Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review of "Too Small To Ignore"

Over the past four days or so, I read Dr. Wess Stafford's book, Too Small To Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most (2007).  Stafford is the current president & CEO of Compassion International.  (Though I believe that he is set to step down soon, after serving as the head of the organization since 1993.)

The goals of this book are three-pronged:
  • To relate the lessons Stafford learned while growing up as a missionary kid in Nielle, Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa in the 1950s/1960s
  • To move the reader to compassion for children - not only children living in extreme poverty, but all children, everywhere
  • To make a systematic case - based both in Scripture and in personal experiences as a child and the head of Compassion - that children are the most important people in the Kingdom of God. 
Stafford seamlessly interweaves stories of his childhood among the Senufo peoples of Cote d'Ivoire with his case for children.  Many of the stories of his childhood are charming and laugh-worthy.  He tells goofy stories, like his people's fear of bottles of Coca-Cola (the first one opened exploded from sitting in the hot sun, and they refused to go near it after that), or a hilarious event that involved the men of the village and frilly nightgowns & negligees from the US.  He reveals his own vulnerabilities when he relates his praying every night as a child that God would "turn him black" so he could look like his best friends in the village, and the disappointment he felt each morning when he checked his arms and saw that he was, sadly, still a little white boy.

Some of the stories are heart-rending.  For nine months of the year, he and his sister and the other missionary children from their mission organization were sent to an English-language boarding school.  There, they were subjected to horrific verbal, physical, and sexual abuse for years.  Stafford describes the spiritual and emotional consequences that he and his classmates suffered from that abuse - many of them, long into their adult lives.  If you can read the two chapters and afterword that recounts this abuse and not have your heart utterly shattered, I'm not sure that anything could reach your heart. 

Throughout the book, Stafford consistently insists that the kingdom of God elevates children to positions of utmost importance and thus, cannot be ignored by the Church.  He also insists that the ultimate, spiritual root of poverty is the belief that you do not matter, have no worth, and have no future.  Stafford - who has ministered everywhere from Cabrini Green in 1970s Chicago to Rwanda after the genocide to the most remote parts of Asia - knows that poverty is an extremely complex issue.  He discusses the multi-pronged factors that contribute to nearly 50% of children around the world living in poverty.  But in the end, Stafford argues convincingly that the first step to changing lives is to show them that they are valuable, loved, and important.  He explains that poverty and abuse both rely on planting the seed that the person is, in the end, worthless. 

This book has the potential to change your life.  At the very least, it should change your heart.  As a child of the Living Christ, you cannot look at children the same way again after reading Stafford's manifesto.  It is nothing less than a call to compassion and love for the least of these - those whom God holds in the highest esteem. 

Get this book. Read it.  Discuss it.  Use the Bible study/Discussion questions at the back of the book. You can start changing the world, one child at a time. 

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