“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27) Local businessmen in Brazil call them “vermin.” Garbage. “If we let them grow up, they will be criminals, a blight on our society.” There are an estimated twelve million homeless children on the streets of Brazil. Their parents lost them in the crowds, put them out, died. However they got there, they are there. They beg, they steal, they sell their bodies. They eat garbage. They start scared and end scarred, hard, and dead.
Some policemen and others moonlight by contracting to kill street children so that they will not menace the city. In 1992 an average of four hundred of these children were killed monthly in Brazil. It’s the same in other big cities. The Philippine government estimates that there are fifteen thousand child prostitutes in Manila between the ages of nine and twelve. One estimate suggests that in Thailand there are eight hundred thousand girls between twelve and sixteen years old involved in prostitution.
Is your first thought merely human? Like, “If I can barely rear my own children to walk worthy of the gospel, what hope would there be to change the lives of these street kids?” Or, “If it takes ten thousand dollars’ worth of Christian counseling to stabilize a mature American Christian who was sexually abused, what in the world would we do with thousands of adolescents who knew nothing but abuse and lawlessness and violence on the streets?” Do you find yourself looking (in good American fashion) at the bottom line and saying, “The turnaround on this investment would not be good”? Or, “The growth potential in planting churches among street kids is not very great. There are too many obstacles.”
Shift your thinking a minute (or a lifetime). What about the widow who put in her last two pennies? Jesus said she gave more than anyone (Luke 21:3). What about John the Baptist who lost his head on a dancer’s whim and never did a miracle? Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John” (Matthew 11:11, RSV). What about the poor in spirit? Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. What about the meek? They inherit the earth. What about those who receive one child in the name of Jesus? At that moment they receive God (Mark 9:37). What effect does it have on your longings when you think that God says true religion is to visit orphans (James 1:27)?
The effect it has on me is to make me want to love like Jesus loved and not always be thinking of the earthly payoff. Face it. A few kids are cute, but most street kids will be thankless, rude, dirty, diseased, scar-faced, shifty-eyed, lice-infested, suspicious, smelly, and have rotten teeth. If we minister mainly for the earthly payoff, we will burn out in a year.
Jesus did not say, “True religion is converting orphans.” He did not say, “True religion is making orphans mature and successful adults.” He said, “True religion is visiting orphans.” Results are God’s business alone. Obedience is ours by His grace. More specifically, by faith in future grace. Perhaps when we grasp this, we will be freed from our earthbound way of thinking and released to minister to the ones who are least likely to thank us.
Originally published by Desiring God Ministries, June 2, 1993