What would I give a child in need? Food? Clothing? A Bible? Children need all those things, but what about a telescope, what about something to open their minds to the wonders of the universe? Some might say that it would be a frivolous gift, but what if fostering in them a love of the natural world is essential for them to be able to escape poverty?
There is a tendency in international relief efforts to focus on basic physical needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and security. These are necessary things, but “man does not live by bread alone.” Humans in general, and children in particular, need something to inspire them, to foster in them wonder and hope. One way to do this is through science. Whenever I talk to kids about the universe, they are always very curious. It has been said that what scientists and children have in common is that they never stop wondering.
Why is childlike wonder important? In a practical sense, encouraging children to be curious and ask questions inspires the next generation of scientists and engineers. It was being exposed to the wonders of science as a child through watching Bill Nye the Science Guy that inspired Sarah Al Amiri, the current United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chair of the U.A.E. Space Agency, to eventually lead her country to launch a probe to Mars to study its atmosphere. Her efforts, and the efforts of other Emirati scientists with similar stories, introduced many young Emiratis to science, creating opportunities for young people to use their skills and creativity in better ways than they might have been used by certain organizations in the Middle East in 2013.
In a deeper sense, childlike wonder keeps children from growing up to be cynical and lose hope. Poverty is ultimately more of a mindset than just a physical condition. Instilling kids, including impoverished kids, with a sense of wonder of the universe helps keep them from growing cynical. It stirs their imagination, their creativity and leads them to imagine a better world for themselves and their community as adults. Giving a child a telescope or a chemistry set, or a similar catalyst for introducing them to science, may be a very important step in helping them to get out of poverty by fostering in them that child-like wonder that leads them out of cynicism and hopelessness into renewed innocence and hope. Jesus said that you must become like a little child to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps part of what he meant was this child-like wonder and innocence that leads you out of hopelessness and ultimately to God.
Of course, children do also need their physical needs met. They also need their spiritual needs met through learning about God and how much he loves them. One way in which God manifests himself, however, is through creation. Opening them up to the universe is another way to lead them to God as they experience God through creation. If this childlike wonder encourages children to see God in creation, perhaps they will also see its importance. An underlying cause of poverty is broken relationships. One of those broken relationships is with nature. For example, centuries of environmentally destructive practices, including deforestation, have left the people of Madagascar largely impoverished. The story is the same or similar in many other parts of the world. Giving children a love for God’s creation also has the practical result that they will be more likely to strive to preserve it and, thus, work to mend the broken relationship we have with creation that reinforces poverty. Mending this relationship will also mend others, since to care for creation is also to care for people and to love God.
Science, I believe, is one of the primary tools God has given us to exercise stewardship over creation as well as experience his presence in creation. Although the abuse of science can worsen the broken relationships we have with God, each other, and creation, the proper use of science can mend them through creation care and using science to inspire wonder and bring people together. In this way, giving a child in need a telescope, or another way to access the wonders of the universe, may be as integral to helping him or her escape poverty as adequate food and shelter and access to other forms of quality education. I hope that all children are able to experience wonder through science and that it will inspire them to find a way out of both spiritual and physical poverty and, ultimately, lead them to God.