By Byron D. Klaus
Sept. 23, 2012
The violence of civil wars, the overwhelming weight of political systems that favor a few, and the economic structures that choke off hope for the future — the barrios of Central America revealed to me the manifest needs of the Third World.
Children were the inevitable victims.
Our protective nature as caring people reaches out, in compassion, to those voiceless, innocent recipients of the fruit of sinful behavior. We want to protect the innocent, and our rage is kindled against the perpetrators. But to make a lasting impact, our well-intended passion must move beyond human emotion.
As we work with children whose life experiences have victimized them, we must start with the premise that they are made in the image of God and deserve more than merely human compassion. Rather, they are actually the objects of God’s redemptive love.
The human dignity and self-respect that reshapes lives, within the tragic circumstances that LACC works, is the foundational restoration of right relationship with God through Jesus Christ that is initiated by God himself (John 3:16).
The work of LACC is only as effective as its reliance on the eternal concerns of Christ’s kingdom. When we invest in communities where children are being victimized, our reliance on the transforming power of an encounter with Jesus Christ allows the possibility of future generations of children to emerge who are no longer victims of tragedy. Instead, they are re-creators of societal structures that will impact their respective communities and nations.
If this transformative encounter with Jesus Christ is foundational to rebuilding communities and addressing the tragedy of victimized children, the Bible makes clear that social transformation is most effective when the primary social structure through which the gospel works is that of Christian community as is found in a local church. Second Corinthians 5:17-20 states that God’s appeal to be reconciled to Him is carried out by communities of “Christ’s ambassadors.”
When LACC addresses the challenges in high-risk communities, it is always linked to local churches. This is because the church is the only redemptive structure that can provide an enduring commitment to proclaim and demonstrate in understandable ways the reconciliation offered by God in Jesus Christ.
The primacy of the local church is even more critical when we realize that regardless of the cultural context globally, family structures are disintegrating. The safety net of protection and nurture that the Bible states is found in the family (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) is being eroded by war, child abuse, AIDS and famine, leaving very little of the “family” intact. The local church must increasingly see itself as an alternative center for nurture.
My decade of work with LACC in the 1990s was a ministry watershed for me. That experience helped clarify the biblical principles on which I believe transformation occurs, both in human beings and in communities. I encountered the human stories that ignite my knowledge of biblical truth with an enduring passion fueled by God’s Spirit.
I remember meeting a young boy in the community of Linda Vista, in San Jose, Costa Rica. His name was Emmanuel. He grew up in a family where he had been terribly abused, both physically and emotionally, by his father. He showed me the scars on his back from his father’s attacks. His older brother and sister had run away from home and left Emmanuel and his mother to bear the brunt of this mistreatment.
Emmanuel had an opportunity to enter an LACC school. Teachers saw immediately that he brought the results of his upbringing to his school experience. He could not put words together in meaningful sentences and never looked a person in the eye when he spoke. One day, during the school chapel program that was held in the church next to the school, Emmanuel responded to an invitation by the local pastor to receive prayer.
Emmanuel testified that the Lord began to do a work in his life. Steadily, the gospel began to transform little Emmanuel. He grew in his speaking capabilities, his personal confidence flourished, and his intellectual capacities became quite evident.
In fact, he was chosen to represent all schoolchildren in his nation to give a speech to the leading officials of Costa Rica, including the president at the time, Jose Maria Figueres. Emmanuel gave witness to the power of transformation in his life and the life of his family. He told of the miraculous salvation of his father, mother, brother and sister that restored this broken family to wholeness through the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
Concluding his remarks to President Figueres, Emmanuel said, “Mr. President, if you keep God’s commandments and do what He says, you have nothing to fear. God bless you.”
For me, this story encapsulated the transforming power of the gospel. It starts with the tragedy of broken lives, alienated from God, who desperately need an encounter with Jesus Christ. It continues with a response to human need by persons under the rule of Christ’s kingdom, rooted in a local church and committed to reflecting Jesus, by planting a signpost of Christ’s kingdom in the middle of tragedy.
The result of this strategy includes individuals transformed and families restored. The fruit of this powerful example of transformation is a community where God himself restores human dignity to individuals who have been shunted aside and forgotten. Transformed children and parents become the foundation of a changed community that makes visible the rule of God in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.
This story is being repeated over and over throughout the regions where LACC serves. Relying on a gospel that abundantly pardons and saves to the uttermost, children and their families are not just being rescued; they and their communities are being transformed to live under the rule of Christ’s kingdom.
DR. BYRON D. KLAUS has served as president of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo., since July 1999. From 1989 until his appointment as president of AGTS, he served as vice president of Latin America ChildCare.
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