I had just left the Royal Palace of the King and Queen Mother of
Swaziland after day long meetings with the Prime Minister of that
country, members of the Swazi Parliament, and diplomatic representatives
from the United States, South Africa, Mozambique and Great Britain. It
truly has been a long day! And so it was too for the other members of
the delegation who were traveling with me. We had arrived in the country
July 9th and were spending two days meeting with as many people as we

The delegation was a perfect example of what we as global Anglicans and
Episcopalians can do if we put aside our current differences over human
sexuality and work together for the common good of God’s people. With me
on this visit to Swaziland were bishops from Mozambique, South Africa’s
Heighveldt, Swaziland, and Scotland accompanied by the Secretary General
of the Anglican Communion and the Director of Communications for the
Communion Office. The delegation had been assembled at the request of
the Bishop of Swaziland to assist the Anglican Church in its struggle
with the Swazi Government over human rights issues. Swaziland has not
had a Constitution since 1973 and currently has no rule of law other
than the total authority of the monarchy.

At the urging of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in the Province
of Southern Africa, the delegation was authorized by the Archbishop of
Canterbury to engage in a “fact finding” journey to a
country of 1.2 million people where 40% of the adult population is HIV
positive and where there are currently 75,000 orphans; a number expected
to rise to 150,00 by the year 2010. It is a most beautiful country with
wonderful people who struggle and survive under very difficult
conditions. 70% of the wealth and land of this small country is held in
the hands of 10% of the people and Swaziland is a nation that is working
hard to grow its very broken infrastructure.

After leaving the Royal Compound and a meeting with the country’s queen
Mother, our vans headed to a destination five minutes away to visit a
small Anglican Mission Church and its deacon and first ordained woman in
Swaziland, Mother Oomah. As we drove the short distance, dusk was
beginning to wrap its colored elegance of shaded purples, soft ambers,
and muted greens about the impoverished countryside. And as the sun
began to set and the air became still you could hear the distant sound
of barking dogs, crowing roosters and laughing, squealing children. Open
fires began to appear outside settler’s huts, accompanied by the pungent
smell of burning wood and charcoal as people sought warmth from the
early African Winter.

As our vans entered the church yard we could see about 30 or so children
between the ages of 2-8 standing there to greet us with Mother Ooma. She
resembled a mother hen who had gathered her chicks about her, protecting
them under her outstretched wings against the encroaching unknown of the

Mother Ooma had retired from government service several years before and
after ordination as an Anglican Deacon, she took 10% of her monthly
government pension and put it aside so she could eventually build a
church that would be a gathering place for the people who lived in the
area. And as she established her little church people came to pray with
her. Many people came! And many grandmothers also came, bringing their
grandchildren, orphaned because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. So many
children started to come to little Saint Margaret’s Church that Mother
Ooma could only provide the resources and food for about 30 children at
a time. And she did it well, feeding them twice a day, providing them
healthcare and teaching them how to read. She was assisted in her work
by the grandmothers who lived in the little village. Mother Ooma wanted
the delegation of bishops to meet her orphans and pray the Office of
Compline with them. It was a very touching time when we bishops gathered
in the tiny church to listen to the children sing and introduce
themselves to us and then present each of us a small gift that had been
bought with money saved by giving up one of their evening meals.

The paradox of having come from the security, wealth and opulence of the
Royal Palace to this oasis of love and care placed amidst indescribable
poverty and pandemic disease and located less than five minutes from the
palace was a horror to the eyes and an ache in the heart. And yet it is
this paradox of disease, poverty, of lost and abused children living in
proximity to great wealth that presently defines our world. And as we
said our good byes and as the children sat on the ground eating their
evening meal I was reminded of Jesus admonition to you and to
me…“Suffer the little children to come to me. Anyone who does not
receive one of these little ones does not receive me. And anyone who
offends one of these little ones, it would be better that a millstone be
hung around their neck and they be drowned in the sea.” “As
you have done it to the least of these my friends do you have done it to

I was reminded of this painful visit to Swaziland and the orphans, most
of who won’t live to see their thirtieth birthday when I was at a
meeting recently of Episcopal Bishop’s in Spokane, Washington. As Karen
and I were walking down the main street after an evening event we passed
a painful scene that too often defines the dark side of our American
cities. There, seated on a bench in the damp cool air of the night was
a young girl and boy, no more than maybe 16 years of age and obviously
homeless, holding a tiny infant wrapped in a heavy blanket. Around them
was a number of other homeless persons, some deadened by drugs or
alcohol, others suffering from acute mental illness. The young boy
gently hugging the child and sang softly to it as the darkness of
another cold and dangerous night descended upon this frightened family.
Although separated by thousands of miles and 2 continents, the scene on
the bench had a similar painful feel as my time with Mother Ooma last
July. In both cases children were involved and in both cases poverty,
fear and disease were the common denominators.

Children are the world’s most precious resources. And yet in too many
countries throughout the world they are a painful liability, easily
ignored and too often forgotten by governments, politicians and those of
means who could make a difference in their lives.

In our own country, where poverty and the future of our children ought
to be a primary concern for both candidates campaigning for the
presidency, the candidates have been less than forthcoming in addressing
the complex issues of poverty in America, especially children in
poverty. Their silence is almost identical to the silence of the
government of Swaziland. And Swaziland is a country without a rule of
law or a working democratic constitution. Something is very wrong here!

Families living in poverty in the United States are defined as a family
of three living on an income of less than $14,824 per year…and $18,660
for a family of four. Think about your ability to live on these income
realities. And think about how difficult it would be to raise children
on these income figures.

Here is some information that our politicians and we in this country
must come to terms with: Among the industrialized countries in the world
the United States ranks:

  • 1st in military technology
  • 1st in military exports
  • 1st in Gross Domestic Product
  • 1st in the number of millionaires and billionaires
  • 1st in health technology
  • 1st in defense expenditures
  • 12th in living standards among our poorest one-fifth
  • 13th in the gap between rich and poor
  • 14th in efforts to lift children out of poverty
  • 16th in low-birth weight rates
  • 18th in the percentage of children in poverty
  • 23rd in infant mortality
  • Last in protecting our children against gun violence.

We can and must do better as a Nation. Our elected officials and those
running for public office must get beyond hollow rhetoric and claim the
children as our most precious national and global resource. And yet if
we treat our own children with such ambivalence and distain, how then
will be able to extend ourselves to reach out to the orphans of Mother
Ooma, and the millions upon million of children in our own country and
throughout the world who have become invisible to us and who are
victimized each day by poverty, disease and violence. I believe God
expects more of a response from each of us who can make a difference.

There are many who say that it is difficult to know God because they
cannot see Him. But God has taught us that often by looking into the
eyes of a child, we will be able to see Him. For children are God’s
miraculous gift to us.