At the beginning of Sunday school, one of the four- and five-year-olds piped up to ask: “Miss Hannah, can we pray that my mommy won’t be mean to me anymore?”

For the past year, I’ve been squeezing my knees under a two-and-a-half-foot-tall table every week to teach these little ones that Jesus loves them. We start by talking about the week and taking prayer requests, things like, “My finger has a boo-boo” or “Can we pray that I’ll get a rabbit for Christmas?” or “I want a baby brother.”

Occasionally, the children come with greater burdens. That morning, it was a young boy who’d recently moved in with his great-aunt because the courts found his mother unfit. He was older than the others—already turned six—but spent kindergarten at four different schools and wasn’t ready to move to first grade.

His story isn’t the norm for our small church in southwest Virginia, but it isn’t remarkable either. My husband pastors the congregation, made up of low to middle income folks. We have teachers and cops and retirees, and a lot who just get by. We regularly pray for those who are unemployed, living in unusual domestic arrangements, or struggling with legal issues. For them, our church is one link of a very fragile chain of being.

America’s Opportunity Gap

In his New York Times bestseller, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert Putnam lays out the larger backdrop for the kinds of things showing up on our church’s prayer list. The Harvard political scientist addresses whether the United States is truly a land of opportunity or if hidden barriers have created an “opportunity gap” in our country. ...

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