The purpose of these images are to raise awareness about child protection from the varied attacks children face around the world. From top (L-R) abuse of children by priests, sex tourism, the war in the middle east. Bottom (L-R) organ trafficking, gun violence in schools, and the fast food/obesity epidemic.
These images really touched me. According to Ravelo's website, the message of these pics is that "the right to childhood should be untouchable." Now, I get that they all have their own political statement. But I am not writing today about these specific political statements. I think the point that was so poignant to me was the fact that there are innocent people (including children) being crucified at the expense of every cause.
And this got me to thinking, "What kinds of children are being crucified similarly where I live (in Haiti), and at the hands of whom?" And I started scanning my brain for the images that could be the subject of similar photos.
First, I thought about the media. (That's an easy target.) I pictured a poor, swollen-bellied, malnourished child hanging with his arms spread on the back of a journalist or a photographer with a big telephoto lens. I thought about the way that Haiti is portrayed in the media, often robbing the dignity of her children.
Next I thought of the UN. There are an array of different images. A sexually molested child on the back of a UN soldier. A child dead from cholera on the back of a UN soldier. A light-skinned baby with a single mom as the result of UN soldiers impregnating young women and girls.
I thought about pictures of slavery, and restavek, and big NGOs, and the abuse of lower class Haitians by upper class Haitians. But the images that couldn't leave my mind were the ones where children were on the backs of missionaries. Hear me out here. I am a missionary. I am not saying that all missionaries are abusing or taking advantage of children. I am not even saying that MOST missionaries abuse children, because most of them don't. (In the same way all priests do not molest children and all tourists do not rape children, etc.). But, you guys, some, albeit a small percentage, do. And getting a front row seat to view the trauma is a tough place to live.
The images I see in my head are of all different types of missionaries; the ones with business suits that breeze in and out in first class seats, those with safari gear to tackle the cement jungle of Port Au Prince, the short-term matchy-matchy t-shirt crews, the long term missionaries in their ripped pants and faded, stretched out t-shirts from years of hand washing and line drying, the nuns in their habits, the Mennonites in their bonnets, the Mormons in their sacred underwear, the hippies going to live in a tent or a house made from garbage, the first-world rejects looking to re-create themselves in a new place, the fresh-out-of-Bible-college kid who majored in missions, the bleeding hearts on a journey to find social justice.
In their arms they hold the tools of their trade: hand sanitizer and bug spray, Camelbacks, Nalgene bottles, Bibles, free rice, vaccines, medical supplies, cash, religious tracts, Evangicubes, used shoes, new shoes, used clothes, new clothes, art supplies, Christmas presents, school supplies, soccer balls, candy, and giant green army duffels stuffed with all the former. (And goodness knows what else.) Oh! And don't forget the camera. They all have a camera.
My point is this-- it is tough to know what the actual photos of these abusive missionaries will look like. It could be any variation of all of the above.
And the children hanging on their backs could also present in any number of ways. It could be a child who has lost her family because a missionary built and orphanage needed orphans to fill it. So her mom, in the desire to ensure she had food and clothes and school, abandoned her. It could be a former street boy who lives in an orphanage and is being sexually abused by the missionary in charge, and is threatened to be kicked out onto the street if he tells. It could be the negligence of a missionary who supports a church/school/orphanage/etc. where the children are being abused by staff members. It could be a child beaten by his father because a short-term team member gave him a $20 bill. This enraged his father who works more than a week hauling buckets of cement for 12 hours a day to make the same amount of money.
But there's are some other equally frightening images that come to mind-- the images of missionary kids hanging on the backs of their mothers and fathers. It's a boy that wants his dad's attention, but does not get it because the dad is always too busy serving others. It's a little girl who is behind grade level on her school work because her mom is too busy serving the poor (or surfing facebook) to get homeschool done every day she should. It's the kids that can't return to their home culture and feel comfortable, because their parents never taught them about their birth culture. It's missionary kids with a mouth-full of cavities and rotten teeth because their missionary moms were too always too tired to take the 1 minute it would take to brush their teeth. It's the missionary kids abused on the mission field because their missionary parents did not realize the risky situations their children were being put into. Or missionary kids who only 40 years later could forgive their parents for sending them away to boarding school so that they could be on the mission field unencumbered. It's the missionary kids who raise themselves and tiptoe around their parents because they know how exhausted the parents always are from "serving the Lord" and they just don't want to upset them. It's the missionary kids whose parents never do devotions with them in spite of being out spreading the gospel all day long to anyone who will open the doors they knock on.
These things on this list are all real-life things that have been either observed in my own house, observed in other missionary households, or told to me by other missionary kids. I think that all missionaries should heed the message these scenarios tell.
But this cautionary tale is not just for missionaries. I encourage you to think through what your life looks like, whether you live in the bush of Africa or in the suburban Bible belt of North Carolina. What is it that your life is marked by? What roles do you identify with? It could be your occupation, your political views, your religion, something you do for entertainment, or some cause you support. It's essentially the same question I asked myself about children in Haiti. "What kinds of children are being crucified similarly where I live, and at the hands of whom?" And as your mind scrolls through examples, take note.
This kind of self-introspection is difficult. But to paraphrase a pastor I heard long ago teaching on parenting, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose the souls of his children?" Let's think on that together.