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Wide Awake

Pat Verbal

From across the Atlantic Ocean, Patrick McDonald, the founder of Viva Network, has a message about his mission of reaching children-at-risk.

Ask most children's pastors what their church does for at-risk children and you'll likely get one of three answers: a holiday project such as Angel Tree or Thanksgiving baskets, a VBS mission program, or an annual offering. While these are commendable ministries, they fall far short of meeting the desperate needs of hungry, abused, and hurting children living just around the corner from our comfortable churches. That's why missionaries such as Patrick McDonald come to America.

With the passion of an evangelist and the heart of a servant, Patrick pleads for children-at-risk with anyone who'll listen. As founder and director of Viva Network, Patrick's message to the church is simply "Wake up!"

"I've walked through exhibit centers at large Christian conferences," says Patrick in his strong Danish dialect. "I've searched in vain for resources that cater to the caregivers of at-risk kids. Either church leaders are unaware of what children are facing or they're ignoring tremendous social problems."

From the new book Protecting the Gift, Gavin De Becker's statistics shine the light on children's plight in America...

-21.9 percent live in poverty;
-125,000 are prostitutes;
-12,000 street kids live in New York;
-20,000 street kids are in Los Angeles;
-a child is more likely to be sexually abused than to be hit by a car or kidnapped;
-1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will have sexual contact with an adult during their childhood, starting as early as age 3.

No matter where they live, children are the ultimate silent majority. Worldwide there are almost two billion at-risk children -- without influence, power, or options. The full extent of their tears and fears is known only to God.

In 1991, Patrick signed on with a ministry to street kids in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Full of passion, his "on-fire" team dreamed of changing the world for children-at-risk, but his young team quickly fizzled with frustration.

"We had this huge number of children, but only a few feeble things to work with," he recalls. "Because we were underinformed and underresourced, we reinvented the wheel many times. As a result of what we didn't know, we failed to reach children we could have touched. It was really a shame."

Out of the heartbreak of Patrick's isolation as he tried to reach these children, the vision for Viva Network was born.

"I felt that if the evangelical church was to effectively respond to the children-at-risk," Patrick says, "we needed to find a way to improve the quality of Christian care and increase the quantity of awareness and action."

Patrick's team in Bolivia didn't lack zeal, they lacked professionalism, durability, and access to resources. They didn't know who to contact, where to get workers, or how to help severely abused children.

"I wanted to know how to sequence the growth of the ministry," Patrick says. "The questions seemed to be how to put one foot in front of the other to get up this enormous hill."

Viva Network has now successfully bridged the gaps between existing programs. Thank God that this ministry is now available for an estimated 25,000 projects struggling to serve underprivileged and at-risk children around the world.

Patrick's eyes flash when he recounts the exciting advances made since the launch of Viva Network in 1994. One of these advances is the World Wide Day of Prayer for Children-at-Risk (WWDP) that occurs annually on the first Saturday in June. Prayer Partners in more than 60 countries pray and encourage others to pray for children-at-risk.

"I think this has been a significant contribution to putting children-at-risk on the mission radar screen," Patrick admits. "If we can't pray one day a year for these boys and girls, then how important is this issue?"

Because of prayer, the Colombian government has raised the profile of Christian work in its social services department. In Peru, medical personnel have linked to children's projects to alleviate suffering. Because people prayed, Nancy Huff, the director of children's programs for the International Health Services Foundation in Cairo, Egypt, refused to give up.

"I resigned from a job with a good salary to work by faith on behalf of children who need schools, clothing, and food," says Nancy. "I keep my hands on the plow because I am accountable to God for the job he has assigned me to do."

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