Wess Stafford is the president and CEO of Compassion International and I have to say this book is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read and if you only read one of my posts please read this one! : )
This book is filled with stories of people like you and me. People whose lives were affected by a word of encouragement. A word spoken in just a minute.
These stories will make you cry, not out of sadness but out of joy and the difference a kind word spoken to a child can make.
First of all it's important to understand what real poverty is. The poverty of the heart. Wess talks about poverty and what is really is here:
"...I grew up in a poverty-stricken West African village where over half of my childhood friends died before I was fifteen years old.
I know poverty,
I hate poverty.
I hate what it does to little children.
Its worst aspects, however are not the lack of clean water or sanitation or housing. It's not even the lack of money. Those things, tragic as they are, are not poverty. They are just the symptoms that dominate life when poverty is around.
Yes, it's good to attack the externals and eliminate them. But I know from my childhood, my academic studies, and now decades of serving the poor that the real root of poverty lies well beneath these visible conditions. It's the message it breathes into the heart of even very little children:
Give up. Nobody cares about you. Nothing will ever change. You are nothing and always will be.
Oh, the surrounding circumstances contribute to that worldview, to be sure. But when that hopeless life message finds root in a child's heart (and it can happen very early in life), the spirit of the child begins to shrivel. It wilts like a flower in the heat. The eyes grow downcast; the twinkle is gone. The fire begins to go out.
What we at Compassion do is rush to those dying embers before the glow is gone completely. With the local church, our staff, and sponsors at the distance, we frantically fan those embers until a proof of flame bursts forth. It's a beautiful thing to see..."
Wess says here of the importance of encouraging words:
"At Compassion International, we repeatedly tell our sponsors that their most valuable gift to the child with whom they are linked is not the monthly check that supports their education and health care. It's their prayers and words of encouragement through letters from a world away."
Helping the poor with external needs is a good thing, but its not enough. People need Jesus. They need to know the One who has unconditional love for them. Wess says later:
"If we only attend to children's physical health, diet, education, and self-image, we cheat them terribly. To paraphrase Jesus, what shall it profit it a boy or girl if we care for their body, mind, and emotions, yet lose their soul? That is why Compassion International keeps careful track of how many sponsored children around the world welcome Christ into their little hearts. Last year, the total was 152,000. That's more than 400 each day."
|Wess giving a young child a hug :)|
Near the middle of the book Wess shares his own story and I was shocked at the abuse he suffered as a child in a missionary school in Africa, which he attended while his parents were on the mission field. But the most amazing thing is how God took those horrible experiences and used them for good. You have to read his story!
There are so many great stories in this book. One of my favorites was of a little girl named Jessica. She was 6 years old when Wess spoke to a group of children in Indonesia. She was sitting in the front row and he picked her up and put her on his lap and said to all:
"Do you know how precious you all are to God? He knows you and loves you more than anything else in the world. Like this little girl...Do any of you know her name?"
'Jessica', they all called out....Jesus knows Jessica's name, but do any of you know how many hairs she has on her head?"
There was silence.
"Jesus does! He loves little Jessica so much that He keeps track of everything about her, even the number of hairs on her head."
"Did you ever look closely at the tips of your fingers? See those tiny lines, that little design? Jesus made every one of you unique, special."
Wess took Jessica's little fingers in his hands and continued:
"God loves Jessica so much he drew her very own picture on her fingers like nobody else's in the whole world."
Jessica looked at her fingers and smiled. She then snuggled deeper into Wess's arms.
Wess spoke again:
"God knew her before she was even born. He knit her in her mama's womb. And look - he made her beautiful, gave her her very own laugh, her beautiful eyes. He knows exactly what she will be when she grows up. She has no idea how special she is to God, and how loved. Jesus would have died on the cross for her even if she was the only child on earth!"
Wess says the room went suddenly quiet and he could see people in the room about to cry. Something was happening he didn't understand.
The pastor leaned over and said to Wess when he had finished speaking:
"You couldn't possibly have known - but if ever a little girl needed to be lovingly held and affirmed, it was Jessica right now."
He later found out this little 6 year old girl Jessica, who hugged him even more when he tried to put her down, had been brutally raped a month before. The rapist got off with no penalty, no jail, but just had to pay a bribe of $300. No justice for this little girl was served. They told Wess:
"We are amazed that she would even let you, a man, pick her up and hold her in your arms."
Wess finishes this story with this:
"Years have passed since that incident, and I'm told that our brief moment together was the beginning of her healing. She is beginning to blossom again in mind, soul and spirit.
I carry a picture of Jessica with me now. I am so grateful that I got to be a part of a 'moment' that is healing and transforming her life day by day."
Wow and that is just one story from this book!
As I read through this book I tried to think of a moment of encouragement I experienced as a child. One that sticks out to me is from my 7th grade teacher.
I struggled in elementary school and often felt stupid. I just couldn't get a good mark in anything and I felt like a failure. I was painfully shy as a child and was often picked on and made fun of. I also had a hard time connecting with people because of my introvertedness. My child's heart was often in turmoil because of these things, but I never talked about it.
At the end of my grade 7 year my teacher awarded me with the Citizenship Award. I was dumbfounded. I hardly spoke in school, but she saw something in me I didn't see and it gave me confidence going into high school.
All through high school I was on the 'B' honor roll, I made some wonderful friends, who are still close friends today and had some great teachers who instilled my love of history and reading. I truly believe receiving that award in 7th grade, whether I deserved it or not, made a huge difference in my life.
Do you have a story of a moment of kindness or encouragement that made a difference in your childhood? I'd love to hear it.
I highly, highly recommend this book! It will make a difference in the way you look at children and how you interact with them. And it could make a huge difference in a child in your life. : )
Buy it HERE at Amazon