“Children live in a broken world, not just because of the realities of poverty, abuse and injustice, but because of the failure of adults to live out their spiritual beliefs and moral values.”
Carmen Menchit Wong
Menchit Wong was born in the Philippines and is currently the Global Advocacy Director of Compassion International. She also serves as the Lausanne Movement Senior Associate for Issues on Children at Risk, and serves in the global leadership committees of the 4/14 Window
Global Movement and the Global Children’s Forum. Menchit has been in the ministry of child advocacy since 2004, but God called her into ministry with children and youth since her university days, through the life of a rescued child who lived in an orphanage in the Philippines. As Menchit says it with a big smile, she is very happily married to Rico, her husband of 26 years. “God has blessed us with three wonderful sons who equally love the Lord and serve Him.” – They are Eric (25 years old), James (24) and Joshua (13).
Generally speaking, what does a child need to grow holistically healthy? What should mom and dad do to contribute to this aim? What if one of them is missing from the child´s life?
Please allow me to first explain a little bit what I think is holistic development of a child. I will give special emphasis on what “holistic” means because it has a significant spiritual meaning. The term holistic implies being made whole or complete or made full.
In Ephesians 1:9-10 (ESV), Paul describes what God’s purpose is for each one of us, including children:
“making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
I believe therefore that a Biblically-based concept of holistic development of children should mean reconciling children to Christ and seeing their fulfilled development and purpose by being united in Christ. A holistically developed child therefore means a child growing in all aspects of his life so that God’s heart and purpose for him is fulfilled, and that Christ is glorified in his life. This realization brings a great implication in that even if the world provides all the material, social, intellectual and economic needs of a child but does not afford opportunity for the child to encounter Christ as his Lord and Savior, the true meaning of holistic development will not be achieved. The other significant implication is that only Christ’s followers can be truly used of God to bring Christ’s saving Gospel and transformed life (a ‘whole’ life) to the children. Thus, if Christians, or the Church as a whole, neglects or abandons its role in holistic development of children, then children would be ‘lost’ to the ‘world’ and the kingdom of darkness, because only those who have truly experienced Christ can be used of God to bring holistic development to the little ones.
When we therefore pose the question, ‘What does a child need to grow holistically healthy?’, our response will be incomplete if we only say that what a child needs are learning opportunities, material resources and a vibrant social support system of relationships to bring about his holistic well-being or health. A child’s first need is to know Christ and experience His saving love, and to live under His Lordship. It is Jesus who will accomplish and fulfill His purpose for the child’s life, and will be the one to bring all the spiritual/social/physical/ intellectual/economic resources, opportunities and relationships the child needs to be made whole and complete in Christ. Holistic development is not genuine if it is not characterized by the active Lordship and presence of Christ in the child’s life and well-being.
In the book of Deuteronomy, particularly in chapter 6, the Lord clearly lays out the significant and critical role of parents in the shaping and development of their children. God says these commands and decrees are meant,
“so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life” (Deuteronomy 6:2).
This is further reiterated in Psalm 78 where the Psalmist declares,
“we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord His power, and the wonder he has done…..so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands” (Psalm 78:4, 6-7)
What these verses are saying is that parents have been given that sacred trust to instill obedience and fear of the Lord among their children as the foundation upon which their children will enjoy a long and happy life – that is, experience fullness and abundance in every aspect of their life. We also realize from these verses that the parents’ teaching and life example bears influence and impact beyond their lifetime, because the next generations will become what their previous generations taught them. Parents have a sacred responsibility before God to provide for their children’s needs, to love, teach and nurture them with Jesus’ unconditional love, and to lead them to have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and live in obedience to Him. Parents must first serve under Jesus’ Lordship, because otherwise children will see what is behind their parents’ shallow faith and hypocritical attitude and even be led away from the Lord.
It seems like child abuse rates (any form of child abuse) are getting higher and higher all the time, no matter which social context children belong to. Why do you think this is happening in our current era: the high tech era, the global communication era, the era of great developments?
It is often said that compared to previous generations, today’s children and youth really are a fatherless generation. Children live in a broken world, not just because of the realities of poverty, abuse and injustice, but because of the failure of adults to live out their spiritual beliefs and moral values. Materialism and hedonism are the favored gods of their parents and this generation – living for pleasure and having no stand for what is right are more enslaving than other faiths or false religions. We could say that many children and youth today look like they are ‘walking dead’. They have their electronic gadgets and are hooked up to the Internet and TV 24/7 hours of the day. They become isolated from the rest of the world and fail to build solid and long-lasting social relationships. They are vulnerable to pornography, abuse and instant relationships on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks because the adults around them abandoned their sacred role to shape their lives according to God’s will for them. When biological parents bow out of their sacred role, we in the Church or faith community must step in to nurture and take care of the children and the youth. We cannot let this generation be sold to the kingdom of darkness. There are several ministries and opportunities that we have around us to holistically care for this fatherless generation.
As Child Advocacy Director of Compassion International, what do you think the role of an adult should be as a child advocate?
As adults, we should first know and appreciate God’s heart and purpose for children, and then engage the rest of the world to use this Biblical framework ( a transformed mindset and heartset) to care for children and facilitate their holistic development. What are some of the current beliefs we have that we have to challenge? First is that God sees and loves children as they are and values them as much as adults. Children have intrinsic worth because they are created in the image of God. Therefore, adults should not adopt a performance orientation and only accept children when they are good or when they ‘perform’ according to their expectations, a huge contrast to the world’s value of ‘loving only what has high market value.’
Adults should also give safe space and nurturing environments where children can grow, be healthy and learn. Even if we speak on the top of our lungs about child advocacy, and not address tangible needs of children, in terms of safe space, protected environments and nurturing relationships, we would have failed as child advocates.
Finally as child advocates, we should always provide avenues for children to participate actively in their development – this means providing as many sound opportunities for them to discover and use their talents, to listen to them and welcome their expressions and thoughts, to celebrate their accomplishments, and finally to actively protect them in potentially abusive or vulnerable situations.
What does the Church need to do in order to contribute to the child´s healthy growth? And how can the Church become an effective child advocate?
I would like to reiterate a quote from Dr. Bambang Budijanto, Asia Region Vice President of Compassion International, that the Church (the Ecclesia) is God’s sole instrument to carry out the Great Commission – he talks about it as Plan A of God; there is no Plan B. This means that the task of the Church, the Body of Christ cannot be relegated to any other institution such as the government, the other sectors of society that do not believe God or proclaim His truths. In the same light, the Church cannot relegate to others its God-given task to nurture and advocate for children’s healthy growth and fulfillment of God’s divine purpose for them.
There are 4 Rs that the Church can use to remember our God-given calling to advocate for children – REACH, RESCUE, ROOT and RELEASE. This is adopted by the 4/14 Window Global Movement. Our task is to reach all children for Christ, rescue them from the traps of abuse, modern-day slavery, injustice and neglect, root and disciple them in God’s Word for long-lasting faith, and finally, to release them to do God’s work today. Children today can be active participants in the mission of God, without having to wait until they are adults. The Bible give us many examples of how God used children to fulfill His mission – some of them are David, Esther, Daniel, Joseph, Naaman’s servant girl and the kind but unnamed boy who shared his lunch with Jesus to feed the thousands. Releasing children’s potential is a powerful advocacy message, equally important as rescuing children from abuse, injustice and violence.
Finally, what do you think it is the potential of a child who has grown in a healthy environment? Could he or she become a person of excellence who may eventually contribute to the transformation of an ill community? If so, would you share any example briefly?
As mentioned above, the Bible provides many examples of children whom God transformed into persons of excellence to contribute to the transformation of their community – the stories of David, Daniel, Esther, Joseph and the prophet Samuel all speak about the importance and impact of nurturing children in God’s Word and adults serving as wise teachers and godly examples to them.
Having served in Compassion International’s ministry with children and youth for more than 20 years now, I have personally witnessed, I had been touched and I have been tremendously blessed by powerful testimonies of children who came from terrible circumstances but who are now excelling as leaders in their work and ministries after being nurtured in God’s love and truth. One of them is a lovely young lady from the Philippines who grew up in a very poor home with a drug addicted father, and lived in a cramped house with relatives who repeatedly told her that she is ugly and has no future because her father cannot fend for his kids. Often living under fear of abuse and molestation, this young girl thought she would never have a bright future, until that day when a Christian church offered a scholarship for her to attend a Christian school and learn about Jesus who loves her and came to save her. Her teachers in school, pastor at church and director at the Compassion-assisted child development center project served as her godly parents. She was blessed to receive a university scholarship and became one of the first graduates of a leadership development program. Her practicum course in that leadership development program was discipling and providing livelihood training for young, former child prostitutes. She never forgot these young women who became her friends and inspiration. Years later, when she graduated at the top of her class in university and in the graduate school, she became a co-founder of a social enterprise meant to help formerly sexually trafficked children. She has risen from the mire and the clay of her painful past because of Jesus through the love of the Church around her. She now inspires the next generation of young women leaders. Her life magnifies Jesus’ Name!