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.
In preparation for the conference, the steering committee invited a diverse set of speakers to write and share papers on a variety of relevant topics prior to the conference. To support this, the steering committee provided the speakers with a set of influential papers on children and mission drawn from the past twenty years and accompanied this with a working definition of children-at-risk that was developed specifically for this consultation.
The first day of the conference offered the most extended opportunity for theological and missiological reflection. In Susan Greener’s presentation of mission ‘to, for, and with children at risk’, she 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).
This day also highlighted our need to balance the risk of stigmatizing children with labels like children-at-risk while also recognizing the strategic value such terms have for prioritizing the church’s care and attention where it is most needed. Furthermore, we must be careful that in our efforts to prioritize concern for some children, we do not overlook other challenges that also negatively affect children but may not receive high-profile media attention.
The second day demonstrated the group’s desire to take children seriously by presenting a series of reports about a range of 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. Each of these reports were deeply troubling, with each presenter calling for a greater response from the church. However, participants also noted the many signs of hope that exist for how Christians and churches are responding, and heard descriptions of a variety of tools and initiatives that are fighting these problems.
That same day also offered 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.
The third day brought a series of panel presentations designed to offer participants the opportunity to hear 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 and presented a variety of best practices for effective collaboration, chief among them being the need for authentic, trusting relationships. The second panel allowed a group of denominational leaders the opportunity to share 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.
The last morning of the conference brought the opportunity for the editorial team to present its plan for the upcoming Lausanne Occasional Paper, and to give participants their first chance to see key parts of the Consultation Statement. Participants agreed that the Consultation Statement would serve well to help them advocate for children at risk within their churches, networks, and organizations.
The final steps in the conference began with our final worship time, followed by presentations from Menchit Wong and Wess Stafford, former President of Compassion International. Menchit laid out a detailed action plan and received unanimous support when she invited participants to signal their desire to continue as an ongoing network. Wess Stafford then inspired us 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.
Prepared by Dave Scott, Integration Committee Chairman for the Consultation, on behalf of the Lausanne Consultation on Children at Risk Team.