Mercy Hope: How did your childhood form who you are today, and directly prepare you to become the President and CEO of Compassion International? And is that something that you talk about in your book, Too Small To Ignore?
Dr. Wess Stafford: In Too Small to Ignore, I talk about the culmination of, not only my boyhood, but also what I am doing now in ministry. I wrote the book Too Small to Ignore and I named it Too Small to Ignore because in this world, which is very different from the Kingdom that we belong to, it is only big things that matter. Its only powerful things that matter. It is all about “how much do you have?” But there are things in this world that I maintain that are just too small to ignore, and that’s the little part of the Kingdom. Our Kingdom is completely upside down. I don’t know why we even pretend that we belong to this world, but for us the first are last, and the last are first. The weak are strong, and the strong are weak. The rich are often the poor, and the poor are in many ways rich. And in this case, the little are, in fact, big.
So, I wrote the book Too Small to Ignore: Why Children are the Next Big Thing, and the point is that they make up half of our world today. They are the poor half of our world – the poorest half of our world – and yet they hold in their hands the whole future of the world. And they are easy to ignore. They don’t vote, so they get passed up by most of our political processes. They don’t tithe – or if they do, it is just pennies – and they get passed up even by our missions and our Churches. They rarely get on the agenda. Proverbs 31 says speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. So this book essentially is a book that speaks up on behalf of the little ones. And the argument is that they are too small to ignore.
Much of the book is auto-biographical. When I was too small to ignore, I recognize that even at that time I was sort of Compassion’s “President-in-training.” I see children through a whole different filter than most people I know. Any time I see a little four or five-year-old go by, the question that crosses my mind is, “So, what is God up to there?” “What is that little one on their way to becoming?” When I was that small, God was training me to be President of Compassion. He allowed me to be raised as the son of missionary parents in a little, tiny, remote African village in the Ivory Coast. So my sister and I were the only white children for a day’s drive in any direction. I was literally raised by this village. They had a saying, “It takes the whole village to raise a child.” So, all of us children belonged to all of the grown-ups. My only problem was the skin was the wrong color. But I never fell down without an African woman swooping in and picking me up and drying my eyes.
I didn’t get away with much because for one thing, my skin stood out. They used to say, “Well, it was a whole group of the village boys that stampeded the goats, and in the dust we don’t know who all they were. But we know the white guy was one of them.” I used to pray every night, I would get in my little cot and say, “Lord, please, if you love me when I wake up in the morning, let me be black like all my friends.” And every morning, the first thing I would do is throw the cover off and say, “Ahh! Still white.”
But, it was shaping my heart. I tell people, most of my values – what really makes me up – come right out of a poverty-stricken village. Everything I need to know to lead Compassion’s world-wide ministry, I learned from the poor. Things that really matter. Things that you all would know about. Things like love. We did not have much else to give one another in that poverty-stricken village, but we always had love. Nobody went without love. Nobody died alone. They died in someone’s arms. They taught me about joy. That joy is a decision. It is not dictated by circumstances. It is a very courageous decision to be joyful in the midst of whatever circumstances. And hope. Hope. We tend to be hopeful here when things are going our way. Things are never going the way of the poor. Yet they have this amazing hope, and trust in one another and in God. They taught me about how to give, and how to receive. They taught me that if God made you strong it is not about you, it is for those who are weak. If God made you brave, it is not for you to escape danger, it is for you to be there for those who are weak and intimidated and frightened.
So, I was nestled in this village, my heart being shaped to be compassionate. Coming to understand poverty like very few people I know who lead organizations. So many Presidents of poverty relief and development organizations can spout the statistics of how many children die every day of preventable things. And I listen to them and say, “How can you say that without tears in your eyes?” For me they are not statistics. They are friends. I know their names. I not only know how many children die, I know who tends to die. And who tends to die are the best among us. I had little friends who died who gave their food away. I had friends who died giving their Malaria medicine to someone that they thought needed it more than they did. I had friends die in my arms when I was six years old, because they were bitten by a poisonous snake and our nearest hospital was a day’s drive away. This kind of bite could kill you in thirty minutes. All we could do was love one another to death. And, when you have held a little buddy and had them die in your arms, you don’t go on being the same kind of person.
So, ultimately, God was shaping my heart to care about the poor. When I think about the poor, I don’t even subtly think downward toward the poor. I actually think upward toward the poor. I tell our staff around the world, “You need to earn the right to even be around these people. God gave you two ears and one mouth – probably so you would use them in about that proportion. Twice as much listening as talking.” So I can look back at my path and see that God was orchestrating who I was to become, and what I was to be.
This book goes into some of what it was to grow up in a little, African village. Some of it was very funny; some of it was very sad. By the time I was 15 and came to America, I had lost about half of my friends. Every night the drums would play a funeral service for the children. They would die, and we would bury them within twenty four hours. I used to lie in my little bunk at night and listen to the drums playing again the story of one of my friends. That is how we communicated. The story of one of my friends; what they had wanted to be, kind things they had done. And this little white guy would lay in my cot and cry myself to sleep, night after night after night.
Finally, I am 15 and I came to America. This book actually begins with my first day in America. The first thing I saw in America was Manhattan. You talk about complete culture shock! And the first American I met was a New York cabbie who basically took all of the values that the village had taught me and destroyed them in about 15 minutes. Time was everything was time to him, and I had learned that time should be your servant, not your master. Time was everything. Whether he had to stop for this traffic light or not was everything to him. I had never even seen a traffic light. I discovered that there were a million things to make you angry. I discovered that he wasn’t waving happily to the people out the window. Later on, I learned that there are ways to wave that are not nice.
One of my first days in America, I took a walk around the block. We were staying at the center established for returning missionaries. I walked into a grocery store, and I saw all this food – rows and rows and rows of food. And I thought to myself, “There is enough food. My friends did not need to die from lack of food.” I went a couple doors down, and here was a Pharmacy filled with medicine, and I thought “There is enough medicine too. They didn’t need to die.” I went into a heartbroken rage that lasted through most of my high school years. If you had and did not care, you were by definition my enemy. It wasn’t until I was in college – I was at Moody Bible Institute – and I was working inner city, little Cabrena Green with little African American children – tutoring programs and all – that I began to watch Americans. I suddenly began to realize, “It’s not that they don’t care. It’s that they don’t know.” Then I realized, that is why God put me through what He put me through. I know AND I care. I am somehow now a bridge between these two worlds. As soon as I realized that my calling was to bridge these two worlds, I stumble on to a place called Compassion International. And that is all it does, is bridge these two worlds on behalf of 700,000 children today. So yes, I can look at my life and I can see that God was orchestrating who I was and what I was to be, all the way back to that little village.
Mercy Hope: Share with us how Compassion International accomplishes this mission of being a bridge between these two worlds.
Dr. Wess Stafford: Essentially what we do is we help children in poverty and their families through their local church on behalf of people in the Western World – Americans and Europeans and such – who have a heart to care. To understand what I now lead, you have to understand Luke chapter 10, the Story of the Good Samaritan. Now, of all the stories Jesus could have told to describe how we are supposed to live in this hurting world, He chose to tell that one. And essentially after everybody else had passed this hurting person by the Good Samaritan would not pass him by. He took him to a safe place. The Samaritan took him to the innkeeper who had the facilities and the expertise and said to him, essentially, “You take care of him for me, but I’ll pick up the tab.” Now, every day of my life, 700,000 people say that to Compassion. “Take care of this little child in Peru; this little girl in the Phillippines, and I’ll be there. I’ll pick up the tab.”
Mercy Hope: Is To Small To Ignore a book about the work of Compassion?
Dr. Wess Stafford: The reason for this book is the realization that even if this organization that I lead were to be ten times its current size (if we served 10 million children) we would still be nothing in this hurting world. And God laid it on my heart that it is not enough to grow the ministry that you are leading as big as you can make it, or even make it as good as it can make it. There will always be children that you will never touch. There will always be children in countries you will never be able to get to, or who have needs in ways that your organization is not equipped to meet. So you need to somehow share your passion for children to the broader world. So, I wrote this book not to promote Compassion, because it doesn’t. There are a couple little illustrations in there. But the bottom line is I am trying to give a voice to those who have no voice, and just really champion the cause of children.
Some of it is the story of my growing up. Some of it unpacks the Scriptures. You want to understand the heart of God? Just watch what Jesus did. He was an absolute child champion! In fact, I can only find two times when He really was mad. We know about the whip in the temple. But the other one was when His disciples were keeping children away from Him. In fact, the Message Bible translates it quite well and says that He was irate. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen the piece of artwork where Jesus is with the little children and He is angry, I mean really angry. No, He has this sweet, tender, gentle look. But, He really wasn’t. He was extremely angry that day. The things that made Jesus angry is when important principles of His Kingdom were being eroded. In the temple it was when worship and prayer was replaced by business and corruption. Here, it was when children were told, “You are too small. You are not important.” Somebody finally said, “Would you kids please go away?” And I think that is when Jesus Christ, Lord of Glory, snapped, and He said, “Don’t you dare send those children away!” It is one of the most powerful moments in His teaching.
So, I unpack Jesus and the children. I unpack through Scripture that God not only loves children, but He respects them, and He uses them very powerfully. They are not the Church someday, of tomorrow, of the future, they are the Church of today. I go all through the Scriptures. Almost anytime a child is featured in the Scriptures, God is doing something that a grown up could never do. So, I talk about the great Israeli army that lacked enough faith to kill a giant, but a little boy did. All he had was a sling and faith. God needed great faith, and He chose a child. He goes to his High Priest Eli who had become so evil that God could not even talk to him anymore. He hadn’t talked to Israel for almost 400 years. He chose a pure, clear channel. He needed a clear channel, and He chose a little boy, Samuel. It was a little girl who told Captain Naaman to jump in the river to be healed of his leprosy. None of his troops had the courage to do that. Little eight-year-old boy, King Josiah was one of the best kings. You go into the New Testament, and Jesus taught in the temple at age 12. Jesus didn’t feed 5,000 people until a little boy came forward with everything he had. Us grownups would have said, “Excuse me, but I was smart enough to bring my own lunch, so I’m sorry for the rest of you.” Or we would have said, doing the math, “…this is not going to feed everybody anyways, so you can have one fish and two loaves.” Only a child would say, “take everything.”
I maintain that when Peter had gotten out of the boat to walk on the water, if that had been a boat full of children instead, there would not have been tentative walking on the water. They would have had a party out there, because that is the kind of faith that kids have. You go all through Scripture. I mean, do you wonder if God cares about children, even before they are born? You know, John the Baptist fulfilled the first step in his calling when he was still an embryo. Mary walks into the room, Elizabeth is standing there. Two pregnant women and John the Baptist, in the presence of his Messiah, jumps for joy. That was his calling. He was to prepare the way, and he did it even before he was born. So, don’t tell me that they don’t matter in the womb.
So, it goes through that. It also goes on to some chapters that I call “just imagine.” Imagine the world differently – if children weren’t too small to ignore. If we really had our hearts toward them; if we fought on their behalf, how could the world be different? I talk about what it would look like internationally, nationally, and in our cities. How would our churches be different? And even how would our homes ultimately be different? And that is the thing that I realized when I realized who you guys are and that your parent ministry works with homeschool families. I have enormous, enormous respect for men and women who have enough concern for the children to homeschool them. There’s probably not a higher calling. This book, ultimately, will say to homeschoolers, “You’ve got it right! Nobody else seems to understand that. I know you feel like a little minority. You feel like you are on a side rail to the normal flow of society, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords shares your priorities. You are doing a remarkable thing, more precious than you know.”
Mercy Hope: What are four freedoms that every child deserves?
Dr. Wess Stafford: There are four chapters in the book that unpack things that I think really matter based on where I grew up. One of them is that I think every child deserves the right to have the pressure lifted off and to be a child. I am back and forth between these worlds all the time and it breaks my heart to watch American children being forced to grow up so fast – being forced to achieve – being compared to one another. And I think, you know, back off. Let them be children. Take the time to engage with them as children. Never miss a moment with them. Nothing kills me like minivans that have video screens in the back seat. You are missing something. You are all trapped in one little place and here’s your chance to breathe into the lives of your children! But for the sake of a few moment’s peace, we say, you know, “press play.” So one of the rights is that children have the right to be children, and we need to give them the chance to do that.
A second one is that they need to be freed from materialism: being owned by stuff. So many Americans I watch are so busy that they figure the way I can show my child that I love them is to give them stuff. Frankly, enough is eventually enough. Children’s rooms are piled high with stuff they never touch. Of all things, right after Christmas, it doesn’t take two weeks for that thing to get in the corner and never touched. We just keep accumulating and amassing. We eventually have to buy a storage unit for our stuff that we don’t dare throw away. I make the case in the last 10 to 20 years our houses have tripled and quadrupled in size. When my girls where little we would visit the homes of their friends, and they are like hotels! And I am thinking, when do we understand that enough is enough?
I maintain that the opposite of poor is not rich. The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poor is somewhere along that spectrum called enough. Adequacy. Beyond that, there is a poverty all of its own that brings a misery all of its own. What Compassion does is to take children in abject poverty and bring them up to the opposite of that, which is enough in Jesus Christ. But beyond enough is a trap all of its own. Some of the most miserable people I have ever met are people who have too much. So, that is a freedom that I think we need to give our kids. If you ask a child anywhere, do you want this latest toy or an hour of your daddy’s time? They will always say “my daddy’s time!” I have been responsible for hundreds of thousands of children as I have led Compassion, but God entrusted two of them to me, two little girls. And I have worked harder as Papa than as President, and now they are both in college and they are wonderful, Godly girls. They are both my best friends, and so I argue that enough is enough.
I go on another freedom that I argue for. And this breaks my heart as I travel across the country; that is freedom from corrosive competition. In my little village in Africa, we did not even have a word for competition. The idea that I should win and that means that you have to loose was an idea that was totally unacceptable to us. But, as I go to little league games, soccer games in the park and recreation parts of our country, I’m just watching this going “we are just killing our kids.” We are teaching them, not to love the game, not to play the game well. But to really be concerned about who wins and who looses and all that it is about. So, I argue that there is a place for competition in the Kingdom of God – I understand that. But it’s only legitimate goal is to motivate us towards excellence. It should be a motivator that says – I’m going to take on this sport, or run this race as Paul says – to the best of my ability. I mean, Paul talks about sports, talks about running a race, but he never mentions anyone else in the race. It’s not about beating someone else; it’s about running MY race, keeping my eyes on the author and finisher of my faith. So, I argue that we need to lighten up and let children play.
You know, on the entrance to Wimbledon – the archway just before you walk on to the court – is the words “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same, yours is the world and everything in it and what is more, you will be a man, my son.” Kipling wrote those words, it’s from a poem called “If.” But you don’t think that they walked under those words when you watch how those guys play out there.
In Too Small To Ignore, there is a very funny story. I coached a children’s soccer team, totally without competition. I told the parents at the beginning, “If how big the trophy is at the end of the season matters to you, if what the win-loss ratio matters to you, then you’ve got the wrong coach. Because I love this sport. I played it since I was a little boy. I play it quite well. But that is not what I’m here to do. I won’t even know if I’m successful with your children until this time next year – if they sign up to play it again next year. So, you can get another coach real fast if you want to.” Nobody did, and I went through the entire season refusing to celebrate the score – winning or loosing. But every week I taught a new skill, and every time they did perfectly that skill, no matter what the score was, I just cheered. “Way to go! Nobody ever took it back. We threw it in perfectly every time!” We finally got to the end of the season; we were up against a team who had never lost. The skill was finally “take the shot!” I had taught them stay your position, and pass the ball. I finally taught them this final skill “take the shot if you’ve got it. Don’t pass it one more time. Take the shot.” So that is what I focused on. Again, that one we won. We beat the team who had never lost. So they come out, “We won! We won!” And I was so tempted to say “Yea! We did it!” But I said no, “You did it! You took ever shot that you had!” When all was said and done what they did was they learned to love the game. One of them went on to college on a scholarship. His father ran a hamburger stand in our local mall for 10 years. I never bought a hamburger, but every time I would walk by he would say “Hey, everyone, this is the best coach my son ever had!” So, I argue that we’ve got to stop with the competition in school. We kill each other over that. Some of the ugliest places in the world are the bleachers in little league games, if you just listen in.
Then one final freedom, and this comes out of a very hard chapter in this book – one that I rarely talk about. That is children deserve the right to be safe. They deserve safe havens and people that they can trust. Part of this comes out of a part of my story. It wasn’t all about the village.
During part of my childhood, we were sent off to a very bad, painful, destructive boarding school eight hundred miles from home. It was a case where it was the mission policy for all of the missionaries in West Africa. You don’t homeschool your kids; you are called to bring Africans into the Kingdom of God, so do not be wasting your time with kids. I know from experience when kids are considered unimportant, some terrible, terrible things can happen. So, here we were, 80 of us kids all packed up every March and we would stay until December. We were in a place where the people responsible for us were not called to minister to children, were not trained to minister to children, did not want to minister to children. So me and this group of kids I grew up with were abused in every way that a child can be abused. I’m talking spiritual abuse. I’m talking emotional abuse. I’m talking physical abuse. I was beaten as a nine-year-old child 17 times per week with a big belt or a hug truck tire tread slipper. And we were sexually abused. There was no one to run to. The people that should have been our protectors were also our abusers. Most of the friends that I grew up with in that place are not walking with the Lord. Their lives really got destroyed. I am absolutely the product of God’s grace. The fact that I am of any use at all in the Kingdom of God is only God’s mercy.
I could climb up a bell tower and snipe people from the bell tower with a rifle and a good attorney would get me off. He would say “Well, of course that is what he does. Look at what he went through.” You know for 35 years, up until writing this book, I really never talked about that. It was a chapter of my life that was closed. If you wanted to talk to me about my childhood, it was the village. Never mind that 9 months of each year it wasn’t that. It was almost like I couldn’t explain it. Why would God let that happen to little Wesley? I prayed for mercy. I pleaded for mercy. I tried to be as good as I could to make things not hurt, and it never happened. We actually never told our parents, believe it or not. We wrote every week, but we didn’t dare tell our parents. Because they used this diabolical trap on us. They said if you tell your parents they are going to be unhappy, you will ruin their ministry and there are will be Africans in hell because of you. And can you believe 80 of us children never talked? We wrote letters every week but it was all bubbly. We went on a bike ride. We never told them what was going on. Even the 3 months home we never told them. They warned us, “we can’t control you for these next 3 months, but nothing changes. If you tell, you will destroy your parent’s ministry.” And us kids – out of love for God, love for our parents, and love for Africans were the silent lambs – we took it. You know, for Isaac, there was a lamb hiding in the bushes. He didn’t actually have to be sacrificed. For us, there was no ram, and many of my boyhood friends were sacrificed. It wasn’t until age 17, two years after I came to america, that I eventually was able to forgive those people. And frankly, it was a pretty shallow forgiveness. I just chose to leave them behind. I knew they would never ask forgiveness, and they never have. They’ve now been held in trial and all found guilty. None of them have so much as apologized. So, I understand poverty, and I understand abuse. And I never really talked about the abuse…
As I wrote this book, I turned the tangles of tapestry over. Up until that point I looked at that and all I had seen was tangled threads and disaster. As I began to write this book, I began to realize that it all does come together. I am sure my guardian angel went to the Father and said, do you hear his prayers? Can you not protect him? And, I am pretty sure that God said, “I do hear his prayers, and I’m wiping his tears too. But he needs this. I am preparing him to be a champion for children. He needs to go through this.” I understand that now, and I turn the tapestry over and it’s a beautiful picture. But that ultimately is why I wrote the book. I understand poverty. I understand abuse. God in His great sense of humor, in His great mercy has positioned me as the President of one of the largest child-focused ministries in the world. I can understand why now. To whom much is given, much is required. I’m passionate and deliberate about what God has entrusted to me. This book is literally a product of realizing that I have to be faithful with what I was entrusted.
Mercy Hope: For you personally, once you started working with Compassion, did a deeper healing begin in you personally because you were able to minister out of your scars?
Dr. Wess Stafford: Yes, I think without a doubt that was probably part of the qualifications to even be a part of a place called Compassion, much less lead it. And, yeah, without a doubt, my broken heart over the loss of boyhood friends due to poverty – things they didn’t need to die from – drives me passionately. One of the chapters in book is about one of my very, very best friends in that village – my hero – the guy that I walked around in HIS footsteps. I wanted to be just like him. I lost contact with him when I came to America when I was 15 and didn’t see him for 21 years. This was the guy that was going to go on to become a Pastor … to become everything. And all of us – all we wanted to do was finish translating Scripture so that he would have the tools to do what God called him to do. I was like way below him. But I go back after 21 years and I discover that our place is poorer than ever. The Sahara desert has encroached; there are no animals to hunt anymore; the fish are gone because the swamp is dried up; the fields are empty. And I run onto my boyhood friend who was now a peasant. All he does is chop grass on the mission compound with a machete. And he doesn’t dare talk to me for long, because he doesn’t dare loose this job. This is all he’s got. As I listened to his story, I realize that everything that dashed his dreams, that didn’t allow him to go on in school, that didn’t keep him healthy, that waylaid him in his life, I know lead a ministry that keeps that from happening. As I looked at him as he left me to go chop grass in the sun, I was angry, I was brokenhearted, and I literally heard God speak. I heard Him say, “Wess, don’t you see what I’ve done?” I looked around like, “Who said that?” Then I said, “Lord, if that’s You – No! All I see is waste; all I see is destruction; all I see is loss.” And He said, “Wess, I’ve give you 100,000 of these people.” And I thought, what does that mean? And as I pondered back, I realized that was the size of Compassion at that time. Now it is 700,000. But I now fight on behalf of the children in my village. I now hold myself accountable. Because for some reason I’m alive. For some reason, I’m “Doctor” Stafford. What’s that about? People better than me aren’t even alive, or are chopping grass. So, I fight on behalf of every child in the program so that doesn’t happen to a single other child.
My friend died shortly after I saw him. Nobody bothered to tell me. I didn’t know. Who is going to bother to tell the President of Compassion that a yard boy in Africa has died? But he was a better person than myself in every way. But the harshness of poverty kept him from reaching his full, God-given potential. I just refuse to let that happen to another child. So, I’m one of the most passionate people I know in this calling. But I can look back and I can see the hurts in my heart, in my life – both in the village, and ultimately at school that prepared me to be what I am. So, I see it.
Mercy Hope: Is there anything else that you would want to share?
Dr. Wess Stafford: There is one last thing. When I say that children are too small to ignore, and that they can’t vote so they can’t get into the political arena, you ask yourself, “So how can it be that such a huge part of the world’s population can hurt so severely and nobody comes to their rescue?” How can we loose 30,000 of them every day to things that we can prevent? I mean, that is the equivalent of 9/11 happening ten times that day. But it also happened on 9/10. 30,000 got lost on 9/12 and every single day since, which is well over 1,000 days. So, how can that go on? Do we not love children? Do we not care about children? I argue that they are too small to ignore and if we understood this we would recognize that the reason they are not important to our governments and even to us as the Church and missions is because satan clearly has blinded our eyes.
I maintain there is a Spiritual battle, one that we don’t even see, raging over our heads between the gates of hell and the hosts of Heaven. I actually believe that satan only one agenda, and that is to break the heart of God. And I believe that he watched creation with an eye for “what can I do to mess this up?” And he saw the sun come out, he saw the land form, he saw the plants and the animals. He didn’t see anything that was really all that “attackable” until day six. Then he watched carefully as God made man in His own image. Satan must have been looking from the bushes and said, “There is the chink in His armor. He loves mankind. If I want to break the heart of God, that’s who I must attack.” The fact that he’s not stupid, he must have said “When’s the best time to attack? When can I make permanent damage to them?” And he got so he was attacking children. I believe every child is born out of the womb, made in the image of God, with a flicker of dignity, with God’s image in them, and satan immediately attacks. He’ll use whatever it takes to attack. In about two-thirds of the world he uses poverty. It can overwhelm and drive people from God. In the other about one-third of the world, he uses comfort equally well. It separates us from God.
I argue that if we could understand that there is a battle raging over every soul, every child, we would all behave very, very differently. Satan delights when a child gives up, and all of Heaven rejoices when a child walks in. We have in front of us, the capacity to fight that battle on one side or another. What I argue in this book is that every child that God brings into your life, even if it is only for 30 seconds, is a Divine appointment. When the cement of their souls is wet, when they are small, it takes no effort to leave an imprint. And that imprint will last a lifetime for good or bad. I maintain that you can launch a life with a single act of kindness. A single word of encouragement can launch a life.
You know, anyone who is a contributing member in society, you can ask them, “Who do you owe that to? Who made a difference in your life? Who believed in you before you believed in yourself?” They can usually point to that person, and the impact is usually nothing more than a phrase or an act of kindness. On the other hand, you can destroy a life just as easily. When I talk about that with people, I watch tears fill their eyes, because most people can remember who exactly almost destroyed them. They remember what they said, they can even remember what the room smelled like, what was going on around them, when that death blow was dealt to them. I maintain that all of us who love our Lord have got to recognize that we can’t ignore these children. If you’ve got 30 seconds with them, you can lift them up.
I look for churches who will organize themselves around children. I think that every child needs a champion in their church. Somebody needs there remembering that it is their birthday. They need to hear that “you are the best Joseph I ever saw in the Christmas story. I thought you were really him for a moment there.” You know, little moments like that. Every time a child performs somebody in the audience has to have the guts to stand up and give a standing ovation. So what is the props fell, or the voices don’t match. Every time a child does something for you, you celebrate it. So, I really, really argue that children really, really matter.
Almost 85% of people who give their lives to Christ do it before they are 14 years old. They are at their prime time to be brought to Christ, wouldn’t you think that our missionary efforts would just be fraught with child strategies to evangelize and bring children into the Kingdom and to disciple them? No, most mission organizations spend 10% of their budget on children. I maintain that if we understood the Kingdom of God the way I have come to understand it, everything would be backwards. People would be lined up with resumes in hand for the privilege of working in the Church nursery – for an hour to hold these little ones – when you have this chance to shape their lives. But no, everyone wants to teach adult education. Frankly, if you wait until they are adults the cement is dry. As teenagers, you know, you can not just put a finger mark in any more. Now it is a hammer and chisel. And if you wait until they are grown up, it takes dynamite to change how they think. In fact, if a person does not come to Christ by age 21, the probability that they will EVER come to Christ is only about 1 in 4. Yet that is where all our missionary efforts – the bulk of our seminaries, the bulk of our Bible schools – all honed in on all that very unproductive part of the harvest field.
So, I know that I’m a lone voice in the wilderness. Not many people think like this, but when I study my path and where I came from, it makes perfect sense that I would think like this. And if you look at what God has entrusted to me, it makes good sense that I should finally step forward as a voice on behalf of children. So, I do. I lead one of the most remarkable ministries, and now I’ve written the book that I think the whole family of God need to read. Those who already care for children, those who care like homeschoolers, who are putting this much effort into it. This book will absolutely endorse the wisdom and strategic importance of their decision.
My prayer is that it will get into the hands of people who never gave children a thought. I had one last week in my office a pastor from a mega-church in Ohio who read the book last Thanksgiving. He said, I went through Bible school, I went through seminary. I never gave children a thought. But I found myself when I got done reading it sobbing in my office. I dropped to my knees and I repented. I said, “Lord, I missed a huge, strategic part of Your Kingdom.” And he went and talked to his board of elders they said “Get on the plane and go talk to Wess.” So he sat in my office and said, “I don’t even know what to talk to you about, I just have to talk to you, because God just used that book.” And he went out and bought 500 copies of the book, to absolutely put it across the congregation and the members there. So, I’m overwhelmed at the path ultimately that led me to this. And I’m overwhelmed that God is using this book to transform how the Kingdom views children. The bottom line is, they are just TOO SMALL TO IGNORE!
Photos appearing in this interview are courtesy of Compassion International
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