This article was originally published in Edition (1) of Prayer Magazine, Autumn 2004.

What images do you conjure up when you hear the words “children at risk”?

Starving babies in Africa? Street children in Brazil?

Around the world, one in four children live in abject poverty and their families survive on less than a dollar a day.

Children at risk may be living on the street, malnourished, sexually exploited, orphaned, forced to work, conscripted to fight as child soldiers…. or suffering in any number of other ways.

The statistics can seem overwhelming, but whilst we find it hard to grasp the scale of these issues, God sees every child and each one is precious to Him.

Our response to the situations we see, needs to be one of prayer, as we bring their needs and their pain before God, and plead for change.

Many are called to bring practical help to these children: the Christian church is the largest single group doing this, committed to making a difference in their lives. Whether or not we have direct contact with children in need, we are all called to pray, knowing that God is faithful to His promises and wants us to ask, seek, and knock – He will respond (Matt 7 v 7).

Consider these scenarios…

Imagine you live in Senegal. You cannot afford to feed your children adequately, and there seems to be no way of earning more money or producing more food from the small patch of land that you own. Like thousands of parents in Senegal, you decide to send one of your daughters to Dakar, the capital city, where she will be able to find work as a domestic servant and send a small amount of money home each month. Your daughter is nine…

In Dakar, young girls work long hours, sleeping in slum shacks at night with other children, away from their family, village and any sense of security. They are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and have no access to education which could help them fulfil their potential and escape from this cycle of poverty.

They are just a few of the 250 million child labourers worldwide whose childhood has been cut short by the need to keep themselves and their families alive with the few extra coins they can earn each day.

13.4 million children have already been orphaned by AIDS… by 2010, this figure will have doubled, creating a crisis of unknown proportions for the communities in which these children live.

Already, it is common to see a grandmother in her eighties caring for all 15 of her grandchildren, as their parents have died from the disease. When the extended family cannot take in these children, they often have to fend for themselves in households where the oldest takes care of the youngest… They grow up with no-one to protect and care for them, deprived of their emotional and material needs, and at risk of abuse and neglect.

They struggle with responsibilities which are beyond them, and are unlikely to have access to health-care or education, making them all the more vulnerable.

In Northern Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels regularly abduct children as slaves and soldiers. Over the last two decades, they have taken thousands of children from their homes, forcing them to fight and kill, and often murder their own families and peers.

The raids on villages are so frequent, that at night, children from rural areas converge on towns where they sleep in safe houses together, before returning to their homes the next day.

These so-called ‘night commuters’ live in fear for their lives… even children who are rescued or manage to escape from their captors can end up being kidnapped again as the rebel soldiers return to seize new “recruits” for their campaign of violence.

There are estimated to be 300,000 child soldiers around the world, who can be as young as five years old when an AK-47 is placed in their hands and they are taught to kill. Who knows how they will ever recover from their experiences and learn to be a child again…

These snapshots represent a tiny proportion of the risks faced by children worldwide, but hopefully give a glimpse of their lives and their pain. As we read the Bible, we begin to see God’s heart for them in the countless examples of His love and care for children and the vulnerable. He is a “Father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68v5), and in James1 v 27, demonstrates the priority He places on them by telling us that pure and faultless religion is “to look after orphans and widows in their distress”.

When the disciples tried to turn away the children seeking Jesus’ attention, he rounded on them, saying, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19v14).

Children are to be welcomed, cared for and brought to a place where they can know God as their Father, healer and protector. Each one is made in His image and infinitely valuable to Him. We are called to have the same deep compassion for them as God, and to act so that His will is done in their lives.

Action is being taken on behalf of the children through local churches, NGOs and governments, who in different ways are all aiming to bring relief and turn around the seemingly hopeless situations we see played out in the nations of the world.

Viva Network is a global movement of Christians who believe that each child should have the opportunity to become all that God intends for them, and it brings together Christians working for children at risk to begin to achieve this. It aims to increase the help given to children, improve the standard of their care and enable projects to be more effective advocates for them.

Frequently, childcare workers feel isolated, and are unaware of others in their area who are doing similar work amongst children. By setting up local networks of Christian projects for children at risk, these workers are able to support each other, learn from each other’s experience, avoid duplication of work, and receive training and prayer support. As a united group of children’s ministries with a joint voice, networks can also campaign more effectively for children in their area than as individual, smaller groups.

Working in 43 countries through 66 network initiatives, Viva Network directly impacts the lives of 160,000 children. Rather than setting up new projects for children, it builds up networks to help existing ones to do more and be more effective in their ministry to children at risk.

As a neutral facilitator, it can bring together groups that would previously not have worked together. We are the body of Christ, with different gifts and abilities, intended by God to work together (1 Corinthians 12). As the vast majority of projects supporting children at risk close within two years of opening, this support and linking of ministries is vitally important if children are to receive the help that they need.

Prayer is central to all of Viva Network’s work, and to our efforts to help children at risk. It cannot be seen as an added extra or given a supporting role, as we need to recognise that only in God’s power and strength can we hope to bring change in their lives. Faced with the needless deaths of 30,000 children every day from preventable diseases, or the sexual exploitation of around a million children every year, we can only turn to God, who reminds us that “all things are possible” with Him (Mark 10v27).

We have a biblical mandate to pray for children at risk. One example of this is in Lamentations 2v19: “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin: pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to Him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street”. The pain of these children is something that must affect us so deeply that we cannot help but pray for them with commitment and desperation. We cannot ignore their problems because God does not. He calls us to be like Him and to have His heart of compassion for them. We need to pray, believing that, “if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7v14).

Throughout the Bible, we see time and time again how God uses children for His purposes and as an example to us as adults. Children are a key part of God’s plan. He uses a young boy, David, to defeat Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, demonstrating His power and how He uses the weak of the world to shame the strong… He calls Samuel as a child to prophecy to Israel (1 Samuel 3)… And Jesus teaches us about humility and childlike faith in Matthew 18v3, when He states that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

Children at risk are more than simply victims needing us to physically rescue them from the circumstances which harm them in the world. God loves to show them His fatherly love and to bring them into His Kingdom, making them victors over their situations by His power. Children’s trusting faith is a model for us, and their prayers are precious to God.

Viva Network facilitates the World Wide Day of Prayer for Children at Risk each year, and we have consistently seen that children themselves make up the largest group of those praying on the day. These children are often at risk themselves, and are crying out to God for others like them… and more and more groups worldwide are seeking to raise up children and equip them to pray. This June, over a thousand children gathered to pray in Ecuador on the World Wide Day of Prayer for Children at Risk, joining with the participants of a conference on children and their needs that had taken place in the preceding week. At an event endorsed by senators and ambassadors from America, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Nigeria in Washington DC, children of the National Children’s Prayer Network met at the Nigerian Embassy to pray, find out about children at risk and worship God… Similar prayer events united thousands of other children in prayer on 5th June, as well as adult meetings, and regional and national events.

Next year is the 10th World Wide Day of Prayer for Children at Risk, and we long to see more people than ever before interceding for children. Throughout the year, we publish a quarterly prayer diary to guide your prayers for suffering children, as well as weekly updates for those who wish to support the Viva Network Facilitation Team in prayer. Have a look at Viva Network’s website, (www.viva.org) for details of how you could get involved – join us in praying and lifting up our hands to God for the lives of these children.

Isaiah 58 describes the true fast as “to loose the chains of injustice… set the oppressed free… share your food with the hungry…” Children around the world desperately need us to put those words into action. The millions of children at risk are clearly a priority for God and a challenge to us. Will you make them your priority, seeking to bring transformation in their lives through prayer?

Cathryn Hall

Prayer Mobiliser

Viva Network

Email: chall@viva.org

Website: www.viva.org


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