I must be a slow learner. It took me three books before I saw
the connection. My daughter recommended the first two books,
Angela’s Ashes and The Color of Water. My son had to read the third
book, Make Lemonade, for a high school proficiency test. The fourth
book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, practically jumped off the
library shelf at me. The last one is a classic I should’ve read
years ago — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
What’s the connection? Each of these books is about children —
children who live in poverty, children who go without decent food
or warm clothing or proper medical care, children who have been
damaged, children who suffer. As I read each of these books,
something nagged at my soul. What was it?
I serve in an upper-middle-class suburban church. None of our
children suffers from poverty. Was God telling me that we should
open a food bank or plan a clothing drive? Should we be more
actively involved in the inner city? I pondered. I prayed. I
struggled through a difficult season in the life of our church, and
finally I understood why God had me read those five books.
God wanted me to see that the children in my church do live in
poverty. It’s not material poverty. They have plenty of warm
clothes and the latest CDs and video games. But they live with
other kinds of poverty — poverty of morals, character, discipline,
and commitment. They often lack biblical knowledge and Christian
Do I see this poverty in the children themselves? Are they a band
of spiritual delinquents? No, they’re a wonderful group of kids.
Where, then, is the poverty?
It’s in the culture around them, inside and outside the church.
It’s poverty evidenced in pastors who commit adultery, politicians
who lie, coaches who mistreat players, churches that misrepresent
the Word of God, parents who choose sports practices over worship,
and Christians who ignore their friends’ needs.
This litany of cultural woes might lead us to think that our
children have no hope but to be consumed by this poverty. This
doesn’t need to be their destiny! I know because I read those five
books. I read about children who rose above their circumstances,
who brought beauty out of ashes, who dug down deep and found the
strength to thrive — not just survive.
Where did that strength come from? For Ruth McBride Jordan, it
came from Jesus. Her son describes in The Color of Water how God
transformed an emotionally scarred Jewish girl into a woman who
founded a Baptist church and raised 12 children to become doctors,
professors, and teachers — despite financial hardship, racial
discrimination, and the loss of two husbands. Jesus made the
difference in her physical need and spiritual emptiness.
The wonder of Jesus is that he came to eradicate spiritual poverty
and fill our souls with his glorious riches. He came so that
children could experience full and God-pleasing lives in the midst
of cultural want. Children can rise above the poor examples set
before them as the Holy Spirit shapes their hearts. They can become
committed, disciplined, and spiritually rich people as the Word of
God is hidden in their minds.
How? Ruth McBride Jordan tells us how: “You need foresight. And
vision. You got vision?…Well, if you don’t have it, don’t waste
I certainly don’t want to waste God’s time. So I come boldly
before the Lord and say, “Give me foresight. Grant me vision. Show
me the poverty our children face. Use me to bless them with your
Kathy Brace is the children’s ministry director at Knox
Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.