Let the Children Come ©

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, I can help but thank God for the mothers by which I’m blessed – my mother, the mother I am married to, the mother we raised, and the mother we cherish as a daughter-in-law. When my mother would play catch with us in our little league years, we boys (I am one of three) all said, “she threw like a girl.” Our smart aleck remark was meant as a sagacious critique, but in truth, it was an affirmation of appreciation and thanksgiving. 
Even casual reflection on mothers and Mother’s Day brings us to a greater understanding of the importance of raising children. Because of Jesus, mothering (parenting!) is a holy activity. We recall the Lord’s teaching on this through one clarion incident recorded in the gospels.
“Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.” (Matthew 19:13-15)
Amid the chaos and confusion of our time, surely this is a ministry we can rally around. There are few churches that will not go the second mile for children. This commitment to children (with their mothers and fathers) is a highlight of our faithfulness in building the Kingdom of God.
One of those ministries (among many in the Central Texas Conference) is Methodist Justice Ministry (MJM) in Fort Worth. MJM was begun in 2006 “to provide light and hope to victims of traumatic domestic violence and neglect.” Their work provides free legal representation and ongoing support to mothers and children and leads victims of abuse out of fear, abuse, and violence and into safe, nurturing, and productive new lives.

Rev. Brooks Harrington and the MJM team.
Rev. Brooks Harrington serves as the Legal Director of MJM – a position he’s held for more than 15 years. Brooks, who spent five years as a prosecutor of street crimes in Washington, D.C., including a year on the street in a special criminal investigative unit, also served as the pastor of Diamond Hill UMC in Fort Worth (an inner-city impoverish area and congregation) for five years.

Out of this extensive background of ministry in tough poverty-stricken environments, Rev. Harrington recently passed on a list of insights that I believe we would all benefit from hearing.  I share the following with his permission:
  1.  Children in poverty blame themselves for everything bad and hurtful in their lives. If they are hungry, it is because they are not good enough children. If they don’t have the material things and experiences that they see other children have on TV, it is because they are not good enough children. If they are moved from pillar to post, relative to relative, it is because they are not good enough children. If their mother chooses to subject them to an abusive partner or abandons them to relatives and chooses that abuser over them, if a parent is physically abusive to them, if they are sexually abused and their mother asks them not to report it and protects the abuser, if their parents abuse drugs or alcohol and their homelife is a chaotic hell, it is somehow their fault in their minds. That is why a child so often wants to be reunited with a failed parent—to have another chance to earn the parent’s love. In situations like this, an older child will make herself the de facto parent of the siblings. In 2019, our superintendent of FWISD reported that 85 percent of the children in District schools live at or below the poverty line. That is a lot of children struggling with the psychological and emotional effects of poverty. All of this is why the licensed professional counseling we offer for all of our children is one of the most important parts of our ministry, probably THE most important.  
  2. Nothing good done to a child is ever wasted; nothing bad done to a child is ever without long term harm. If a child is cherished and protected when young, no matter the economic setting, that child is much more likely to be hopeful about life and to be capable of cherishing and protecting others as an adult. On the other hand, so many of our bitter, cynical, nihilistic, neglectful and abusive parents were abused and neglected in poverty as children.
  3. Poverty is inherited. The myth of a child being able to pull herself out of poverty by her own bootstraps as an adult is just that—a myth. When I was on the street in D.C. and in Diamond Hill here in Fort Worth, I was daily in neighborhoods where a child would have to be Superman or Wonder Woman to get out of her teens without a child and a criminal record and an abusive relationship and a drug or alcohol habit. For so many poor children, there are no bootstraps.
  4. To the poor--particularly poor, single mothers--it feels as if everything conspires to keep them in poverty…[things like] lack of affordable child care; living wages; reliable transportation to work; full time work; work hours that are friendly to child care; a boss who cares about their family; education; and marketable job skills.   
  5. Single women in poverty can be forced to move from abusive male to abusive male out of economic necessity. See items 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8.
  6. Drug use and alcohol abuse are the anesthesia of the poor. So many of the poor start to use because they feel defeated and lack hope. Almost every past and present MJM case of abuse and family violence involves alcohol and/or drug abuse.
  7. Overcriminalization holds the poor back. A recent, exhaustive study reveals that as many people in the U.S. have criminal records as have college degrees. Read that sentence again, please. If you make a mistake as a young man or woman, particularly if your parent(s) doesn’t have the resources and clout to help you get around it, even if everyone around you in the neighborhoods where you grew up were modeling this behavior, you pay for it the rest of your life in housing and jobs and resources. And your children pay for it. And their children.   
  8. Poverty leads to a sense of impotence and a distorted masculinity. So many abusive men were not only abused but witnessed abuse in their childhoods. Many take out their sense of powerlessness in the workplace on their partners and their children at home.   
  9. There is such a thing as a “poverty industry” comprised of businesses, groups and individuals who make their living on the poor. If you are interested in learning more about this, I recommend a book entitled Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business. In addition to the pawnshops and the title loan and pay day loan companies and the plasma buyers and the predatory loaners and the we-tote-the-note used car dealers, there are consultant firms who charge top dollar, led by CEO’s and owners with handsome salaries, to help re-organize and advise non-profits serving the poor. There are non-profits serving the poor run by leaders with shockingly high salaries. There is a fundraising industry that accepts no discounts in salaries to help raise money for non-profits serving the poor. There are family law firms who charge the poor thousands of dollars as a retainer, exhausting their savings or requiring them to take out loans, and then immediately withdraw when they run quickly through the retainer without having really helped their client.  MJM needs to be ever dedicated to staying out of that industry.   
  10. At MJM, we don’t move children out of economic poverty; we move children from greater to lesser economic poverty.  Our clients are almost all economically poor—those who seek custody of children to save them from family violence, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and untreated mental illness—are poor but not as poor as the parents. But when we obtain legal custody, for instance, of a number of grandchildren for a poor grandparent, we make them poorer by giving them children to support. This is why it is so very vital for us to be able to provide financial aid for rent, utilities, children’s clothes, etc. for our clients.
  11. Trying to rescue poor children day-to-day is messy and painful, and can be discouraging and heart-breaking. A lot of people, particularly a lot of Christians, believe that rescuing poor children from abuse and neglect is a wonderful, Godly goal. But trying to do it day-to-day for years is…beyond hard. In order to sustain this, the urge – the drive - to do so has to live deep in your heart and…your gut. You really can’t be capable of leaving to do anything else. At MJM, we have had people join us and then leave. I am in no way critical of them; I am so grateful that they helped us as long as they could. But in order to sustain this – I know I am sounding overdramatic - you have to be taken over by the plight and welfare of these children. So many of our clients, and all of the parents of the children we are trying to save, are wounded. Their situations are so often intractable and their past is a festering sore. You can’t stay here if you don’t have this experience of being taken over. You can’t fight through the pain of being unable to solve people’s poverty or erase the blot of children’s pasts. You don’t belong here without this experience of being taken over, and the hope that comes from an active faith. For … ‘suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…’ (Romans 5:3-4).    
  12. Rescuing poor, suffering children is the heart of the Way of Jesus. See Matthew19.14; 25.31-46.  Listen to the Spirit.      
  13. See item 1 above.  Above all and always, see item 1.  
(Rev. Brooks Harrington, Methodist Justice Ministry)
 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them. (Matthew 19:14-15)

Moderators Note: Methodist Justice Ministry is one of the organizations that will be supported by the 2021 Central Texas Annual Conference Offering, along with Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON).