Now that I have seen, I am responsible, faith without deeds is dead.
Now that I have held you in my own arms, I cannot let go till you are.
These are lyrics from Brooke Fraser's song, Albertine.
This song has taken on a new meaning for me this week.
I've been given a new conviction:
I have seen.
A new burden:
I have held you in my own arms.
A new prayer:
Faith without deeds is dead.
As you read in my last post, this past Sunday I was thrilled to see Shalyn, the little girl I met from the mountains, in church with her family. After my visit with them at the end of the service, my friend Sadrac assured me that he knew where they lived beyond the mission, and we could go and visit them.
So yesterday, my prayers were answered when I got to see Shalyn and Senson with their families!
As much as I am delighted to share this will all of you, I am also writing with a heavy heart after experiencing their desperate living conditions... Words fall short of what I can express but I will do my best to tell you what I saw.
Starting from the same place where I met the children 2 weeks ago, we branched off of the mission on a small footpath and hiked up and down the steep hills to their humble dwelling. Once we reached the top of high hill, I could see in the distance a small clearing of dirt with 2 small shelters on either side. The children saw us coming and immediately began running to greet us. First was Shalyn, followed by Senson, and then their little brother Peter. We made our way back to their land where a man stood with an older boy and a woman held a little baby.
I greeted the parents and children and then took a look around me. What I saw made my heart sink. There were two run-down shelters (what used to be tents) that were weighed down with blankets, garbage bags, palm branches, and small pieces of tarp. The insides, which I got to see later on, were strengthened with long sticks along the sides, set up similar to a tee-pee.
In between the two shelters, there was a smoldering fire balancing a tin pot filled with a dark, boiling liquid. The children looked similar to the first time I saw them on the road. Dirty faces, stretched and faded clothing (two of the children didn't have any clothes on), no shoes, but despite it all, they still wore the same bright smiles. After holding their dear 1 and a half month old baby sister, I took out a few of the small toys I brought along. I had a little collection of children's clothes left in my apartment from last year that I was also able to fit some of the children in, and then we taught the kids how to play frisbee.
In my duffel bag, I had also brought some Creole bibles with me from the guesthouse, hoping that the parents would be able to use them and read to their children. Unfortunately, the parents shook their heads when I offered them the books and I was saddened to know that neither the mother nor father knew how to read. They had never gotten the chance to go to school. Upon asking more questions, we learned that the 3 oldest children are currently going to a school in Titanyen and although they can't read right now, they will hopefully learn in the months and years to come.
After sharing what we brought and cuddling with the children, we continued on our mountain trek to another family beyond the next hill. Shalyn held tightly to my hand so we took her along. We marched through some small corn crops and plantain trees and then found a similar looking clearing with a smoking fire between two run-down tents. Once again smiling faces stood waiting to greet us. There was a mother and father with 4 children and a 4-month old baby. The baby, Kaliak, was wearing a sleeper top and had her legs swaddled in a blanket (for a diaper). She was all smiles as we picked her up and sang songs.
I gave what was left of the small gifts I had in my bag, including some individual packets of gum. Upon offering bibles to them, they too refused due to their lack of reading ability, and sadly the parents explained that none of their children have been able to attend school either. The oldest boy is 12 years, followed by a 9 year old brother and 7 year old sister. My mind drifted back to my students at the mission, and my own upbringing and education growing up. How fortunate and blessed we are to grow up with a chance to go to school and become all that God has created us to be. It broke my heart to think that these children have never had the chance to learn to read, or write or have knowledge to help them have a job and raise a family when they grow up. It's like a vicious circle. These people are living in a situation that has continued for generations. They have no jobs, no money, barely enough food to survive on and no education. They are so needy.
It's such a hopeless thing. It makes you wonder how things can ever change. As I stood in silence, gazing at the conditions around me, I had a familiar feeling of despair from the first time I met the children. The questions, the confusion, the doubt all came flooding back. What did they do to deserve this? It's so unfair. And what am I supposed to do about it? I'm just one person. How can I help them?
And then felt a small hand touch mine. I looked down to see Shalyn staring up at me. She opened my hand and gave me a half-stick of her gum.
Such a simple gesture, and yet her actions spoke so much louder than words ever could. Living in a place where every morning she wakes up and wonders if she will eat. Sleeping under torn blankets and leaves that allow pouring rain to leak through. Bathing in water from muddy puddles... It humbles me that she would accept such a small gift and choose to give back so generously.
There are no words.
I need to have faith that I was not brought to these children to lose hope, but to find it.
I need to have faith that I serve a God who is good and hears the prayers of His people.
I need to have faith that the One in me is greater than the one in the world.
A faith that leaves me with a responsibility of more than standing on the sidelines.
As we said our goodbyes and made our ascent back towards the mission, I watched the sun slowly disappear from the horizon. As the air cooled and the colors faded from the sky, I prayed for the Lord to be especially near to Shalyn and Senson's family. Something in me believes that He has something much greater in mind for this family than I ever could.
I can't wait to see them again.