That poor kid is still in the middle of the side-walk
Head resting on the cement
Hands cupped in front of his head
We’re Christians. I am a Christian, a thoughtful Christian and so this matters to me. And it matters beyond the pity that everyone feels. There is something more significant to consider than the social or political circumstances. It is not just a humanitarian concern. It is spiritual, and it is personal.
It is always so personal.
It is always so personal.
And this kid in the middle of the sidewalk is a mirror. And when I look at this kid I see myself, who I truly am.
Looking at myself in this child is embarrassing. So as I pass him, I make my mind avoid the tough questions. I think about the shoes I’m wearing, or what I’m going to eat for lunch-anything that will keep me from really thinking about this child as a life, human, person, African, boy, kid next door, classmate, friend, family, he's my family. That fatal mistake. I’ve gone and thought too much about him. A mirror that always exposes who I really am.
I am ashamed that I will go back to Mountain View, California, United States, America and that I will at times feel sorry for myself. I will worry. I will try and get free food out of people. I will fail to be generous. I will lie to God and consider myself among the poor. It was always so very cool to sneak the free pizza, to take the extra bread, the box of wheaties. We were proud of that. Children fall asleep on the sidewalk at the chance not to need what was our pride. So maybe we weren’t as cool as we thought.
All the kids at the orphanage pray at night and they share testimonies. Last night the only testimony that was shared was from Becca who said, “I thank God that I am alive because some have died, but for me, I am alive.” After the testimonies, the kids walk around praying out loud to God. This night, I too tried, I really tried to pray.
And what I thought scared the salvation right out of me.
I said, “thank you God, for not making me like one of these children.” I stopped to think about what I was saying because I knew it sounded terrible. But it was my honest prayer. I could not run from it.
“Thank you God that I am not like these children. Thank you that I will get to leave this place. Thank you that I get to have nice things and cups of coffee and the freedom to leave places.”
My prayer just kept sounding worse and worse.
And I heard the Pharisee praying in Luke 18, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”
Do you know what Jesus said about the Pharisee? "He was not justified before God."
So that kid in the street, I still don’t know what to do about him, or for him, or to him, or alongside him, or with him.
How can I leave here justified before God?
After we were done praying, we had our large-group devotional, and on this night, it was a question/answer time with ‘Pastor Caleb’.
Carlos asked, “If God is powerful, why is there suffering?”
I said something about free will. Carlos listened and when I was finished he half-smiled, and nodded.
Arnold asked me, “If Jesus was the Son of God, why when he came to the earth was he poor?”
I told him that it’s really hard for rich people to get into heaven. I told him that Jesus now knows what it’s like to be in poverty. I told him that God has a special place for the poor. Blessed are the poor.
Arnold told me that his mom and dad both got in traffic accidents. That he watched his grandmother die failing to provide for him. That, no offense to Jesus, he disagrees.
For all of Africa’s corruption, it is so very honest. You would love its honesty. You would fall in love with its honesty.
Take dirt as an example.
At the end of a day in Uganda you are dirty. Not dirty as in you spilled on your clothes, or that you don’t smell good or even that you are sweaty. I mean dirty as in, there is dirt on your body. Even if all you’ve done is sit inside, at the end of the day you will see on your feet the lines where your sandals didn’t protect your skin from the dusty dusty dirt. Most people see this as a bad thing, but I think it’s sort of beautiful.
That's the the way life should be. We live on a planet that is made of dirt. We get our life out of the dirt. God used dust to form us. Shouldn’t your body have dirt on it at the end of a day?
Or what about Meat?
I was given two pieces of meat the other night with my rice. This is an honor. I’m honored. But the problem for me is that I can see this meat. I can see the tendons and veins and the fat. It is a disgusting piece of meat. I can see that this meat used to be part of a real joint that held up a real cow at one point. To me, this is not meat. This is the part you throw to the dog. I picture in my head a steak from Applebees. Clean, perfectly parallel streaks of flesh. No joint, no tendon, no image of a cow.
But this fatty chunk of tendons on my plate is a privilege, and it was purchased at a price. To chew on the tendons, to choke down the fat this is honest. Then to try and hide my embarrassment as I admit that I cannot eat my meat, this is shameful.
Or what about Parenting?
I peek out my window and I see a mom whack her child across the arm for tipping over her container of well-earned water. The child lets out what I think will be a long and loud scream. But the scream is short, the pain brief. I think about American children. How I sort of might wish a little bit in my weaker less Christian moments that they could spend an afternoon with this mom. And would that be so bad? Would a bit of physical moral reinforcement be so bad? Of course I’m wrong about this. I can’t argue this from any moral standpoint, and I’m not advocating any sort of child abuse (I actually just wrote a child protection policy). But isn’t there something a little more honest going on here? Aren’t parents more intimidating physically for a reason? Is this mom’s reaction so heinous? Maybe it’s not better, but a bit more honest right? Maybe that’s why honesty is not always the best policy.
Or how about water?
In Uganda, you don’t take showers, you take splashes. Because water is fluid, it takes the shape you give it. It doesn’t come in circular jets out of metal fixtures. It comes from the earth, from mountains, from rain. And it doesn’t come clean. It comes touched by plants and animals and humans. And it doesn’t come warm. Water lives at the temperature around it. And it doesn’t come to you, you go to it. So I am carrying two jugs full of living water up from the community well and my arms are on fire. I am breathing hard and sweating and I am dirty. But isn’t this honest? Shouldn’t I have to work for my water? Isn’t un-chlorinated, cool, shapeless, un-tamed water the way it was meant to be? Shouldn’t my arms burn?
Anyways, that boy in the middle of the sidewalk isn’t going anywhere, and he is more honest than I would like him to be. And Arnold and Carlos and the water and the dirt, they’re honest too. If God likes Africa more than other places, I think this is why. This is why I’ll keep coming back. And every time I do I’ll see that boy in the middle of the sidewalk and I’ll try to dodge him, but I’ll lose my step just enough that I have to look back and see why I’ve stumbled.