Consultation on Children at Risk

17 - 20 Nov 2014 Quito, Ecuador

The Lausanne Consultation on Children at Risk was held in Quito, Ecuador, from 17-20 November 2014. This gathering was convened by Menchit Wong, Lausanne Senior Associate for Children at Risk, along with Anne-Christine Bataillard, Lausanne Senior Associate for Evangelism among Children. More than 60 participants came from every continent representing theologians, academics, denomination and NGO network leaders, and Christian practitioners from around the world.

Susan Greener’s presentation of mission ‘to, for, and with children at risk’ argued that the church’s missional conception of children-at-risk needs to include not just mission that seeks to meet their needs and nurture their faith in Jesus (mission ‘to’), or protect them from harm and change social structures on their behalf (mission ‘for’), but must also release and empower them to be agents of mission as well (mission ‘with’).

This insight was supported by other important themes drawing from the mystery of childhood (Valdir Steuernagel), a call to develop an ecclesiology that takes children seriously (Rosalind and Sunny Tan), a proposal to follow children’s example by seeing theology in terms of play and surprise (Nicolas Panotto), and a reminder that we need to place Jesus and children in the midst of our theologizing (Keith White).

A a series of reports were presented on challenges that children face globally. The primary issue under consideration was the abuse and exploitation of children and young people with case studies from Latin America, the Caribbean, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. There were also two powerful presentations about the extraordinary violence that many children face, especially in Latin America, and the troubling frequency with which physical and even sexual abuse is justified by adults using spiritual or theological arguments. This discussion of spiritual abuse was wide-ranging and extremely affecting, calling for repentance and a change in the ways adults show love and respect for children. This was an especially important discussion since it was noted that some spiritual abuse of children may be the result of misguided efforts to force children to do ‘mission’ using adult models rather than allowing children to share the gospel in ways that are genuine to them.

Participants heard panel discussions about different kinds of collaborative action that have been taken on behalf of children at risk. The first panel was focused on NGO networks and partnerships. Then a group of denominational leaders shared what God has done within their churches to reconsider the contributory roles that children play in their faith communities. The final panel shared vignettes of how different colleges, universities, and seminaries worldwide have begun offering training in the field of Holistic Child Development.

Wess Stafford, former President of Compassion International, inspired participants with stories about his call to work with children, and suggested that far from having ‘arrived’, the establishment of this community within Lausanne represented an important indicator that we are on the cusp of seeing the ways in which God will be using children and the church’s work with them to change the world in the coming years.