Loving Children in Poverty
by Jennifer S. Yen
According to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data, approximately 1 in 8 Americans lives below the poverty line, and of those in poverty, nearly 33% are children. How is it that the United States, a prosperous country, still has a subset of population living in poverty?
James 2:5 states, “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?”
Jesus came to earth to bless those who are “the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Therefore, as His followers, we are to be His living testimony to His people—rich or poor, young or old—and love them as Christ loves us.
My quiet, suburban neighborhood in California is known as one of the best places to raise a family. The crime rate is low and the neighborhood is safe. However, tucked in a remote part of my city is a prison surrounded by metal fences with barbed wire securely fastened to the top. Close to the prison is the city police station, and not far from the police station is an elementary school. Near the school are housing complexes available to low-income families or people with special needs. These people may formerly have been homeless and are now trying to find jobs, or they may be family members of people incarcerated in the prison.
When I visited this neighborhood, I saw empty beer bottles lying on the ground in front of the housing complexes. I also saw people smoking not too far from the school. When students were released to go home after school, adults gathered outside the housing complexes chatting, smoking, and waiting for their children to return. At times, the police patrol the area around the campus during school hours to maintain safety.
I never thought I would be in this neighborhood on a regular basis until I heard about a Christian lady who regularly walks around the periphery of this school to pray for the school children. Her persistence in prayer and her love for the children touched my heart and motivated me to act on Christ’s command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
In the spring of 2017, as I asked the Lord for opportunities to serve the less-privileged, I found a flier in one of my children’s backpacks. The flier mentioned a community outreach organization in need of volunteers for its mentorship program. A mentor would be paired up with a child, and they would meet at least once a week for 45 minutes during the school year. The name of this organization caught my attention. It was a faith-based organization that serves at-risk children from different low-income neighborhoods. And the neighborhood school next to the prison was one of the places the organization served! After praying, I contacted the organization’s director, filled out a lengthy application, and completed the mandatory background check, all of which were needed to be a mentor at this school.
The Child in the Neighborhood
Diana (not her real name) was starting first grade when I first met her. I had imagined my mentoring time with Diana to be fun, and our conversations built on mutual trust and honesty. But our first meetings were not what I expected. Diana was energetic and had a sweet smile, but her teacher informed me that she refused to follow instructions in class, initiated physical fights with friends, and spoke hurtful words to her classmates. She also fabricated stories in order to avoid trouble. I was unaware and somewhat unprepared for the extent of social and emotional needs Diana had.
Over time, I learned that Diana had previously been homeless and slept overnight in a car with her mother and half-sister. Luckily, they were able to find temporary housing at one of the nearby housing complexes. Diana periodically saw her father, and her half-sister’s father was in jail. Diana’s mother, with her two daughters, had driven to this neighborhood from the east coast, packing all of their belongings in the car, to start a new life.
The family’s instability created social and emotional issues for Diana. She had trouble concentrating in class and needed extra help with reading and math. Because of all the issues facing her, Diana had a hard time trusting people. Lying and bullying were her ways to preserve her sense of worth. Although outwardly she seemed sweet, inwardly she was hurting, so she mistreated people around her. She was like a beautiful rose with thorns, captivating—but inflicting pain on others. During my first few meetings with Diana, I felt heavyhearted, discouraged, and clueless how to help her.
Loving the Child in the Neighborhood
But God encouraged me through His words,“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34). God’s words reminded me to love others, including people who are difficult to love. This is His command. And Jesus is the perfect example of love. He died on the cross so that all sinners who believe in Him shall have eternal life (John 3:16). This is His ultimate act of love, and his love is beyond measure. I began to pray consistently before our meetings, asking God to grant me a heart overflowing with His love and patience. I also asked Him to give me wisdom to encourage open conversations that were fun and interesting.
Through time, Diana and I got to know each other more. Every time we met, I read to Diana and used interactive games to teach her math. Together, we played board games, made celebration cards for her family members, and did arts and crafts. Diana also enjoyed playing group games with friends. Aside from all the fun activities, what I enjoyed most were our heart-to-heart conversations. The moments when she opened up were precious times when we talked about healthy habits, positive character, family, and faith. Although those moments did not happen every time we met, during those moments, something meaningful happened—a seed of God’s love was sown.
Unfortunately, Diana’s family situation did not get better. Her mother could not find a stable job, so they had to move again. Though I only knew Diana for nine months, I am grateful that God gave me the opportunity to be a part of her life and used me to manifest His love. I pray that the Lord continues to provide Christ-loving mentors for her wherever she goes.
God’s Work Unfinished
God’s work for me at this school is not finished. After Diana moved, my time at the school only increased. I have been spending more time with students like Diana and developing positive relationships with her classmates. When they see me, they greet me and ask me to play group games with them during recess. Through Diana, God has given me opportunities to know other underprivileged kids with whom I can share Christ’s love. These children whom I have come to love are “a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). I am grateful for—and blessed by—the opportunity to minister to His children.
Acts 20:24 states, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”