were embarrassed by their worn clothes and shoes. They share one bed, partially to stay warm at night.You could bet that the neighbors and people from all over would jump into action. Offers of new homes, jobs for the mother, and school scholarships would flood in. Truckloads of money, food, and clothes would arrive. Politicians would vow to make vaccines free to every child.
In real life, over 26,000 children died yesterday because they are poor. Their poverty prevented them from receiving vaccinations and medications that could have saved them. Many drank contaminated water and food because that was all there was for them. Cold weather, hot sun, and floods killed some who did not have adequate clothing or shelter.Today, 26,000 more children will die. Tomorrow and the day after that, it will happen again. More than a million innocent children will be dead before the end of 2014 because they are trapped in a poverty cycle.
You know what else happened yesterday? Some little kid got her hand stuck in a fence. I know this because the story was on the Florida television news station I get down here. The fire department had to cut the fence to free her and praise God that she is okay. There was no mention of the 26,000 children who died the same day.
A news producer in New York once said that “a firefighter in Brooklyn is worth five British bobbies who are worth 50 Arabs who are worth 500 Africans.” It is a terrible equation, but undoubtedly true. We simply empathize better with someone closer to home; someone we have a connection with. A cute local kid with her hand stuck in a fence is better for ratings than 26,000 dying children we can’t relate to.
Visiting short term mission groups get to meet some of the at-risk children up close. First-time visitors are usually overwhelmed by the experience. There are hugs and tears. Sometimes they make a particularly strong connection with one or two children and try to send them Christmas presents or money. It is a life-changing experience for most. But I recently had a discussion with someone who devotes a load of time and money to the children of Guatemala. We spoke about orphans and AIDS and food distribution and pure water. I mentioned Africa and was shocked to hear this dedicated missionary bluntly say, “They have their own issues over there. They’re not my problem.”
Even with air travel, television and the internet enabling the Global Community, it seems we have to pull people out of their cocoons to personally meet the poor and destitute before they will recognize they exist. This is not what Jesus had in mind when he taught us to love our brothers and to care for the poor, widowed and orphaned. The story of the Good Samaritan explains to us that our neighbors include everybody in the world, not just those we normally interact with. Jesus does not view the children of India differently than children in the United States. He does not love children in Africa any differently than those in Central America or the Far East. Neither should we.
But out of sight is out of mind. If we truly aren’t aware of something, we can’t feel bad or act on it. The sad thing is that many of us “aren’t aware” because we are good at positioning blinders around us. We scan a newspaper and see a picture of a village in Africa or a poor Cambodian family and decide to turn the page without reading the story. For days we are mesmerized by the pictures of destruction after the Indonesian tsunami, but a month later we pass over an advertisement asking for donations to the area.
The news media knows what we do and don’t want to hear. Too much negative makes us change the channel. Recently I watch a news item about how great the war on AIDS is going in Africa. Various organizations reported about the millions of doses of antiviral drugs delivered in 2013 and how some parents are living long enough to raise their children. I kept waiting for the “but” when they would show the millions of AIDS orphans or point out the large swaths of Africa where the anti-virals aren’t yet available. It never came.
Facts don’t change because we choose not to deal with them. Jesus came to us and charged us with caring for the poor. Ignoring them does not fit with His instructions. When Jesus calls us in to judge us, I do not want to hear that I saw Him hungry and didn’t feed Him; that I saw him naked and didn’t offer my shirt; that I saw Him thirsty and didn’t share my drink. Do you?
YOU need to get involved. If you can’t visit the poor where they are, find an organization working somewhere and support them however you can. If you have the means to go on a short term mission trip, make that trip! It will be an eye-opening and blessed time for you. But we all need to do something.
Children are dying; God’s children…our brothers and sisters.