Hope for Children in Poverty: Profiles and Possibilities

by Ronald J. Sider and Heidi Unruh, eds.

In this relatively slim volume, Ron Sider and Heidi Unruh have collected a cornucopia of articles targeted at the uninitiated but well-meaning churchgoer to demystify poverty in America and its impact on children.

Judson Press, P.O. Box 851, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0851, 2007, 192 pages, $16.00

Reviewed by David H. Scott, adjunct instructor, children-at-risk studies, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

In this relatively slim volume, Ron Sider and Heidi Unruh have collected a cornucopia of articles targeted at the uninitiated but well-meaning churchgoer to demystify poverty in America and its impact on children. Their compassionate exploration of this topic is both broad and deep, drawing from perspectives in the fields of social work, education, health and public policy. Alongside this, they consider the biblical and theological mandate for poor children, and rationalize that the Church in the United States is called to two key responses: local action and public advocacy.

To support local action, the editors of this volume include case studies of different church-based ministries with children. In addition to providing helpful illustrations of the dynamics they describe, these examples demonstrate that virtually any church can get involved in ministry with children and youth living in poverty. One simply needs to find out what the needs are in the community and get to work. In further support of this idea, the book thoughtfully provides appendices with practical tools for planning an initial intervention.

Sider and Unruh also emphasize the critical importance of public advocacy. They go to great lengths to educate the reader on some of the larger structural causes for child poverty and do not overlook the important role that good legislation can (and sometimes does) play in alleviating poverty. They call Christians to vote and speak out on behalf of poor children and ensure that the children’s own voices are heard as well. Indeed, one of the great strengths of the book is its inclusion of poems written by children. Nicely and Hyatt’s case study points out that children’s voices are often more effective than adult voices in representing the experience of poverty, since, “It is easier to blame an adult for struggling with poverty than to blame a ten-year-old.”

This book is a valuable contribution to the growing missiological discussion about what are increasingly termed “children at risk.” Although there is awareness that certain American churches are doing much with children, many congregations have reasoned that the problems poor children face are localized, isolated and rare, and that governmental services are largely adequate to address the need. This book debunks that myth, and (even though it never explicitly couches its message in missional terms) joins the growing body of recent missiological literature on the needs of children and how intentional, concerted and focused work with children is an essential component of the missio dei in our world today that is all-too-often overlooked by Christ’s Church in the world.

Check these titles:
Brewster, Dan. 2005. Child, Church and Mission: A Resource Book for Christian Child Development Workers. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Compassion International.

McConnell, Douglas, Jennifer Orona and Paul Stockley, eds. 2007. Understanding God’s Heart for Children: Toward a Biblical Framework. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Authentic Publishing.

Miles, Glenn and Josephine Joy-Wright, eds. 2003. Celebrating Children: Equipping People Working with Children and Young People Living in Difficult Circumstances around the World. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press.

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