I have spent the past two days at the Children’s Defense Fund Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee. Along with 50 others from around the country, I am here preparing to serve as the Executive Director of a Freedom School this summer. This 6 week summer program engages low income children in a love of reading and developing their full potential. It is an exciting opportunity for many of our churches and community organizations to engage with children and families in their neighborhoods and to address the incredible inequities that are present in our educational system in America. It’s exactly the kind of work that I wanted to be engaged in as a pastor and as a Christian.
Through each part of the training, I can picture the children that this school will be serving. I know their names and their needs. I know how many of them struggle to see a future beyond the neighborhood where they have been raised. I know that many of them are not seriously confident that they can attend college. And I know that many of them have built up hard outer shells that make them difficult, indifferent, and sometimes even violent.
So when I think about this beatitude and the call to be merciful, I can’t help but see the faces of each of these children. Through situations outside of their control, they have been born into communities of poverty. They have been sent to schools that are less than adequate to prepare them for the future. By the fourth grade, nearly 80% of them are not reading on grade level. As they get older, more and more of them are slipping through the cracks. A significant percentage of these young people head directly into our prison system.
Mercy is not the same as pity. Mercy is not the same as sympathy. Mercy involves the relinquishing of a load that someone was carrying. It involves an action on the part of the person being merciful. Few Christians need to be convinced that children in poverty deserve our mercy. Yet, not enough of us are taking action to provide this mercy. I have been challenged and inspired this week to move beyond sympathetic gestures and embrace an active posture of ensuring that the children in my community are indeed receiving mercy.