Of the inestimable men, women and children worldwide who are threatened by violence – whether from war, domestic abuse, slavery – the women and children refugees are the most vulnerable people group in the world. They have virtually no means of protecting themselves against abuse, violence, disease, exposure. It is estimated that 3 in 4 refugee children will be abused within the first several years of life and at least 90% of refugee women have been victimized by sexual assault.
There are an estimated 15 million refugees in the world today. Half of them (at least 7.5 million) are children. All of them face a high risk for violence and abuse.
After two years of severely violent conflict, Syria has become desolated. Millions of Syrians have fled and continue to attempt to flee the country with hopes of escaping their war-torn homes.
Syria faces the loss of an entire generation of children to war: “Children are the paying the heaviest price for the conflict. Of the four million people affected inside the country, almost half are children. These children face tremendous dangers every day. They are being targeted, killed, maimed, abused, tortured – and orphaned” (see article linked above). The crimes being committed against these children are absolutely appalling.
“Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict. And, as they lose their childhoods
. . . as their right to be children is denied . . . their views of their neighbours are coloured in ways that can create future generations of self-perpetuating violence. With all that implies for the region as a whole.” -UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake
The perseverance of the Syrian people is absolutely admirable. The sacrifices they make to protect their families and communities – to maintain their national and cultural identity – are inexpressibly great. The courage of the children is unfathomable when you see all they have lost.
Aid workers and organizations like UNICEF and The International Rescue Committee are making strides to assist refugees in Syria – and around the world – in hopes of meeting the overwhelming needs of these people: providing clean water, medical care and vaccinations, and education opportunities for the children. But in Syria, access and supplies are limited. Aid workers are restrained by security policies and a lack of funding. If and when money fails to come in, the vulnerable men, women and children of Syria will lose the services which agencies like UNICEF have been seeking to provide.
“UNICEF has only received 22 per cent of the US$68.4 million required –a shortfall that will affect the organization’s ability to effect large-scale vaccination campaigns, access to safe water and scale-up of psychosocial support for children. ‘UNICEF, like all our partners in the UN and beyond, requires urgent funding – or these life-saving services will be placed in jeopardy,’ appeals Mr. Lake. ‘We can only meet the growing needs if adequate resources are made available’” (see article linked above).
We’ve only just celebrated International Women’s Day. While women throughout the world have made great strides toward gaining equality and safety for future generations, an enormous group of people stands completely vulnerable and nearly forgotten by many around the globe. Generations of children have been lost throughout history through wars, holocausts, and invasions. However, the technology and medical ingenuity of this period in history is such that refugee children should not have to face an entirely hopeless future.
The situation these precious children find themselves in does appear utterly bleak and hopeless. So many have been killed, maimed, trafficked, raped, abused. They’ve been ripped away from their homes, friends, schools – all the things which were once familiar. Their everyday life looks dramatically different than it once did. The youngest have only ever known life as a refugee.
The world is imperfect – people are imperfect – and so there is suffering, violence, death. As a recent post pointed out, faith in humanity is fruitless in the face of such terrible violence and loss.
In his article “What Does God want for Families?“, Richard Pratt writes (in light of human suffering and brokenness):
“To understand the hope that the Scriptures offer us, we have to come to grips with some good news and bad news. The good news is that you cannot be bad enough to ensure God’s condemnation of your family. You might have been the most unfaithful spouse and the worst parent in human history, but you cannot be wicked enough to put your family beyond the possibility of redemption. The bad news, however, is that you cannot be good enough to ensure God’s blessings on your family. You might be the best spouse and parent that has ever walked on the planet, but you cannot be righteous enough to protect your family from terrible trials and suffering. The future of your family, for good or ill, is in the hands of God.
Without a doubt, we should look to Scripture for guidance in our homes. It addresses the familial responsibilities of men (Eph. 5:25–33; 6:4; Col. 3:19, 21; 1 Peter 3:1–6), women (Eph. 5:22–24; Col. 3:18; 1 Peter 3:7), and children (Eph. 6:1–3; Col. 3:20). It also offers family stories that provide rather obvious guidance. For instance, the relationship of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 2–4) is as positive an example as David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11) is negative. We should do our very best to follow all the teachings of Scripture. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the future depends on us.
The same is true in modern life. We all know parents who raise their children to be followers of Christ, but their children reject the Christian faith. At the same time, many of us know parents who came to faith late in life. Despite the fact that they had trained their children to mock everything holy, their adult children soon trusted Christ as well. We all know innocent victims of divorce who suffer their entire lives with the pain of loneliness and guilty parties who repent and find peace with God and happiness in another marriage. These scenarios may not make much sense to us, but they demonstrate one thing very clearly: the future of our families depends on God, not you or me.”
And in his article “Jesus and Violence Against Children“, which was written just after the shooting at a primary school in Connecticut this past December (and previously features on this blog), Justin Holcomb relates how God sees children:
“In his ministry, Jesus showed striking interest in and love for children. To the surprise of his disciples, he often including them in his teaching: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt 19:13–14). When the disciples came to Jesus asking him which one of them was going to be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom, Jesus called a child to himself (Matt. 18:2) and said, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:4). Jesus went on, telling his followers that part of their duty is to receive little children: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Matt. 18:5).
Jesus wants his followers to honor, protect, and care for those among them who are small and vulnerable, especially children. Part of Jesus’ ministry on earth involved healing children. In Mark 5:39, Jesus came into the house of a ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter had just died. Jesus said that she was not dead, but only sleeping. After they laughed at him, Jesus said to the child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41; cf. Luke 8:54). Mark recounts what happened next: “And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement” (Mark 5:42). Similarly, in Mark 9, Jesus encounters a young boy who had been having demonic attacks. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him (Mark 9:25) and the boy fell down as if he were dead. Jesus took him by the hand and he was healed (Mark 9:27). Jesus, who calls himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), brings life and healing to children.
Jesus wants his followers to honor, protect, and care for those among them who are small and vulnerable, especially children.
The tenderness and care Jesus showed for children is an expression of God’s heart toward the small, the weak, and the vulnerable, as seen throughout the Old Testament.
Part of God’s law, given at Mt. Sinai, was that no one should “mistreat any widow or fatherless child” (Ex. 22:22). Indeed, God is one who “executes justice for the fatherless” (Deut. 10:18) and curses anyone who perverts the justice due to orphans (Deut. 27:19). The Lord says that no one should do wrong or be violent towards innocent children and orphans (Jer. 22:3). Not only does God want his people to love and care for children, but they are called to do everything in their power to stop those who try to hurt, abuse, or oppress them. “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). Children are a gift from God (Ps. 127:3) and a blessing, and are to be loved, disciplined, and cared for.
As we react to the shock and horror of violence against children…God’s love should do more than just make us feel better—it should lead us to imitate his care for children, take action against evil like this, and pray for God’s peace and salvation to cover the earth.”
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
Children are a blessing from God. For He formed our inward parts; He knitted us together in our mother’s womb. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139).