Walking with Jesus, children through Holy Week

By the Rev. Dr. Marilyn P. Turner-Triplett

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
— 1 Corinthians 13:11

The season of Lent did not get a great deal of notice in my growing-up household or church. I recall having a vague notion that it was somehow connected to Mardi Gras and that my friends who attended Catholic schools got to wear ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday and eat fish every Friday. Although I may have been daydreaming when Lent was being discussed — a possibility given my childish dislike of spending Sunday in church — I don’t think much was said about Lent; it simply seemed to be a mysterious precursor to Easter.

As a kid, the most exciting parts of Lent were the “gleaners” and the solemn charge received from our pastor to fill them with coins for return on Easter Sunday. I had a vague notion that the coins were used to help those in need. But I liked them because of the competition I waged with my sister to see who could be the first to fill them with the shiniest coins. We were children, so we approached the season with the hearts and minds of relatively secure children who lived in a modest but stable home.

But now I am an adult. And this Lenten season, I am burdened for the plight of the 16 million children in our nation who, due to issues relating to poverty, are being robbed of the delights of childhood. These precious little ones live in zip codes that condemn them to lives burdened with adult-sized worries, concerns and responsibilities. They walk unsafe streets, attend underserved schools, worry about food, endure labelling and stereotyping, wear ill-fitting shoes and clothing, receive inadequate health and dental services, experience undeserved shame and, perhaps most woundingly, they are forced to bear the stigma of invisibility. For although children comprise 33 percent of people in poverty in our nation, they and their needs are largely unseen.

This Holy Week, join in learning and doing more about childhood poverty in the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico. Perhaps this Resurrection Sunday will be a turning point in some child’s life because of your involvement in efforts to end childhood poverty.

  • Palm Sunday, March 25. Learn more about the face of childhood poverty in the United States and Puerto Rico. Twenty-one percent of all U.S. children live in families with incomes below the Federal Poverty Threshold (FPT). The FPT is defined as $24,036 for a family of four with two children; $19,078 for a family of three with one child; and $16,337 for a family of two with one child. Research suggests that families need an income equal to about two times the FPT to simply meet most basic needs. Pray for the children.
  • Monday, March 26. Continue learning about the face of childhood poverty. Approximately 40 percent of all U.S. children live at or below low income. Low-income is considered 200 percent of FPT. Be still and ponder the implications of these staggering numbers for a nation largely recognized for its wealth and prosperity.
  • Tuesday, March 27. Research shows that children who experience poverty — even for one year, especially at an early age — are at a greater risk for negative life outcomes relating to health, education, socialization, employment and adult income. Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn. Pray. Consider volunteering to read to children or learning about opportunities to mentor youth.
  • Wednesday, March 28. In 2014, 58 percent of children living in Puerto Rico were living in poverty. Fifty-four percent of parents in Puerto Rico were without a secure source of employment. The impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria have exacerbated these issues. Approximately one-third of Puerto Rico’s population remains without electricity following Maria. Those who have electricity continue to endure frequent outages. The impact on children, families and schools is traumatic. Pray. Support and join American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) in its “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” efforts.
  • Maundy Thursday, March 29. Education is an important key to breaking generational poverty. Students ages 16 to 24 from low-income families are 7 times more likely to drop out than their more affluent peers. Eighty-six percent of children with parents having less than a high school diploma live in low-income families. Sixty-seven percent of children with parents having a high school degree but no college education live in poverty. Impoverished rural, suburban and urban neighborhoods have the most underfunded public schools. Pray. Get to know a teacher in an underserved school, be a part of an adopt-a-school program, mentor a child.
  • Good Friday, March 30. Our government spends under 10 percent of the national budget on children — far lower than other industrialized nations. The children’s share of our federal budget is projected to drop to 7.5 percent over the next decade. Research shows that poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well-being. Pray. Get informed about government spending. Engage in advocacy efforts on behalf of children at local, state and national levels.
  • Saturday, March 31. Poor children are more likely to experience hunger. More than 13 million children in the United States are food insecure. Twenty percent of American children go to bed hungry each night. Pray. Find and support a food pantry to ensure that it can provide healthy meals to children and families in need.
  • Easter Sunday, April 1. As 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” (Matthew 19:14). Pray and engage in long-term efforts to make a difference in the lives of children encumbered by poverty.

The Rev. Dr. Marilyn P. Turner-Triplett is American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ director of Rizpah’s Children and Communities Ministries.

Child poverty in the U.S., Facts & Stats About Child Poverty in the United States, Children International.
Effects of Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness on Children and Youth, American Psychological Association.
Faccio, B. Left behind: Poverty’s Toll on the Children of Puerto Rico, Child Trends, 2016.
Kids’ Share: Analyzing Federal Expenditures on Children, Urban Institute.
National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP).
Poverty Thresholds, United States Census Bureau.
Wright, V.R. & Thampi, K., Basic Facts About Food Insecurity Among Children in the United States, 2008, NCCP.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.