Sunday, November 27, 2011
Let the children come
It just hit me like a ton of bricks as I read about Jesus rebuking His disciples for keeping the children away from him in Mark 10. It happened about a month ago, but the Holy Spirit has brought what was hidden from my eyes to light and I am thankful, however painful it is to look at.
We were in a hurry, not only because dark clouds that promised to wash out the roads and leave us stranded loomed overhead, but because we had a long and difficult journey back to Nairobi waiting to begin. We had bought just about everything the small store had, at least all that was edible. Fruits of every kind and vitamin and mineral enriched porridge flour for the children of Loikas, a slum/village in Maralal. The three of us (Grace, Phoebe and I) struggled to carry boxes and bags of food we planned to give as we visited the neediest families in the area. I would say that every single person living in this village is hungry and trying to prioritize who needed the food the most seemed futile and heartless from the get go. With only what we could carry, as cars cannot pass through the narrow walkways, we set out to find several children whose weak bodies and expressionless faces had been burned into my mind months prior. We did not find them all and until I lay eyes on the weakest of them, I must assume he eventually died from malnourishment. It wasn't a very "rewarding" visit. Deworming the kids with visible signs of worms and providing minimal food to the malnourished babies seemed like barely brushing the surface (not even faintly scratching it) and I was frustrated.
It was one of those days I hated the color of my skin even more than usual. I usually love the crowds of children who are drawn by their curiosity of all things new and different, but today I wished to blend in and be camouflage from the millions (well, it felt like it) of children who were slowing us down--crowding the narrow path we were walking, quickly draining my supply of fruit, and giving me less time to find the children who I had decided needed the small things I had "the most".
I don't remember her name. She ran to us the instant she saw us from atop the hill where she lived and insisted upon holding my hand throughout the entire journey. I was annoyed. As I said, I was on a mission and time crunched. The paths were only wide enough for one set of feet and dodging human poop was a fairly high priority of mine--one that she was threatening by holding my hand and pushing her way in beside me. She was older than the usual insistent hand holders (who I adore on most days)... somewhere between eight and ten, I'd assume. She stared at me the whole time, another thing I sort of hate. I was taking any chance to awkwardly (and unnecessarily) hold my heavy plastic bag with two hands so that my obligation of dragging a ten year old through this maze of a village was over. Phoebe could tell I was annoyed (I'm not even a little bit good at hiding it) and politely told the girl to give me some space. I was relieved. But man, she was persistent. If she wasn't holding my hand, she was two inches behind me, still staring. I remember the conversation in my head with the Holy Spirit... it went something like Him telling me "just hold her damn hand. you can do it."
I am not sure the Holy Spirit speaks this way, and mean no disrespect, but sometimes that is how He seems to best communicate with stubborn me. Or maybe it's just how I translate it, but regardless, I still chose to resist. I think I responded with a sarcastic, insensitive "I think she'll survive."
As far as I know, this story does not end with the girl dying that night and me regretting my small act of withholding love for the rest of my life; maybe that would make a more compelling story (maybe even worthy of becoming a forwarded email that ends with a harsh warning to send to all of your friends or you will be hit by a bus) or maybe it would deter me from letting the same thing happen again. I am guessing she DID survive her encounter with a grumpy white-skinned person and is doing just fine right now, but looking back-I know my disobedience pained Him. In that moment, I withheld HIS love from her. Not that He didn't love her without me, but gosh... I could have loved her on His behalf and I gave up that opportunity in order to focus on my narrow, narrow view of what I thought He had on tap for the day.
I imagine the inquisitive kids that gathered around Jesus slightly outnumbered the ones that met me in Loikas that day. :) I can envision Jesus being elbowed and shoved and prodded as He tried to maintain His footing in a crowd of small, but mighty when on a mission, kids who were eager to get near Him, if for no other reason than to stare. I can also see his well-meaning disciples responding to this in the way that they did... rebuking the kids in order to regain order to a now chaotic environment (kids are so awesome at creating those out of nowhere :)). And Jesus was "indignant." Really? Indignant? At least let the disciples gather them into a single file line and bring their voices down a notch. Prioritize them by needs and send the ones who are not sick or hungry home for the day. Let them come with a parent or guardian and please make sure none of them get back in the line after they've already been through once. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . He said to let the children come!!! Stop hindering them and let them continue being who He so perfectly created them to be--the very characteristics that lead Him to remind us again and again that we should aim to be more like them. "The kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these."
So here I stand, humbled and repentant. Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus would have at least taken a moment to look into this girls eyes and hold her hand as He journeyed towards those with "greater needs." I am no Bible scholar, but if I am correct, the children Jesus was referring to in these passages in Mark 10 and Matthew 19 were not even sick. What? I am definitely the disciple who is advising Jesus that His schedule is pretty full, so better just lay hands on and pray for the sickest and poorest and hungriest kids. I probably would have even suggested a good, solid group prayer for all, to hurry along the process. Especially if I knew someone "worse off" was waiting for Him.
Looking back and recalling how unsettled I felt as we drove away from Loikas just as the rain drops became heavy, I am sure that feeding those babies and killing the worms in their bodies was not the primary reason He brought me there that day. I guess He just wanted to pour a little extra love on that girl and He gave me the chance to feel the skinny brown fingers wrapped tightly, trustingly around for Him. I thought surely He sent me to fill grumbling bellies and improve sick children's health. Oops.
Wonderful news though.... He's forgiven me and I am sad I hurt Him, but thankful for the grace to try again tomorrow; the mercy to keep my eyes open; the Holy Spirit to keep my heart willing to love whoever is in front of me.