I love traveling. I love experiencing different cultures, hearing different languages, and getting my feet dusty in unfamiliar lands. I haven't traveled too much outside of the States yet, but I hope it becomes a normal part of our life as a family. I've been to Brazil, the mountains of Mexico, Bahamas, and Mozambique (in Africa.) Each trip is a special memory, each place expanded the boundaries of my heart.
After I graduated from college, I worked in campus ministry for two years. During my stint in campus ministry I co-led a trip to Mozambique,Africa, taking a group of college students. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but thankfully, my co-leader was a seasoned veteran. We spent most of our time at a children's center where over 500 children (formerly street kids, orphaned, or abandoned) were taken in, cared for, and embraced into a huge, crazy family. Loving on these kids was both harder than I expected, and more fulfilling than I expected.
There are many stories I could tell from this trip. Each child was a book of stories. But this is the story that first surfaced out of the cobwebs of my memory:
I was joining a small group on an outreach outside of the children's center. We were going to the Dump. Yes, the Dump, the trash pit. People live there. Families. Children. Disabled. Elderly. They live in the trash. In the third world, they are at the bottom of the food chain.
We are going there to lead a children's church service, to give away food and cloths. We are crammed into the back of the truck, driving down the dirt road into the dump. Children are running after us, smiling, laughing, excited. They are expecting us.
We arrive and set up in a make-shift building. Bamboo mats cover the dirt ground, the trash. I sit down on the ground amongst the children. They smile at me shyly. Small children have their smaller brothers or sisters strapped to their backs. They are all dirty. Flies are everywhere, landing on their faces. They are so beautiful, it hurts.
Before I know it, two little girls have climbed into my lap. Other children are squeezed around me, holding my hands, touching my legs, playing with my hair. They are eager for touch. for love. We sing songs and there is a story told.
I am distracted.
The little girls in my lap. The flies keep landing on them. Their feet are bare and calloused. Their cloths are threadbare, almost like paper. I am thinking about their lives. I am thinking about how they were probably born in this dump. They will probably grow up in it. They will probably die here. The injustice of it all is overwhelming me. I am holding them close and crying out to God, "Why??"
He doesn't answer me.
But then I hear Him say, with that small, quiet voice I've come to know so well, "THESE are the least of these."
These children are the least of these. The Last shall be First. Last on Earth, but first in Heaven. This brings me a small measure of comfort. Forgotten on Earth, honored in Heaven.
I look at the children with fresh eyes. They are smiling and laughing and there is joy in their eyes. They live in a dump and they have more authentic joy than people I have seen that live in mansions.
There is a lesson here. Children teach us so much.
I tuck away this lesson, these precious faces, the Least of These tightly into my memory and into my heart. The boundaries expanded once again by the faces of a faraway land.
A few pics:
Walking to the market.
I sketched a portrait of one of the boys and they got the
biggest kick out of it. After that, they all wanted me to draw
Love me some African dancing.
My co-leader Sarah Olds discovered a calling on our short trip to Mozambique.
She now lives in Mozambique. She works with a project for street kids called Masana. Check out her blog at Sarah-n-Africa.