How much obligation should a Christian feel to take care of those in dire circumstances? What if it means going against political grain or giving up personal comfort? With recent news reports and debates, the topic of global poverty and hardship is quite apparent…yet it can also be quickly ignored in many respects, until it intersects with our own bubble of environment. It’s easy to turn a blind eye on suffering if it does not seem to directly impact our personal concerns. Teens especially tend to live with rather egocentric attitudes, and in our culture they often have trouble imagining or looking to aid the world outside their spheres of existence.
So how much should we care? How should we handle things like the refugee crisis and the fears it brings up? As youth workers, it’s essential to expand awareness of the human need around us, and also to communicate our God-given role of compassion. There are some simple but meaningful methods that we can implement to open up conversations about important (and sometimes controversial) topics.
Consider some facts about the state of modern poverty and refugee status:
- We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.
- An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
- There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.
- More than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Several million people remain displaced because of natural disasters, although updated statistics are not available.
- Major refugee populations include Palestinians (4.8 million), Afghans (2.9 million), Iraqis (1.8 million), Somalis (700,000), Congolese (456,000), Myanmarese (407,000), Colombians (390,000), Sudanese (370,000).
- Based on the updated poverty line of $1.90 a day, World Bank projections suggest that global poverty may have reached 700 million, or 9.6 percent of the global population, in 2015.
- Globally, 1.2 billion people (22 percent) live on less than $1.25 a day. Increasing the income poverty line to $2.50 a day raises the global income poverty rate to about 50 percent, or 2.7 billion people.
- Among the poor living on less than $1.25 per day, just under half have electricity.
- Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia account for about 80 percent of the global poor and 81 percent of all child deaths in the world.
- Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 43 percent of the global poor.
- Thirty percent of the world’s extremely poor live in India.
- Almost three-fifths of the world’s extreme poor are concentrated in just five countries: Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, and Nigeria.
- A third of all poor in the developing world are children 0–12 years.
- Indigenous peoples make up about 5 percent of the world’s population but some 15 percent of the world’s poor.
- In developing countries (where 92 percent of children live) 7 in 100 children will not survive beyond age 5.
- In developing countries nearly half of all mothers and newborns do not receive skilled care during and immediately after birth.
- Up to two thirds of newborn deaths can be prevented if known, effective health measures are provided at birth and during the first week of life.
- Every day, 800 women die from causes related to pregnancy, childbirth, or postpartum. Most maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
And what should our attitude be?
Before we bring up the question of poverty responsibility with youth, we ought to examine it ourselves and understand what the Bible has to say. When we look at Old and New Testament principles, it is clear that God has a heart for the wandering and lost. In fact, being out of place is rather a theme in many ways; we see a sense of “lost-ness” in many situations…for example (just to name a few), remember:
- The nomadic lifestyle of the early people of God (like Abraham)
- Displacement of Israelites in Egypt and subsequent desert wandering
- Ruth left her people and went with Naomi as a Moabite outsider
- Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego etc. in Babylonian captivity
- The homeless habits of early disciples or missionaries, even John the Baptist
- The Apostle Paul and his wandering missionary lifestyle (sometimes on the run)
- Early Christians exiled and persecuted
- John sent to island of Patmos
- Life of Jesus: fled to Egypt with Mary and Joseph at a young age; often wandered (Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” –Matthew 8:20)
In response to this indication that we should indeed take care of those around us, we can understand that we ought to communicate this responsibility to our youth, as well. There are several creative ways that this can happen, but the essential emphasis is to open the eyes of teens to the great need around the world. Allow them to share potential views and opinions, but share the universal job of God’s people to love and serve those around us. The above statistics and stories can spark and engage conversations to a degree, but at a point it is also important to encourage action. For Bible studies and activities, consider such elements as…
- Have meager lunch options like ramen noodles or rice, to remind students of suffering and encourage appreciation for our abundance. For extra engagement, host a “tent night” lock-in or fasting vigil event to pray for refugees and all around the world.
- Sponsor a child overseas, and have students pitch in to cover the monthly expenses.
- Adopt a country in need and learn as much as possible about it.
- Get in touch with local agencies that provide aid to refugees, and help provide supplies, services, or donations.
- Invite research and discussion on all sides of debate over caring for refugees.
- Find local international students or visitors who can answer questions and discuss experiences.
- Identify local services and systems that provide aid to refugees and get involved with them.
Whatever you choose, approach all lessons and activities with prayer, knowing that God will provide wisdom and blessing when we work in His name.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) offers many resources and information that may be useful.