Come for a walk with me.It's evening and I am taking my routine power walk down the mission hill and back again.
The sunset beckons me. Vibrant colours are cast across the sky and reflected off of the Caribbean Sea. It's like a dance, every second glance I make upwards is a new extraordinary picture of beauty. I have to slow my pace to take in the majesty of it all without tripping. But soon I slow for another reason - Up ahead are 2 children who I have never seen before.
She stands on the edge of a dusty footpath branching in from the mountains to the gravel road. Her frizzy hair is pulled tightly into short black frizzy knots. Little specks of dirt and string are caught in her part, evidence of minimal attention from a caregiver. Her oversized clothes hang like curtains on her bony body. The dusty dress she wears is faded and worn with holes. Her back is exposed because the buttons used to fasten it together are gone. Her feet are dirty and calloused, she has been shoeless for a very long time.
Her little brother stands nearby. His chocolate-brown skin is faded from the dust that sticks to his cheeks and arms. Even in the scorching heat, his hands are chapped and dry. He wears a stretched-out t-shirt that hangs below his waist. He has no shorts or shoes.
I make small talk with the limited Creole I know, gathering basic information about them.
Her name is Shalyn (about 7 years old) and his name is Senson (about 5). Their baby sister stands from a distance and watches. They look up at me with smiling faces and hopeful eyes.
They are more precious than I can express in words.
Shaylyn carries a coffee can on her head. It's dented and rusty. Senson has a small oil can in his hand. After learning that they live beyond the hills above the mission, I ask them what they are doing with their buckets. They reply that they are getting water, and then motion toward 2 small puddles. I try to swallow as I glance over to the swampy water they are referring to. This is the water that has collected from the rain showers last night. The water has collected in the low, muddy spots off of the dusty pathway and has been drying up all day in the hot sun. Flies swarm above what's left of the brown cloudy water. It's filthy.
I try in vain to hide my shock. How these small children have travelled who knows how far to collect water such as this is beyond my comprehension. I ask them what they are going to use it for. They say they are going to bathe in it. They will undoubtedly take it home and sponge bath in the hot, muddy, bacteria-infested water.
I feel completely helpless. I am repulsed by this reality. I've heard stories like this told to me before. I've seen pictures and watched video clips expressing this kind of need, but even in the many months I've been at the mission in Haiti, this is the first real encounter I've had with this kind of desperation.
I smile and take the children in my arms, as I try to cover up the helplessness I am feeling in my heart.
What do I do? The sun is setting and the children show signs of needing to get their water and return to their home. I search for hope. I rack my brain for some kind of solution to the terrible circumstances they are living in. All I can come up with is an invitation to for them to come to church on Sunday. I tell them about the mission and the church and how they are welcome to come back on Sunday morning to see me again and learn about Jesus. I tell them Jesus loves them. In the back of my mind I wonder if they have a clue what I am saying or if they know who I am talking about. They respond with happy smiles, reciprocating words and gentle hands wrapped around my arm.
Then we both let go and I turn to continue down my path.
As I walk away, I question God. Where are you? How is this fair? How can children in North America have everything, and these children have nothing? What did these children do to deserve such a life? How can I help them? I go over possibilities in my mind... Maybe I could bring them up to my apartment and feed them, maybe I could see if they could enroll at the School of Hope, maybe I could give them some money for clean water and food at the market...?
And then my mind is filled with an even more horrible reality... The fact that the story of these children is the same story of hundreds, thousands, even millions of children around the globe. Classified as impoverished not just financially or materially, but emotionally, physically, educationally, spiritually, and the list goes on and on. Children who are written off by the world. Children who never sleep with a pillow. Children who not only have no parents, but are the primary caregivers for their younger brothers and sisters. Children who never know where their next meal is coming from.
And yet miraculously, these are the same children whose weathered expressions change instantly when they see a kind face. Their eyes light up. Their shiny white teeth become exposed in joyful smiles. They wear their heart on their sleeves. They openly embrace a stranger. They love without holding back.
As I make my way back up the hill after this heavenly encounter, my heart breaks. I struggle to understand where God is in the lives of these innocent children. I question how He can allow it. I am so confused.
And then I stop. I turn to face the extravagant light across the sky. I see the shadows coming over the mountains and I watch as the colour canopy transforms over me. Once again I am amazed at the beauty of creation and the presence of the Lord that I feel from witnessing His glory. Kings and celebrities can afford just about anything, anytime. And yet they don't have to pay a penny for this majesty, something more beautiful than it all. Somewhere in some high-scale building in the lit up lights of the city, they get to witness it without a price tag. And somewhere in a barren field under a tin roof held up by dry tree branches, little children return from their water trip and ponder the beauty around them. He is here. He is hope.
They may not have shoes, or buttons on their dress, or someone to brush their hair, or clean water to bathe in, but the poverty they are experiencing cannot prevent them from witnessing the beauty of His creation, their Father's world. These children may not have much, or anything, but the Lord is just as near to them as He is to me in this moment. He is shining His light on them. The warmth of the sun is a testament to His love pouring down with His constant presence. They may be far off from where I think they should be, but it's my prayer tonight that they would know a perfect Love. It's my prayer that they could lean on a Father that has a purpose and plan for their lives, and that they would be safe in His hand.
And if they don't know this truth yet, it's also my prayer that I may be a vessel in lighting a pathway to hope... The same hope they watch as the sun descends. The same hope I see when I look into their smiling face. A gift beyond any treasure here on earth.