Book Review

Children: At the Heart of Mission


“Where children suffer and are abused, godly mandates are systematically broken and ignored.”

Children—the Great Omission? by Dan Brewster and Patrick McDonald. Viva Network, 2004. May be downloaded from www. viva.org/lausanne without charge.

Reviewed by Ian A.

As Christians seek to demonstrate the love of Christ to a skeptical, cynical world, there is no better focus to have than children” (p. 11). 

Nevertheless, the Victorian saying, “Children are to be seen and not heard” too often resonates with churches and Christian agencies around the world. According to Dan Brewster and Patrick McDonald, only 15% of Christian giving goes to children. Since that includes our “own” children, who, if United Kingdom statistics are any guide, would take most of that, it leaves maybe 8% of the funds for the 92% of children growing up in the developing world.

Children—the Great Omission? is a timely and helpful overview of what Christian responses to children and children at risk need to be. Dan Brewster and Patrick McDonald (the first a valued colleague, the second my boss) write out of over 40 years experience working with and for children at risk. They have covered most of the globe, talking to and hearing from Christian and secular leaders, children’s workers and children at risk themselves. Their roles with Compassion International and Viva Network respectively force them to consider these issues daily.

Out of their experience, they state boldly and baldly: “We believe that children and young people should be the single greatest priority for Christian work in the coming decade” (p. 3).

“Christians are commanded to reveal the love of Christ to a hurting world and no group of people is hurting more than children. Their needs are enormous, their numbers are exploding and their age group could not be more strategic— spiritually, biologically and educationally.  They are the future.

“If we cannot demonstrate the love of God to children dying on our doorstep, what kind of gospel do we proclaim? Our credibility as messengers is at stake. Love is selfless in nature; we need to help children regardless of what they might do for us” (p. 3).

Brewster and McDonald tread carefully the fine line between three different, and sometimes competing, adult agendas: first, the agenda that seeks to see as many children “saved” as possible; second, that which longs to provide temporal hope to hurting children ranging from adequate nutrition to loving parenting; and third, that which sees children as investments for the future. Somewhere in the middle of these three they point to the truth—children are precious and valuable in God’s sight, being significant individuals before him now. They need—depend upon—investment in their lives so that they can grow to reach their God-given potentials.

This helpful booklet was first written for the 2004 Lausanne conference, commissioned by international Christian agencies concerned for children, including those at risk. In the intervening 18 months since that conference, it has proven very helpful for many who need a clear and concise understanding of children for strategic Christian thinking and planning.

The book is structured around three headings: the whole world, the whole church, and the whole gospel. The whole world presents helpful statistics to understand what issues are facing children today, from the “consumerization” of children to the still remaining rampant malnutrition and lack of clean water. It also addresses the consideration of children developing into their adulthoods while the “clay is still soft.”

The whole church section considers where children are in churches and asks why they are strategic, what children themselves contribute and what more they could contribute.

Finally, the whole gospel considers “Love in action, not just words.” The authors claim: “Where children suffer and are abused, godly mandates are systematically broken and ignored. To be very blunt, when Christians fail to reach out to hurting children, either by omission or commission, their Christian faith must be suspect” (p. 11). This section works through biblical ideas with some helpful references and quotes. In fact, the whole document is meticulously and comprehensively referenced, a resource in itself.

So, why do we need to read Children—the Great Omission? I think there are two critical reasons for understanding our calling and furthering our work.

First, we need it so that we will deliberately include China’s children in our strategic thinking. Of China’s population, 27%, a massive 358,887,000 are children. Of the general population, 17% live on incomes of US$1 per day (UNICEF, State of the World’s Children, 2006). These are huge numbers betraying significant social needs. Our concern for the individual children behind these numbers gives credibility to our witness and also testifies to our likeness to the God who is best pleased to be called “Father.”

Second, reading this will assist us in explaining to our supporters, potential partners and workers why holistic outreach to children is essential. For years, agencies have used pictures of children to tug at people’s heartstrings—and not always in appropriate ways. Brewster and McDonald give us, in strategic terms, a theological, missiological and sociological rationale so we can explain why we need to put children back into the heart of mission.

Ian A.

Ian A. is a social worker who works with Viva Network. In addition to Children— the Great Omission? a helpful video presentation and other useful materials can be downloaded free of charge from www.viva.org/lausanne. View Full Bio