Yesterday, I watched a few yellow leaves fall from the trees in the yard. They floated on the cool morning breeze to a resting place on the parched summer ground. I could feel a change in the air.
Then the calendar hanging on the pantry door caught my eye...every available square in August was full of notes and appointment reminders, some highlighted in neon color, others circled in red. Even the margins were full. The days of August had been exhausted, used up, squeezed out, depleted. It was time to turn the page. One month was ending and another was about to begin.
I took a momentary pause to reflect on the days gone by, the passing season, the changing times...a reminiscent moment giving glory to God for all that He was doing in our lives, all that He had revealed, all that He had been faithful to see us through, His discipline and His blessing. Days like this would often bring me renewed hope...a sense of anticipation, a fresh start as the winds of change would blow through my spirit and inflate a dream or a vision or an expectation of the time to come.
BUT today, rather than eager anticipation, I feel waves of despair and disappointment in my spirit. My feelings are overtaking my faith. I am in the middle of an intense struggle. There are children right in my backyard who need to be released from the extreme poverty they live in, spiritual and material poverty. Lately, I find myself doubting God's plan to save them and I am full of questions about their future. I know that the only hope for these children lies in Him, yet at times I am overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness.
At the end of June, my kids and I set out to play and sing and minister to a group of thirteen migrant children living in dilapidated trailers tucked away between two tobacco fields at the end of an old dirt road just miles from our house. We went standing on the word of God and took the message that He made them and He loved them. We set out to introduce them to a friend, a forever friend, Jesus.
Paul says, "In view of God's mercy, now offer yourself, a living sacrifice." So we did. We sacrificed time and material comforts to feed, clothe, doctor, minister, play, snuggle, and discipline these children. We taught them to wash their hands before eating...to say "please" and "thank you"...to share...to speak kind and encouraging words...to bow their heads and thank God for Jesus and for loving them so much. It was obvious that in Jesus' name these children needed to be released from poverty and my children needed to be released from wealth. The most powerful tool I have for teaching my children is to allow them to live life right beside me, blessing those around us wherever we are, whenever we can. Although the calling to go was clear, the mission was not. Each day spent at the camp ended with a lot of "I don't knows":
...I don't know how to "fix" it
...I don't know how to "change" it, but I know that we must return.
God's commandment to care for the poor and the widows and the orphans was enough to convince me that we had to keep going...one foot in front of the other, day after day. Therefore, we continued to feed and clothe and doctor and minister and play and snuggle and discipline.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him , 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison or go visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25:34-40
I quickly realized that we had been sent out as sheep among the wolves into a dark world of lost people where alcohol, drugs, prostitution, neglect, abuse, and lice outbreaks were commonplace. The fate of these children lay in the hands of federal agents, the department of social services, labor board officials, housing authorities, school personnel and a discouraged attorney, all who have insisted that the problems being faced do not fall under their jurisdiction. Even the local Hispanic pastor and his wife abandoned their ministry to these people and their needs saying that those living at the camp were like wild animals and not worth their time.
Really? Is this the best we can do?
"...faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." James 2:17
Herein lies my struggle. Without a doubt there is power in prayer and we need to pray and pray fervently, unceasingly. But, we need to work as well. We need to pray AND work for these children. This is America. They are American citizens and they are hungry, filthy, exploited, and angry. That is not what our Founding Fathers wanted for the people of this country. This is the land of opportunity.
These children are being cast aside, passed through the system, and thrown a bone here and there...a dentist appointment, an immunization, the name of a counselor. They have food stamps and WIC and medicaid, but they have no transportation to get to the store or to the doctor or to school events. They have a roof over their heads, but no bed to sleep in, no sofa to lay on, no table to eat at, no bike to ride, no one to see them off to school, no one to welcome them home, no one to pray with, no one to tell them about Jesus. When they need a ride they call the neighboring prostitute. When they need shoes they call daddy who deals cocaine. When they can't make ends meet they gamble or borrow from the contractor to whom they have become indebted. This contractor feeds their addictions and hides them from society. He keeps them hidden so that they will never know what they are missing.
It is the norm in this subculture to call your boyfriend your husband and leave one for the next on a whim. Having many babies by different dads is status quo. Becoming pregnant at 15-16 years of age is expected. Liberation comes from education, but dropping out of school and going to work in the fields is a way of life for the boys and girls alike. Skipping school to babysit for younger siblings is a command to be heeded. Getting government money to make ends meet and spending your earnings on numbing agents like weed and alcohol is commonplace. No one has taught these people how to parent, therefore young and old mothers alike just do what they know. They serve themselves first, prioritizing their emotional and physical needs above the needs of their children. They live life in survival mode, untrusting and insecure. At this camp it is every man for himself. There is no sense of community, no brotherly love, no compassion. In this subculture, as a young girl, you grow up with the knowledge that the women around you have a price on their bodies. They get paid to please the men. At a young age, they start to question how much will they be worth? They begin to wonder if they will be worth anything at all?
A beautiful young girl melted into my arms and said, "I DO NOT WANT TO GO TO MY GRAVE AT A YOUNG AGE, THE MOTHER OF SEVEN CHILDREN BY A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT MEN HAVING PICKED TOBACCO MY WHOLE LIFE AND BEING ADDICTED TO DRUGS AND ALCOHOL. I WANT TO GET OUT."
A toothless four year old tells me she has two mothers, one at her house and ME. She runs into my arms and asks to come to my house. I lovingly tickle her tummy and ask her why she wants to come to my house and without hesitation she declares, "...because I want to get in the bubble bath and eat good food and sleep in a soft bed. I can wash my hands at your house."
A five year old boy pulls me aside and shows me a terrible rash he has, "Can you help me? And my head hurts so bad." He quickly disappears when mom comes around the corner. He shouts to me as he runs away, "Never mind."
A barefooted toddler walks around the site littered with broken glass and rusty bottle tops. He has six fingers and six toes. We cannot find a shoe to fit his foot or a doctor to remove the extra appendages.
Every one of these thirteen children has a story. Today, after all we have been through the past two months, they are still where they were when this all began. The winds of change are not blowing. The season is the same. The months all run together because nothing is different. Six days into the school year and they have already been late or absent numerous times. The four year old still begs to come to my house; the five year old still suffers excruciating headaches; the toddler still has six fingers and six toes.
Better adjusted migrant workers...reliable employees at a fast food restaurant?
Is that what the pastor meant on Sunday when he said that God has a plan and purpose for each of our lives that will blow our minds?
The plight of these children cannot be ignored.
"Imagine that you have worked all day and are finally sitting down to dinner with your family. Suddenly you hear a knock on the door. You aren't expecting anyone, so you look through the peephole thinking you will see a salesman or someone who wants to mow your lawn. Instead you see the King of the universe.
You would break down the door to welcome Him in.
But what if you see a starving child, half-naked with more holes than cloth in the rags she is wearing? Her hair is unkempt and filled with lice; her face is covered with dirt and sweat. Would you break down your door to welcome her in?" (from No Longer a Slumdog by K.P. Yohannan)
God is watching. He knows the suffering of these children who live just miles down the road from me. Their cries ascend into heaven day and night and He hears them. My heart aches to change their world and make things right for them. God Himself yearns even more than me for His creation. He knit these children together in their mother's wombs. He is the One who said, "It would be better...if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble" (Luke 17:2 NASB).
It is NOT God I have lost faith in. It is NOT God I am questioning. It is now clear to me that I have lost faith in people, in society, in our culture. It is their complacency that sends me into despair.
If we settle for just taking clothes and cases of water and bottles of bubbles to this depraved camp we will be part of the cycle not part of the change. We will be settling for mediocrity. I was not cut from the cloth of mediocrity. I am called to a standard of excellence. As Christians, we are all called to a standard of excellence.
"Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise; risking more than others think is safe; dreaming more than others think is practical; and expecting more than others think is possible."
In our lifetime you and I are going to come across discarded people, people who have been tossed out. We will have a choice...NEGLECT or RESCUE. LABEL them or LOVE them. We know the choice Jesus made. Just look at what he did for us. Jesus, in the midst of His busy ministry, stopped everything He was doing to show children His love and interest. He was not complacent. He made no excuses. He prayed AND worked for His Kingdom.
Will you grieve over these children tonight? I will. I am struggling with the responses of those who have seen this situation and chosen to walk away. Are you burdened by the depravity of their circumstances? I am. I am questioning why nothing is being done. God gives us a free will. Each of us is free to make a choice. Will you be a part of the cycle or will you be a part of the change?