Every day millions of people around the world travel by air to other parts of the world. As I wait for my flight from Sao Paul to London the airport is full of people. Some travel alone, others are with family and friends. In departures there are tears as people say “good-bye”, in arrivals there are tears of joy as loved ones are reunited. Some browse the duty free shops with their high-priced luxury goods.
Life is a journey. Time passes quickly and opportunities come and go. We cannot stand still and the choices we make sometimes have far-reaching consequences. None of us chooses the place where our life’s journey begins.
This week I visited people living in a poor area of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. They live in simple houses in “invasion” areas. People from small communities move to the city and build wooden houses on unoccupied land. The facilities are very basic and people have little money. Those who find work receive a minimum monthly salary of just over £200, or £7 per day. The cost of living is similar to the UK.
I visited a home where a single mother is bringing up 4 young children. They are starting their life’s journey with great disadvantages – no father to love them, poor education, little food, vulnerable to disease and likely to spend their whole life in poverty. I reflected on how much I have to thank God for! I have been blessed with so much because I was born in a loving family in the UK.
A flight has just departed. The last call was made for passengers to board and then the gate closed. One day we will all reach the end of our life’s journey and will enter into eternity. Some who have had so much in this life may find the door to eternal life closed. They lived for the pleasures of this life and made no preparations for the life to come. While some who have been poor all their lives may enter into eternal life. Perhaps those children, and their mother, will go to the little church which has just opened at the end of their street and hear the good news that Jesus loves them. Then one day they will hear him say to them, “Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world!”
I have just checked in for a 2 hour early morning flight from Belém, a city on the mouth of the Amazon, to Manaus, in the heart of Amazonas. Brazil is a very large country with a population of 190 million people. It has one of the fasting growing economies in the world and also one of the best football teams. In 2014 the World Cup will be held in Brazil, and already there is great excitement at the prospect. The Amazon, the greatest river in the world, contains 20% of all the fresh water in the world. Brazilian people are warm and friendly and for many there is a great optimism about the future.
I have been visiting missionaries from the UK who are working in Brazil. Some of them work with street children. It is estimated that there may be as many as 12 million children living on the streets of Brazil. Life on the streets is very hard. Violence, drug and solvent abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and the lack of access to medical care mean that many of the children will die before they reach the age of 20. Problems in the family, especially in the favelas where people live in simple wooden houses with no amenities, cause many children to run away to the streets. The scale of the problem is overwhelming.
Teams of missionaries and Brazilian Christians work on the streets of Belém to try to help the children. There is a drop-in centre which is open each day and also homes where boys and girls can begin to build a new life. The children need long term help if they are to find real stability for the future. Like us all, they also need to experience God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Last Saturday I attended the wedding of a lady missionary from the UK to a Brazilian pastor. One of the bridesmaids was Aline, a teenager they have adopted. She is a slim, gentle girl who lived on the streets. Her family were not able to care for her and she was alone. Now she belongs to this new family and is surrounded by love. Aline also knows that God is her heavenly Father, because to all who receive Jesus as their Saviour God gives the right to become his children. Now she has a sure hope for the future both in this world and the next.
Charlotte was born on 10 October 2008, her parents’ first child. The birth was normal and she was a good weight, but there were concerns because she was slow to feed and experienced fast breathing. She was transferred to a specialist baby unit. Over the coming weeks there were many tests. Eventually it was established that Charlotte suffered from Zellweger’s syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the brain, liver and kidneys. Her parents were told that she would probably live for only 6 months. She would live to Christmas, but probably not to her first birthday.
The diagnosis was a great shock to her parents and also to the whole family. Her Mum and Dad took her home and tried to take in the implications of Charlotte’s condition. The hopes and plans they had made would not now be fulfilled. They needed space to think things through and to pray to the Lord for his help and strength. As they prayed, and spoke to their family and close friends, the way forward became clearer.
They realised that Charlotte was a unique human being with the capacity to give and receive love. In the womb God had watched over her and preserved her life and she was precious to him. Each day God would give her Mum and Dad the strength and grace they needed. So they learned how to cope with Charlotte’s particular needs and to cope with the daily routine of caring.
Charlotte’s Mum and Dad surrounded her with love and communicated that love to her through their total commitment to her care and frequent cuddles. Charlotte could not speak or apparently understand much of what she heard, but she knew that she was deeply loved. There were times of crisis, but Charlotte saw her first and her second birthday and plans were beginning to be made for when she would go to nursery school. Then towards the end of May she began to experience serious problems and died peacefully on 31 May 2011.
At the service of thanksgiving for her life, attended by family and many friends, there was a spirit of heartfelt thankfulness to God for his goodness to Charlotte and to her Mum and Dad. They know that Charlotte is now safe in the arms of Jesus and all is well. They wrote to their friends, “Please pray for us now and for our family. Times of peace, relief, strength, grief and sorrow all mixed together.”
A recent report has highlighted the increasing commercialisation and sexualisation of children. Manufacturers and retailers have been targeting children with advertising on television and the internet, and near schools. Food retailers and toy makers have recruited 330,000 children, some as young as 5, to take part in market research for their products. Most of the children have been paid and some schools are paid £4000 a year when their pupils take part in these surveys.
Jesus had a special concern for children. When mothers brought their children to him he blessed them and prayed for them. On one occasion he put a little child in front of the people and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Children are naturally trusting and believe what they are told by those they trust. They have a capacity for awe and wonder. When they are taught the truth about God and Jesus they respond with trust and love. Those of us who are older need to learn from them. We can be sceptical and cynical and lose the ability to be moved by the greatness of God and the wonder of the love of Jesus. If we are to know God and enter his kingdom we need to change and become like little children.
Jesus also gave a solemn warning about those who seek to corrupt and exploit little children. He said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones, who believe in me, to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Moral standards in our society are in freefall. This is reflected in many television programmes and on the internet. Parents and grandparents need to be more vigilant than ever in protecting their children from moral corruption. Governments are also responsible for protecting children from harm. God holds us all responsible for safeguarding children so that they can grow up free from exploitation by immoral and unprincipled people. We are keen to safeguard the environment for the good of our children. It is even more important that we safeguard their moral and spiritual development.