When 17-year-old Patrick McDonald volunteered with a small children’s project in Latin America, he never would have guessed that out of this experience an international networking agency would be born.
That small Latin American project was Patrick’s first encounter with the needs of children at risk, and his travels soon revealed the staggering scope of those needs. The Christian response was significant, and both international NGOs and local churches were clearly engaging with the issues of at-risk children. Yet almost all of these committed, intelligent, and passionate people seemed to be working independently.
In Bolivia there were five different churches providing food for street children, each one doing so on a Monday. None of the churches were aware of the work of the others, and so the local children feasted on Mondays and starved the rest of the week. The simple act of introducing these churches to one another ensured that more children were fed more often.
Patrick knew that God had these needy and vulnerable children firmly in his hand, and he prayed for God to show him the way forward. He then experienced an incredible vision. In this vision he saw the world as if from space, and lights began to shine out from various locations; one after another they came on until the globe was one shining ball of light. Each of those lights represented a Christian response to the plight of children at risk. Slowly but surely those lights joined up, as churches and organisations were mobilised to work together and respond collectively to the needs of children in their locality.
Working with fellow students Katharine Thompson and Martin Hull, Patrick set out to find a network of Christian response to the plight of children at risk. Instead the group discovered a huge strategic gap. So in 1996, armed with nothing but prayer and a passion, Patrick, Katharine, and Martin brought Viva into being. The centre of their vision was to enable Christian initiatives to move from being disparate, disconnected, and often dysfunctional, into providing a response that was Christ-centred, credible, and comprehensive.