Children Are the Great imitators

by Wess Stafford

Oh what a time we live in! Just about everything and anything we could possibly want in this world is available at the tips of our fingers. Many people will look at that statement and say, "Yes, isn't it wonderful?" Others will say, "Yes, and it has corrupted us to the core." I tend to be somewhere in the middle. I think it's great that so much is at our disposal nowadays. But, as with all good things, we must learn to avoid over-indulgence especially to the point of dependency. We should also, as the Bible points out hundreds of times, take our abundance and learn to give to those who do not have.

Nineteenth century evangelist Frank Buchman once said, "There is enough in the world for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed." I don't think many people fully comprehend the truth of that statement. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says the earth can produce enough food to provide over 2,700 calories a day to every person on our planet. More than enough. Yet malnutrition kills more than 6 million children every year. Every eight seconds, a child dies from a disease borne by a lack of clean water. It would be one thing if there just wasn't enough to go around. But there is. More than enough. We just need to learn to be better stewards of what we do have.

I worry that our children today don't understand the importance of giving. And why should they? We, as a society, haven't done a very good job of setting the example. In this day and age, children have more money and material possessions than our grandparents did in their prime. It's a prosperous time to be a child in America. Parents work hard, often putting in more hours than they wish, and assuage their misgivings by spending money on their kids.

As a result, fully one-third of all 13-year-olds in this country now own a cell phone. So do four percent of their kid brothers and sisters who are only 10. Three out of five American teen bedrooms now have their own television. Studies show that these kids watch five and a half more hours of television per week than if they had to use the set in the family room. Food to munch along the way is available in abundance, of course, which is part of the reason we have an explosion of obesity among youths in the United States. We teach them "Get getget." But do we spend nearly as much effort to teach them to give?

Last Christmas, I heard a television news report that the average American family spends nearly 300 dollars per child for holiday gifts. That may not seem like a lot of money to some of us, but what struck me about it is that, in many of the countries where Compassion works, the family doesn't bring in $300 in an entire year. Imagine having to work as a construction worker or assembly line worker in a factory, 10 hours a day, five days a week for an entire year just to earn the equivalent of what one American child gets under the Christmas tree. What's worse, many of the toys unwrapped on Christmas day are tossed aside after only a few weeks as our children set their sights on the newest fad, fully expecting to get it.

Our greed and expectance of abundance make me worry for our country. Have we gotten to the point where we are so reliant on material happiness that we forgot where true joy comes from? Read the histories of civilizations. You can tell a society is nearing its ultimate collapse when it is consumed with comfort, pleasure, and entertainmentwhen it no longer feels it needs anything from God, the Creator. Sound familiar? For the Greeks, Romans, Incas, Aztecs, and soon perhaps Western civilization, the path has been the same.

Now is the time to teach our children that it truly is better to give than to receive. You may think this concept is too hard for a child to grasp. I would argue that it's much easier for a child to understand than for an adult. Children have an amazing ability to absorb. A recent public service announcement on television tells us, "Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate." I couldn't agree more. If we, as grown-ups, let our children see us giving, they will learn to give. If they see us sharing, they will learn to share. If our children see us represent Christ to the poor and those less fortunate, they will do the same. We have an opportunity to change our country, perhaps our country's future, by instilling these Christ-like qualities in our children. Not someday, today. Not when they're grown up but while the cement of their spirits is still wet and easily shaped.

In the heart of Guatemala City, there is a large garbage dump. It's at least two square miles of rotting rubble and waste. It may sound difficult to believe, but there are at least two dozen families that live in the dump. I don't mean that they live next to the dump; they literally live in the dump. Their homes are made of whatever pieces they can scrounge together to put a "roof" over their heads. Every month or so, they are forced to move to another section of the dump as a bulldozer plows its way through their "homes."

Many years ago, one of the girls growing up in that dump joined our Compassion project. She broke our hearts. Aury was a beautiful young girl whose clothes were the throw-away rags she dug out of the trash. Her family was too poor to buy or even rent a home. She attended a local public school, where she was ridiculed daily for smelling like trash. She couldn't even afford a spiral notebook for her homework. In fact, her mother would rifle through old notebooks she'd find in the dump, with the hopes that there would be one or two blank pages left in them. After she had gathered enough pages, Aury's mother would use string to tie them together. It was the only way her family could afford to give Aury paper for her homework and classroom needs.

Once she joined the project, Compassion provided clothing, food, basic health needs, tutoring and, yes, school supplies for Aury.  She also learned about Jesus and how He loves her so much. She learned that God doesn't make worthless people, even if they are forced to live in a garbage dump. She found hope. Today, through the support of sponsors and caring project workers and volunteers, Aury is attending college, pursuing a degree in business. She has been given an opportunity that her family never dreamed of. And she wants to give back.

"When I graduate from university," she says, "I want to go back to my old neighborhood and open a bookstore. I want the poor children to have a place where they can get books and supplies for school." Aury is becoming a great imitator of those who gave so much to her.

Before we can mold the hearts of our children into the shape of givers, we ourselves have to become such. My prayer is that you will find an opportunity this week to model giving to a child. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or at the Boys and Girls Club. Get involved with the children's ministry at your church. Help a family down the street with whatever needs they have and take a child with you. By modeling giving to one child, you can affect an entire neighborhood, city, country—perhaps even the world. Children are indeed great imitators. It is up to us to give them something great to imitate. Not someday: today.

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad