It was early morning and I was huddled around a fire with ten boys, ages 8 to 13. They were preparing to work in the community market in a suburb of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Each Saturday the boys show up around 5 a.m. in preparation for a days work. The children, using wheelbarrows, follow clients around the market carrying their purchased products and then either back to their cars or homes. For a number of weeks I joined them, hoping to learn about the lives of young workers (commonly referred to as NATS – Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes Trabajadores in Bolivia and beyond) and to observe how Bolivian churches reach out to this group of children.
Children such as NATS have a deep sense of justice. This was manifested in a march I participated in with them. Demanding a fair wage and safe conditions, the kids took to the streets to declare that they too should be treated with justice. They were standing up for issues that our Father is deeply interested in. Psalm 9:16 tells us, “The Lord is known by His acts of justice.” I saw the Lord in these acts that day as these young people stood up for fairness and equality for NATS everywhere.
As the NATS marched, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own work with homeless children and youth in Latin America over the previous decade. We were faced with so many injustices committed by the very ones that should have been protecting the kids. After a number of years of reflecting on our work and researching best practices for engaging with children living in difficult circumstances, I am convinced of the need to bring together mission, justice and development tools. In providing a multifaceted approach in responding to oppression, we position ourselves in a far better place for lasting change and a deep impact in the lives of those we are called to serve.