By Dr. Wess Stafford
I've read this book several times before, and it keeps giving me new things to think about every time. Wess Stafford is the president of Compassion International which is a child sponsorship organization. They oversee close to 1,000,000 children who are sponsored by caring people in the US. This review is not meant to be an ad for Compassion, but I strongly believe in their work and encourage you to check out their website - they are doing amazing work that really makes a difference! (Rather than throwing money at a problem, they start at the roots of poverty in order to fix it for a lifetime)
Wess Stafford wrote this book to the Church, as a wake-up call, and to remind Christians how much Jesus loves children - not as "the future Church" but as PART OF "today's Church." He wrote this book to explain how he became passionate about children and their welfare, and to encourage believers to re-examine their thoughts/priorities regarding children in light of the Bible and what Jesus said about kids during His time on Earth.
Wess grew up in Africa, the son of missionary parents in a small village in Ivory Coast. He played with his friends in the village and lived as one of them, using his slingshot to herd cattle and kill marauding baboons, climbing trees and running races. In the book, he says "I never remember falling down as a boy and skinning my knee without some African woman immediately sweeping me up into her arms, wiping my tears, and comforting me until I felt better once again."
The more he describes village life, the more you are drawn in until you feel that you can hear the birds calling in the tree above you and the goats baa-ing as they come in for the evening. You can feel the tepid water in the swamp where you go to clean up and cool off each night. You can smell the hot, dry ground before the rainy season arrives.
As entrancing as that part of his childhood sounds, however, his early life was also very difficult. In the village, over half of his childhood friends had died of preventable causes by the time he was 15. Life was hard in the village, which never got beyond a subsistence level.
Then, every school year was spent hundreds of miles from home, in a very abusive situation that almost crushed his spirit. There are parts of the book that always make me cry. I cannot understand how people can deliberately be so cruel, especially to little children.
Fortunately, God ultimately used that experience for good, and rather than making Wess bitter, it seems to have solidified his passion for helping children everywhere, including America, grow up in a safe, nonabusive environment, with clean water, enough food, shelter, education, and medicine. According to Wess, the most important thing to know about poverty is that it's main effect is not on the outside - instead, poverty sends an insidious and terrible message - "You don't matter. Give up. Nobody wants you. Nothing will ever get better." Thus, the most important thing we can ever do for somebody is to tell them about Jesus. We cannot leave out taking care of their body, but if we take care of their body but not their heart and soul, they will always be impoverished. It is knowing about God and His love that gives children (and adults) a sense of true self-worth - "If God made me on purpose, and planned every detail of my life before I was born, and if the Infinite God considers me His treasure, then I am worth something!"
Overall, this is a deep and thoughtful book, which will leave you with a sense of hope and determination. It will also give you concrete suggestions for how to really make a difference, which is important to me as I have a practical turn of mind and am not interested in investing in something that will not work long-term. Highly recommended!