“The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of other pictures. Pictures that tell a completely different story. Pictures of hope and joy, of children transformed and destinies changed.”
Over the years, three photographs, all of children, have haunted the public imagination. First, the picture of the African child known as “Struggling Girl,”1 clearly near death, starving and emaciated, with a vulture hovering nearby waiting for this victim (who was actually a boy) of famine and war. Second, the picture of a nine-year-old Vietnamese girl, “The Terror of War”2 (also known as “Napalm Girl”) running naked on a bridge, trying to escape the flames that poured down on her village during the Vietnam War. And more recently, the picture of the three-year-old boy washed up on a beach in Europe, “The Death of Alan Kurdi,”3 drowned because the boats carrying migrants and refugees were not adequate for the journey. On that fateful day his mother and father had lovingly put on his shirt, shorts and shoes before they left in a dinghy with hope for a better life. Tragically, young Alan did not make it to “the promised land.”
These tragic pictures galvanized people into action. “The Terror of War” turned many against the Vietnam War and hastened the peace process. “Struggling Girl” mobilized millions of dollars in international response to the famines in the Horn of Africa. The death of Alan Kurdi increased the pace at which Syrian refugees have been welcomed into Canada, many of them sponsored by our own churches. These iconic tragic photographs—pictures that told a story when words were not adequate—moved the hearts and minds of millions of people.
The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of other pictures. Pictures that tell a completely different story. Pictures of hope and joy, of children transformed and destinies changed. For over 100 years, Pentecostal Canadians have not needed these tragic pictures to motivate us to care for the needs of children. Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). The Psalmist declares that God will “defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; [he will] crush the oppressor” (Psalm 72:4). I believe The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada has enjoyed the blessing of God because we have obeyed God’s Word and heeded the wisdom of Solomon: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done” (Proverbs 19:17).
Mark and Huldah Buntain provided food for thousands of children on the streets of Calcutta and opened schools so they could receive an education. Their vision remains intact today as hundreds of children go to school, get a decent meal, and have people who lovingly care for them. Sadie McLeod and Blanche Pardo established the famous “Rooftop Schools” in Hong Kong for the refugees who came from China. Today, Ka Chiid4 Secondary School still offers a first-class education to disadvantaged children in Hong Kong. Roy and Avis Rideout in Thailand established a home for children born with the HIV-AIDS virus and have seen hundreds find healing, hope and a new life. Gary and Marilyn Skinner responded to the orphan crisis of Uganda, providing shelter and education for thousands of children, many who are now leaders in their nation. Deborah Sirjoosingh, while caring for a whole community in northern Kenya, ensures that children are treated at the hospital and that education is provided through schools in the community. Linda Veldhuizen went to the Philippines for one year, but because of the needs of children, she never came home. Noah’s Ark remains a refuge and a place of hope for hundreds of children. Frank Juelich, who has cared for thousands of boys and girls in India, sums up this calling.
“The call of God has decreed that I be but a stranger, a wanderer, wherever I dwell. It also decrees that I make a home for others; for kids who dwell in shacks and shanties in utter misery, without hope of ever escaping the despair of those places or even dreaming of the possibility of advancement. I am called to be a merchant of hope; to put smiles on their faces and laughter in their hearts, to hear them say, ‘I want to be a nurse, or a teacher, or a doctor, or a pastor.’ Without God, they could never dream about such goals.”5
Our global workers have not been bystanders, indifferent to the suffering and injustices around them. They are fully engaged in responding to human tragedy, where children pay a heavy price and are often the innocent collateral damage of war, natural disaster and poverty. Millions of children today are victims of poverty, child labour, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and the effects of war. ChildCARE Plus (CCP) was established by the PAOC through ERDO to increase our capacity to meet the needs of children around the world, ensuring education, health care, nourishing food, and the opportunity for every child to flourish. CCP is currently caring for over 8,000 children around the world.
My journey and Cindy’s of prioritizing children began in Zambia in 1993 when a local orphanage full of precious children was shut down because the institution had become a place of abuse. The children were put out on the street, left to fend for themselves. Unable to help those children and reopen that home, we embarked on a journey to make a difference. Today that ministry, Villages of Hope Africa, led by Sergio and Nancy Bersaglio, cares for over 4,000 children in nine locations and five countries.
Paul and Ruth Banda were students at Trans-Africa Theological College in Kitwe, also in Zambia, when I was serving as academic dean. Unfortunately, they both died at an early age. Their daughters, Fatuma and Prescovia, were initially cared for in the first home we built at the Village of Hope. Some relatives with less than loving motives came and took the girls away and essentially used them for cheap labour in their home. One evening a relative tried to abuse Fatuma, and when she reported the incident, no one believed her. “I knew then that I was not safe. That night I ran away and slept in a pit latrine. No one came to look for me. I was just a small girl.” The next day she returned to the Village of Hope, praying that God would help her to be received. After negotiations with social welfare, she was allowed to stay. Today she is a teacher, married to a pastor with her own family. Her picture tells a hope story that cannot be expressed in words.
“Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me’” (Mark 9:36-37).
1. Kevin Carter, “Struggling Girl,” New York Times, March 26, 1993.
2. Nick Ut, “The Terror of War,” Associated Press, June 8, 1972.
3. Nilüfer Demir, “The Death of Alan Kurdi,” Demirören News Agency, September 2, 2015.
4. “Ka” and “Chi” are the Chinese names for Sadie and Blanche, respectively.
5. Frank M. Juelich, Fearfully and Wonderfully Mad! An Autobiography (Nagpur, IN: Frank M. Juelich, 2012), 49.
Murray Cornelius is the executive director for International Missions of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2019 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.