ASIA (BP) — To most of the world, 13-year-old Nitya Singh* is simply one of the world’s 1 billion children who live in urban centers, according to UNICEF data.
To Helen McKinney*, however, Nitya is more than a statistic in a world in which nearly 600 million children live in poverty.
Nitya is a child worthy of God’s love.
Three years ago, Nitya and her mother Parul* came to McKinney’s home to get clean water from an outside faucet. Nitya had not yet met the foreign woman who only recently had moved in.
Within a few days, McKinney, with a few cookies, ventured out to meet the mother and her daughter.
“They laughed at my attempt to communicate,” McKinney recalls, but her simple gesture marked the beginning of a friendship.
Soon Nitya brought her friends to meet “Auntie,” the kind woman who gave her cookies but couldn’t speak her language. As the friendship grew, the group of children moved from the gate to the porch and into the living room. They helped McKinney learn their language, and McKinney taught them simple English.
“The children came every day, sometimes twice a day, for a cookie and prayer,” McKinney says. “Through a Bible story book and lots of great pictures, I started teaching them about Jesus.”
As McKinney came to know the children, she began to visit the families who lived in the squalid slums near her home. Slowly, she met some needs that families could not, such as taking a child to a doctor or dentist or buying a family a bag of rice.
But McKinney’s visits brought more than food or even friendship. They brought hope — the hope found only in Jesus Christ.
“The families welcomed me into their little huts, and I became ‘family,'” McKinney says. “Many of the children came to know Jesus as their Savior.”
Today, between 30 and 50 children come to McKinney’s weekly class, where she gives them food, medicine and love, and about 10 children visit each morning before school for breakfast and prayer. On Sunday mornings, McKinney goes to church in an SUV packed with children.
Throughout Asia, Christian workers like McKinney are sharing God’s love with children from all walks of life, from the desperately poor to the outrageously affluent. Mary Bennett* is another example of someone who sees past the numbers.
Bennett works with 30 of the world’s 163 million orphans. The 30 children live in a children’s home that Bennett describes as lacking adult supervision and nurture in Southeast Asia.
Concerned by the lack of care for the children and seeking a way to show God’s love, Bennett brings four children at a time into her home each week to sing, pray and hear Bible stories. She also searches for Christian families from churches in her city to “spiritually adopt” the children by praying for them daily, taking them to Sunday School and inviting them into their homes.
“If we don’t have an intentional strategy for reaching children, the next generation will be even that much harder to reach,” Bennett says.
Once deterred by criticism that “you can’t start churches with children,” Bennett now encourages other Christian workers to consider how they can reach children in their circles of influence.
Referencing a survey of believers from Islamic backgrounds, Bennett continues, “All of them could remember hearing something about Jesus as a child. I believe that those who hear [about Christ] as children are much more likely to follow Him when they become adults.”
Myrtle Oscar* agrees. A Christian worker in Thailand, the 60-year-old grandmother hosts a weekly kids club for nearly 20 children in her neighborhood. The middle-class children spend an hour and a half playing games, learning English and hearing Bible stories.
Knowing that some parents in her Buddhist culture might object to the overt teaching of Christianity, Oscar is upfront about teaching from the Bible.
“One mother told us her daughter could not come if we told Bible stories,” Oscar recalls. “Later, the mother came back and listened at the gate. Now her daughter comes every week.”
For McKinney, parental response also is positive. As children in her predominantly Hindu culture share Bible stories at home, parents come to McKinney’s home to hear the stories themselves. Some are now followers of Jesus, and the Gospel has transformed a number of families.
“Most of the women had husbands who drank and beat them,” McKinney says, remembering mothers who came crying to her home late at night with their children. “We prayed for them, bandaged their wounds, shared some tea and loved them. Now all the fathers have quit drinking!”
It’s important for believers to look beyond statistics to see the children like Nitya who need to learn about God. Based on their experiences, McKinney, Bennett and Oscar believe that kindness to children fosters opportunities for relationships with parents.
“If you are doing good to someone’s child, you will make an impression on the parent,” Oscar says. “It’s a really bad parent who doesn’t appreciate those who take an interest in their kids.”
*Names changed. Tess Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia.