Dec 16, 2014

God's gift of life

Light of Advent
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, it is well to remember that every baby born is a blessing and a gift from God (Psalm127:3). Every child, regardlessof of the circumstances of its birth, is God's creation, and has value and purpose in His eyes.

In Venezuela, a licensed health professional may perform an abortion to save the mother's life, with the written permission of the woman, her husband or a legal representative. In emergencies, the approval of a second physician may suffice. Abortions performed by anyone else, for any other reason, merit a prison sentence, ranging from six months to three years, depending on the circumstances. No one in their right mind would want to spend any amount of time in a Venezuelan prison, where prisoners often have to try and catch rats for food.
Nevertheless, non-abortifacient contraceptives are readily available. You can buy condoms off the rack at most pharmacies and supermarkets and obtaining oral contraceptives is not a problem, either. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the annual birth rate in Venezuela today is equal to that of the United States in 1965. That was, of course, when the use of contraceptives, particularly oral contraceptives, had become widespread in the United States, but the Supreme Court had not yet swept away all existing abortion legislation with the Roe vs. Wade decision.

But there is an important difference between Venezuela in 2014 and the United States in 1965:The number of children born out of wedlock to women between 15 and 19 years of age, and sometimes to girls under 15. Venezuela has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Latin American, a region of the world which itself is second only to Africa in its number of teen pregnancies. This serves to perpetuate a cycle of poverty, since 80 percent of these teenage mothers drop out of school. Not only do they fail to gain a basic formal education (we deal with quite a few illiterate adults) or marketable skills, they also lack the parenting skills necessary to raise their children. This is because their mothers, and even their grandmothers, became pregnant as teenagers and never had good role models. Many of the children in our community do not receive nutritionally balanced meals, not just because of their family's limited means, but because the adults who have charge of them do not have basic nutritional knowledge. Nutritionally related health problems are very common. For example, Venezuela has the highest incidence of uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes mellitus in Latin America.

 Most of the households in our surrounding community have a single parental figure, usually a woman who is mother or grandmother to the rest. Children often grow up with many brothers and sisters, all of whom have different biological fathers. The lack of responsible males in these homes means the boys do not learn how to be responsible,  caring men, which contributes the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty. Consumption of alcohol and other drugs is high, and so is the incidence of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children.

The availability of contraceptives has not proved a remedy for this situation because those most at risk from early pregnancies do not have the maturity or the motivation to use contraceptives. There is a cultural dynamic that teaches girls that their sexuality is their only means of empowerment; that they only gain worth as individuals by their ability to attract men and bear children. Nor does the availability of contraceptives mean anything to boys who become men without learning respect for women and any sense of responsibility for any children they may bring into the world.

We do not believe the killing of the unborn would solve this problem, either. First of all, the Holy Scriptures teach us that life begins at conception (Isaiah 44:2, 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5). Indeed, we read in Luke1:39-56 that John the Baptist leaped in his mother's womb at the approach of Mary, because of the baby that she bore (""Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of they womb"). But we also interpret the Fifth Commandment to mean not just that we should avoid actively seeking to harm our neighbor, but to help him maintain and improve his life as well. So it is not our objective to advocate the extermination of the poor, but to help them.

In the second place, the legalization of abortion would not break the cycle of poverty,any more than the availability of contraception. It would not give the people the means or the motivation to change their lives. That is what we hope to do, with the help of God, through our mission.  To teach them needed skills and pursue continued education, instill Christian values regarding marriage and child-bearing, and above all, by preaching the Gospel of God's love in Christ,to give them the hope and confidence necessary to break free of the oppression of false beliefs as well as poverty. We are pleased that some of the young people involved with our mission have become the first in their families to graduate from high school, and that some adults are learning to read. But we are even more pleased that they have come to believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, and, by His resurrection, gained for them the promise of eternal life.

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