My friend, Matt, and I recently arrived home from a trip to eastern Virginia and North Carolina. While we were in NC, we saw the great divide between the poor, predominantly-Black areas like Goldsboro, Mt. Olive, Rocky Mt., and Wilson and the more affluent city of Raleigh. In order to bring Matt’s attention to the racism and race-based poverty in the state, I asked “Where are all the Black people?” when we arrived in Raleigh. It was my way of bringing our attention to the serious fact that once we entered the affluent city, most of the people we saw where white. In the poor rural areas and smaller towns, on the other hand, we white folks were clearly the minority.
All of this reminded me of the fact that I learned while I was living in Richmond, Virginia: racism is alive and well.
But what does all of this have to do with children and ministry? It reminds me of the importance of appropriately exposing children to the racism and other injustices in the world. Although we think that insulating our children from danger is best for them, it becomes, as Tim Keel has said, “The Danger of Raising Nice Kids.”
In an article I wrote with Dan Jennings, Brian McLaren, and Karen-Marie Yust, we argue that we need to help young people see the tears in the eyes of the oppressed. Gradually, we can help our children built relationships with those who are marginalized. And as we do so, we can together hear their stories, share our stories, and come to form a united front against poverty and injustice.
In our article, we offer a brief description of how this can happen:
“A suburban preschool child might begin with her family sponsoring a child in Africa. In her elementary years, she might experience a summer exchange program with Native American children, leading to an inner-city immersion in middle school, followed by spending a summer among the urban poor in high school. Or a family might affiliate with a single helping organization, such as Habitat for Humanity, and involve their children first in limited contact activities (fundraising, food contributions), then at a moderate level (landscaping and words of support), and finally in full engagement (building alongside family members).”
Let’s always remember that our view of the world is not the only view. Some people have to see through sweat, blood, and tears that sting their eyes. As we come to know the marginalized in the next house, city, or country, we can see the tears in the eyes and come together to stamp out injustice.