Many consider street children to be trash. Local businessmen in Brazil call them ‘vermin’ and ‘garbage’. They say, ‘If we let them grow up they will become criminals — a blight on our society’. From time to time some have even hired assassins to kill them.
A staggering 160 million extremely underprivileged street children struggle to survive in the world’s largest urban centres. In Manila alone there are an estimated 100,000; and one million throughout the Philippines.
Some are young and cute and can still smile. Most are older, with rotten teeth and scarred faces. They are disease-ridden, flea- and lice-infested, shifty-eyed, suspicious and fearful. They are the poor, the outcast, the abandoned and exploited. They exist by begging, stealing, eating out of garbage cans and selling their bodies.
Many are sold into prostitution, some as young as four. It is estimated that at least 20,000 and possibly up to 60,000 children are engaged in prostitution in one Asian country — many living on the streets!
I was sick recently, but had a bed to sleep on in a comfortable room near a window with fresh air. The bathroom was nearby and provided running water and clean fixtures. My wife took care of me with soup and medicine. What do street children do when they are sick? Where do they sleep? Who cares for them?
Sadly, street children are bypassed by many relief, evangelistic and church-planting agencies. It is expensive to work with them. They lack the appeal needed for a sponsorship program — and they don’t make good church members!
However, God’s Word teaches that we should reach everyone with the gospel, whatever race or level of society they are from and regardless of their ethnic background or age. The apostle Paul wrote, ‘… Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man [including street children] and teaching every man [including the 10-year-old prostitute in Manila or Bangkok] in all wisdom, so that we may present every man [including street and underprivileged children] perfect in Christ Jesus’ (Colossians 1:27-28).
Each church, mission and Christian should remember street children — pray for them, send help for them, and even go to them. In Zambia I was asked to encourage older men from the West to serve as missionaries with street children — because AIDS has killed off so many fathers and grandfathers that the children have no grown men in their lives.
This Herculean ministry cannot be limited to those with a natural affinity and love for children. The need is so massive that it simply cannot be met by a few children’s workers. Church and mission leaders need to pray and plan aggressively to reach them all, not just a few. For ‘the Lord is … not wishing that any should perish’ (2 Peter 3:9).