(Pictured – kids from Philadelphia, Guatemala, and Langhorne. Kids we love)
Everyone agrees it’s a crisis. Some call it a border crisis, others an immigration crisis, some a political crisis. Fifty – or is it a hundred thousand? – children and youth, mostly from Central America, streaming across our southern border. Many say it is a humanitarian crisis, but that sounds too sterile, too solvable by the U.N. or the Red Cross. It is a crisis that involves kids – little preschoolers and soon-to-be-adult adolescents. Kids are in trouble. The president says he can’t lead and the congress says he won’t lead. And the kids are still in trouble.
Everyone agrees it’s a crisis. Philadelphia schools are a mess. The teachers union blames the governor and the governor cuts state funding and blames the teachers union, among other things, for a devastatingly broken system. It may be a fiscal crisis and it may be a political crisis. For sure it is an educational crisis. Kids in the state’s largest school district are failing and we are failing them. Less than a fifth of them read, write, and do math at or above their grade level. Kids are in trouble.
It’s pretty easy to say that our Democratic president and our Republican governor are doing a lousy job responding to kids in trouble. It’s easy to criticize those tangled in a complicated web of policy and budgets and politics. It’s not so easy to know exactly what they ought to do. The kids are still in trouble.
I mentioned the crisis on the border and the crisis in the schools in last Sunday’s sermon not to take a potshot at the politicians, though maybe they deserve all the potshots we might send their way. Christian citizens must vote, and write letters, and run for public office. We would be foolish to think that the crisis on the border and the crisis in the schools are not crises to which the government must respond.
One of the many ways that contemporary life is drained of meaning and left shallow and purposeless is the thought that our private lives are small and ineffectual, having mostly to do with us and those closest to us and our happiness or at least our contentment. Everything else is someone else’s responsibility, mostly the responsibility of a government run by politicians who deserve every potshot we might send their way.
It’s too bad we believe that lie.
People who take the Bible seriously have always known that we have a responsibility to a world much larger than the world of our own private happiness or contentment. They know that being a Christian is a public thing. The law and the prophets speak incessantly or our obligation, our personal and private obligation and our public obligation, to the widow and the orphan, the sojourner and the stranger. The hungry are to be allowed to glean from the edges of our fields, my field. Jesus told a story about a Samaritan who gave and risked for the sake of a Jew who might otherwise have hated him, and then said, “Go and do likewise.” He said we are to regard the hungry, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner as our brothers and sisters. The writer to the Hebrews said that in showing hospitality to a stranger we just might be entertaining angels unawares.
I don’t know what the politicians ought to be doing about the border crisis and the school crisis and a thousand other crises.
I know what LPC is doing, not enough, but something. I know that at least 200 children in Central America are less likely to leave home and family because of our work in partnership with Promised Land Ministries. About 130 or those kids are supported by annual gifts from LPC members and groups, gifts that keep them in school. $300 a year. $25 a month. We make a difference. Thousands of hours of volunteer love is given through medical clinics and children’s programs and the construction of safe houses where children will live with their families. Tens of thousands of dollars are given, joyfully, by individuals and through our mission budget. We may not be solving the border crisis, but it is a tiny bit less a crisis for what we do.
Likewise I know of 200 Philadelphia kids two-thirds of whom are at or above grade level in reading, writing, and math. They attend Hunting Park Christian Academy in one of the poorest and violence-prone areas of the city. Over the past several years, LPC has become a vital partner with HPCA, providing much needed funding, encouragement, support, and volunteer hours. There are over 131,000 students in Philadelphia city schools. Our partnership with HPCA doesn’t resolve the crisis in the city schools. But those 200 HPCA kids are much more likely to contribute to the health of the city than to its malaise.
Oh, one more thing about Promised Land School and Hunting Park Christian Academy. They tell their students about Jesus and his love. They demonstrate his love day by day. They offer the good news that is, finally, the resolution of the human crisis.
So, it’s VBS week at LPC. Why? Because we love kids. At VBS we tell kids from our church family and from our community about Jesus and his love. We’ll tell the stories and we’ll show his love by what we do and how we do it. Our VBS kids typically lead more comfortable lives than the lives of their counterparts in North Philadelphia or Guatemala. But still they face or will face the crisis of loneliness, confusion, despair, and purposelessness that is common to every human. The gospel is, finally, the resolution to the human crisis. Our kids need to hear the gospel.
Discipleship is never just a private matter. It is wonderfully public. After all, Jesus was pretty public about his love.