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The role of the church in advancing the cause of children and the vulnerable; A call to greater advocacy

Lenny Mugisha

The church as an institution plays a fundamental role in society. The church is not only a symbol of a ray of hope to its members, but it is also a unifying factor; bringing people together for one cause. This cause majorly hinges on the fact that the members of the church are sojourning towards the same destination; they are all heaven bound. Being in the world, the church has a lateral link to the world. Jesus understood very well that the church and the world will always be linked as the church comes from the world, and they influence each other continually. He said “you are in the world but not of the world”. The “called out ones”, the church, are in the world but not of it. They live in the world though governed by rules of “another world” John 17:14-16. The church and the world represent two systems calling for a relationship as in any partnership. It is this link that calls us to rethink ways of the interaction of these two societies in order to make this world a better place.

Our communities face problems ranging from moral deprivation, crime, drugs, broken and dysfunctional marriages, sexual immorality, poverty, etc. that need addressing. If not dealt with, firstly, these problems will not only inevitably affect the church but also the world. Secondly, failing to deal with the evil that affects our communities is a failure to be true to the calling of the church itself –that of being the salt and the light of the world.

But who is the church?Aiden Wilson Tozer’s classical figurative expressionputs it thus “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.”

Simply put, the church is me and you. Ironically, most people refer to the church as the physical structural building. However, the sad reality is that it is not the magnificence of the building that qualify it as a church. On the contrary, the church are the people that congregate to commune with God. If as people we commit to Christ, we will then by default commit to church. The reverse however is true of most church goers of our time, they commit to church, leaving Christ at the periphery. The church has thus ended up with thousands of committed pew warmers that have never known Christ in their lives. Without Christ, the church is but an irrelevant body to its members.

Children take a special place in the eyes of God. The Bible refers to children as gifts from God, their innocence and vulnerability are at His heart beat. Jesus in the New Testament likens the kingdom of God for such as children. It is amazing what the discovery would be if we launched out to establish how the world and the church view children. Every passing day we witness stories of children whose innocence and vulnerability is taken advantage of by the cruel world in which they live. When countries get into political turmoil culminating into any form of unrest we are sure that it will be children who will be most affected. Children continue to suffer at the hands of their tormentors because they are not able to fight back. Is it only the world that has been blinded to see the value of children? Sadly not! When the church becomes silent on pertinent issues that affect children, it is more or less an accomplice in child neglect/abuse.

What then can the church do in advancing the cause of children and the vulnerable? The church can definitely do so much to change the status quo. The church, in its mission mandate should reach out to children, breaking the barriers that stand in their access to the knowledge of Christ and His saving power. For any church that still ignores children in its programming or looks at them as an inconvenience during the service, the bitter truth is that such a church has no future. Children are not only an asset for today but an assurance for tomorrow. The church must also spearhead the preservation of the innocence of children. Sadly today, children are deprived of an innocent childhood. Children are exposed to pornography, violence, crime, sexual abuse at a tender age, stealing their innocence. The church must speak up against the lost innocence.

The church also occupies an enviable place of authority, influencing both the communal and governance domains. The church in a bid to project the voice of the vulnerable, already has a platform of authority which can bear tremendous results if put to optimal use. When the church speaks, the voice is heard. The church has the power to influence public discourse, influence policy making and challenge selfish governance decisions. The question however remains if the church knows the power it welds and how it has put it to use.

Poverty is a common problem in Uganda but Compassion is working to change this. The Uganda statistics on poverty tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. With the supporters/ sponsors’ involvement, our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time. The church has a bigger platform to reach even more than these figures. How it responds to this challenge has far reaching effects. As the church deliberately ministers to children, it is core that the right people are brought on board. The already shattered children’s lives need someone that will bandage their wounds, not one that comes to snatch even the little hope they have. They have encountered the effects of vulnerability first hand, they don’t need someone that will remind them of their blurred destiny. Is it the Sunday school teacher, church priest or cleaner at church; they all should represent a tower in which children run and are safe. The sanctity and dignity of the church, must be jealously preserved, that even when every other institution loses its credibility, the church will remain firmly trusted.

The church can speak hope in the seemingly hopeless situations of the vulnerable. This is all they need; to cling on with hope for a better tomorrow irrespective of what they could be going through today. It is the church’s responsibility to ensure that children are led the right way – to Jesus. The ultimate truth is that it is only Jesus who can shield that orphaned child barely trying to survive yet hoping against hope that one day their story will change.

The time for the church to be at the frontline of the children and vulnerable is now. I urge the church to arise and respond to this challenge for the matter is in its hands, Ezra 10:4.

“What the Church needs to-day is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men, men of prayer.”- E. M. Bounds

More than the sermons, big strategic plans, magnificent buildings, children and the vulnerable need to be at the heart of every church because children represent the icon of tomorrow. The church is currently doing a good job in advocacy, I urge us not to settle for good or better. If we could all purpose to do the best within our means to advocate for children and the vulnerable, the current statistics that illuminate a state of hopelessness would drastically change. The church, with its God given mandate and divine position, is in the best place to spearhead this campaign.

The writer is the National Director, Compassion International Uganda

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