COMMENTARY: Now that the rally is over, how do we stand for children?

c. 1996 Religion News Service

(Paul Fox is a physician in Farmington, Pa., and a member of the Bruderhof, a communal Christian movement based in Rifton, N.Y. He is editor-at-large of The Plough, a Bruderhof quarterly magazine.)

(RNS)-The"Stand for Children"rally has come and gone. The 250,000 participants in the June 1 demonstration in the nation's capital have all returned home.

As expected, the media condensed the songs, speeches and emotions expressed at the rally, organized by Children's Defense Fund founder Marion Wright Edelman, into a few 10-second soundbites. Conservatives made their criticisms of the limits of liberal solutions to social problems; supporters made their rebuttals.

But even the most curmudgeonly of critics must recognize that America's children are in an unprecedented state of crisis and adults must somehow respond. The rally may be over, but the question remains: How do we stand for America's children?

For the Christian, the answer must begin with Jesus. How did he stand for children? What does he expect his disciples to do?

Reflecting on this, I am struck by the disparity between the greatness of Jesus' mission on earth and the particularity with which he dealt with the people-including the children-he encountered here.

Think about the Gospel story of the healing of Jairus' daughter. Jesus is traveling through Galilee proclaiming the tremendous news that God's kingdom is at hand and that all who repent and believe can be part of it. On his way, he is accosted by a man whose daughter is gravely ill.

Without a moment's hesitation, Jesus changes course and accompanies the distraught parent. That the child appears dead does not deter him. He takes her by the hand and with a few simple words, he calls her back to life.

Here Jesus, as preacher, would seem to have had a golden opportunity to preach an extemporaneous message on the renewal of life. But with his loving eye for detail, he sees that something is yet lacking. The child is hungry, so Jesus calls for food.

Here is the son of God, who abandoned his glory in heaven in order to become a man among men, who came to take our sins upon himself on the cross, to go to the depths of hell for our sake, and he has time to order a hungry child something to eat.

The world has seen saviors come and go-religious saviors, political saviors, military and scientific saviors-each with a plan for the betterment of a nation or of all humankind. But was there ever one such as Jesus-one who was ready at every moment to put his great plan aside long enough to bring practical help to a suffering child?

Jesus had a plan of salvation and he carried it out to the bitter end. Yet he never permitted his cosmic design to prevent him from attending to a particular need when it confronted him.

There is an eternal principle at work here. If Jesus, in his preaching and teaching-and yes, even in his walk to Golgotha itself-had passed by the hungry, the sick, the dying and the despairing and had not fed them, healed them, raised them or comforted them, he would not truly have been the savior. He would have been just another religious fanatic. But Jesus knew that the foundation for the salvation of mankind is self-giving love for people as individuals.

That is the key to our"standing for children."Programs, legislation and plans are important. And certainly we should make every effort to make them real-though we should be humble enough to recognize that they may not work out as we had hoped.

But general plans and programs must never stand in the way of concrete action on behalf of a particular child.

If we neglect the child on our own doorstep because we are too busy promoting programs to help millions of children elsewhere, our plans will surely disappoint us. And the millions will be helped less because we have failed to meet the need of the one. Those who turn their backs on people in order to serve mankind will end up helping neither.

So stand for children. Stand for them by writing to your member of Congress, by serving on your school board or by donating to the YMCA. It all helps a bit.

But do not fail to stand for the next child you meet who needs your help. The lost child needing to find the way home; the hungry child needing a decent meal; the lonely child needing a friend; the abandoned child needing a home.

Stand for that child above all.