Sister Berta Sailer (pictured below), a founder of Operation Breakthrough, is standing at the end of a long table in a conference room at the center's headquarters at 31st and Troost, asking us to use our prophetic voices.
"Be their voice," she says to 15 or 20 of us who have gathered for a tour of this fabulous facility that provides day care and so much more for more than 600 poverty-stricken children each day.
"Many state legislators," she says, "don't like our mothers."
So when Sister Berta goes to Jefferson City with mothers of the children her agency serves so they can plead for better state support for people struggling to get out of poverty, she runs into hostility. She finds legislators who don't understand why these mothers can't pull themselves out of poverty without so much public assistance.
Sister Berta needs the help of people who -- often motivated by their religious tradition, as is she -- feel compelled to use their influence to help these little children, who are incapable of fixing the system themselves.
Operation Breakthrough started in 1971 with just a few kids, but today it is the largest single-site childcare center in Missouri. At any given time, about a quarter of the children are homeless and a quarter are in foster care. The center now has about 120 full-time employees but also relies on some 300 volunteers. It annual budget approaches $7 million, half of which is raised from private contributions.
As we walk through the center, we see dozens and dozens of beautiful children being nurtured in various ways. It is easy to think of Jesus saying, "let the little children come unto me" and to remember him saying that it's not possible to enter the kingdom of God without first becoming like a child -- which to me has always meant being open to awe.
Sister Berta says that despite efforts such as those by the Operation Breakthrough staff, on the whole "children are poorer" than when Breakthrough began nearly four decades ago: "Utilities are getting to be a luxury. Food is getting to be a luxury."
And yet many of us who live in comfort and comparative wealth never think about the children who come to Operation Breakthrough every day looking for comfort and hope. Religion that doesn't call us to stand with such children is essentially worthless. Look around the Operation Breakthrough Web site and see if maybe there's a way for you or your congregation, if you have one, to help.
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DECIDING IF BELIEF IS RATIONAL?
The ways in which religion gets dragged into court can be fascinating. In this case, an attorney defending the man accused in Utah of abducting Elizabeth Smart has objected to bringing religion experts in to testify about whether the man is delusional. One person's religion sometimes is another's delustion.
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P.S.: I wrote here yesterday about two events in this year's Kansas City Festival of Faiths, but I want to highlight another upcoming event that's part of the festival -- "The Hindu and the Cowboy," a play to be presented at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, at the auditorium in the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library. I've seen the show. It's well worth your seeing it, too. For a list of all the festival events, click here.
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NOTE: Because much of my time today is committed to events related to the Kansas City Festival of Faiths, it may be hours and hours and hours before I can publish your comments. Also: In recent days some of you are drifting back to off-topic attacks of each other. I will either edit that trash out or not publish your comments if that continues. Thanks for your patience today. Bill.