During the past few months the world has witnessed a succession of horrifying events that have left devastation and sorrow in their wake, catastrophes so poignant they brought tears to our eyes as we viewed images of children caught up in the worst possible circumstances.
From the thousands killed in cyclones in Bangladesh to desperate refugees in the Middle East and famine-stricken families in Africa, the harrowing scenes draw upon our compassion. We're especially unnerved that so many of the world's most vulnerable souls are at such deadly risk. Besides disease and natural disasters, war's aftermath once again exacted its heavy toll upon those least responsible.
The figures are overwhelming. Child diarrhea alone is the biggest killer of children, accounting for an estimated 4 million deaths a year among children under 5 years old. One estimate prepared for the World Summit for Children is that 40,000 children die each day, often from preventable malnutrition and disease.
We can scarcely comprehend suffering on such a scale. The numbers are so large they embarrass us in our ignorance of their plight. Unfortunately, through the ages this has always been the case, that children have been the most vulnerable and have suffered. Only in recent history have figures on infant mortality come under some control in the more advanced countries.
Knowing all of this, and after doing what we can to help, we turn to our faith in a just God to seek comfort, and to find some assurance that this suffering is understood by our Father in Heaven. In one of the great revelations of this age, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that these children have a great place in the hereafter:
"And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven." (D&C 137:10.) That simple statement not only rings true to our sense of justice, it also has profound implications for our understanding of the celestial kingdom. For as President Joseph Fielding Smith noted, this applies to children of all races and nationalities. Not only will little children be saved in the celestial kingdom of God, but they will be entitled to the blessings of exaltation in that kingdom. On this point the Prophet Joseph Smith said, "They will there enjoy the fullness of that light, glory and intelligence, which is prepared in the celestial kingdom." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 200.)
In heaven, God makes no distinction among children. The child of Kurdish refugees will stand there alongside the child of Bolivian farmers or American workers. Mormon expressed this concept to his son, Moroni, when he said, "All children are alike to me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation." (Moroni 8:17.)
Thus we see, even in our own day, the celestial kingdom growing with the souls of pure spirits. Sometimes we overlook the fact that they could be the majority of the kingdom, as thousands upon millions of children are released from their misery here to the comforting embrace of God. Having suffered a hell on this earth, how could they be given otherwise?
The implications of this should cause us to ponder. Those who have been taught the fullness of the gospel in their maturity will likely have a formidable responsibility to these innocent souls in the ages to come.
But in the meantime we have other responsibilities to do what we can. It's heartening to see the world respond with such open hearts to the plight of these children. Within each ravaged country citizens of many nations labor together, united in their efforts to improve conditions. Political and religious ideologies are forgotten when confronted by innocent suffering.
Church members have also helped, through their special fast offerings, donations of food and supplies, and the Church Humanitarian Services which tries to address the genesis of despair. An example of how ecumenical the effort is was the story in last week's Church News detailing the impact of the Thrasher Research Fund administered by the Presiding Bishopric. This fund became possible through a generous donation from a non-member, E. W. "Al" Thrasher, an inventor, who was moved by the Church's work with the Primary Children's Hospital, which it then owned. The fund supports a wide range of projects, from birth care in Guatemala to DPT immunizations in Nepal and well-digging projects in Bolivia.
Clearly the task of helping the world's children is enormous, one we cannot neglect, but one we can undertake with understanding that the Savior has already made His position explicit. "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 19:14)