Wide Awake

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

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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…

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-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.

WAKE-UP CALL
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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