Ever since we came home from our mission, one moment of service won’t let me go. It was late afternoon and the sun was beginning to drop behind the mountains. Kids were everywhere. Playing. Giggling. Holding hands. Each of our team members were busy interacting with them giving piggy back rides, kicking a ball around, and even playing with a cardboard box (which the kids thought was super fun).
Both of my hands were in the soft grips of little girls’ hands. One wanted me to listen to her. Another wanted me to watch her cartwheels and somersaults. Still older girls walked in front of me and behind, engaged in everything we were doing.
Everything was fine, until my mama ears detected something. A cry. A faint whimper.
I looked over my shoulder and saw a small boy sitting on the grass with other children. He was crying and had the most pitiful face. I watched him for a second to see if he was hurt or needed immediate help. Assessing the situation, I saw he was physically fine.
My motherly instinct was to run over to him and scoop him up in my arms. I wanted to fix the problem. But if I did, I’d be leaving the company of these girls who were starving for attention.
My heart was torn. What do I do? He had other friends with him, and it was most probable that in 30 seconds he’d be back playing again. But in that moment, he looked up at me and his eyes caught mine, quivering lip and all.
I did nothing.
I felt horrible. I looked at the girls with me. They weren’t crying. Their feelings weren’t hurt. They didn’t have a need. Or did they?
The old adage of the squeaky wheel getting the oil is very true with children. Ask any teacher. Even in my many years of volunteering with children it’s the same principle. However, I’ve always rooted for the underdog, squeaky or silent. It’s just my nature and I can’t help it. To me, it’s the quiet children who are often the underdogs. It’s those who continue on without their needs being met because they don’t demand the attention who are often overlooked.
Perhaps I feel this way because of my own childhood. Flying under the radar keeps the peace, but it in no way meets the need.
These girls needed me. They needed me to listen to them. To watch them and ooh and ah over their gymnastics. To laugh at their jokes and hold their hands, stroke their hair. They needed me to be fully in the moment. Maybe I misread the situation. Maybe I should’ve dropped everything and ran to this sweet small boy. But, something inside me wondered what message that would send these girls who were relishing in my attention.
He did stop crying and quickly resumed playing as I thought he would. His moment passed and he moved on. But for me, part of my heart is stuck in that moment for a hugely obvious reason to the heart, yet invisible to the distracted eye…
His parents weren’t there for him.
Friends were there to tell him it’d be fine. They were fine to distract him and continue playing. The fact is, this short moment was just one of infinite ones for children who have been abandoned or removed from their parents.
This is where my heart stings.
I know the overwhelming feeling of knowing neither Mom nor Dad are there to make pain better. To kiss a skinned knee or hug a hurt feeling away. To place their palm on a forehead to check for fever or to reassure a frightened heart it was only a nightmare.
I know what it’s like to have to search inside myself for comfort because there wasn’t any offered from anyone else. To dry my own tears. Calm myself down. Talk myself down off of the proverbial ledge. Convince myself to keep going by putting one foot in front of the other. To smile to appease others and after saying out loud the repeated lie of, “I’m fine,” to try to tell ourselves it’s the truth, when we know its not. In those dark, scary nights, there wasn’t a dad to fight the boogie man. For me, my stepdad was the boogie man to make matters worse.
Children who don’t have the comfort and security of their loving mom or dad grow up really fast. My mom was awesome, but I lost her to cancer when I was 16. I never had a healthy father-daughter relationship. There is a mental and emotional innocence that is stolen, leaving a gaping hole in the heart and head of a child who doesn’t know who they are or where (or how) they fit in this big, ominous world.
My husband tells me I think too much about things sometimes. He’s right on most counts, and I probably did in this case, too. However, I was paralyzed in how to respond to this tug-of-war between precious girls and this little guy because I saw myself in both of them. I’ve been the child crying with no one to comfort me, and I’ve been the one starving for attention.
I’m not sure there was a perfect solution in this imperfect world that day.
This moment also reminded me that in mission work the need is bigger than any one person. It’s why we must rely on the strength and grace of God because only He truly understands the depth of the need. No one person can show up and save the day. Actually, there was one person who did that 2,000 years ago. It’s Christ’s grace and love and comfort I have to offer to those He calls me to serve. I offer my hands and feet and heart to He who has called me and trust He will equip them for the task. And, that whatever my offering is, how ever small it may be, it is Christ working through me just as He was working with these children before I got there and will continue to work with them long after I’ve left.
Serving on mission tears me up. Every time I go, my heart is ignited with unquenchable passion for fighting injustice, loving the unlovable, helping the hurting, offering patience to the frustrating, comfort for those suffering, and grace for those who don’t even know what they need.
I have been all of these people. I get it. What I have to give is the comfort the Holy Spirit has given me. I am not enough to meet the need, but God is more than enough and He so loves this broken world and every single person in it.
The cry of that sweet boy pierced my ears and fuels me to keep going whenever, wherever God leads. His little pouting bottom lip is forever etched in my mind’s eye. But so is the warmth of those beautiful girls’ hands holding mine. The joy of their laughter. Their heads resting on my shoulder in a moment of total acceptance.
The sights and sounds of his pain haunts me, and that’s not a bad thing. May our ears never grow deaf, nor our eyes become blind or nor our hearts become hardened to the needs all around us. May we always be grieved by others’ pain because that’s what motivates and inspires us to get up and go help. Not through guilt, but by seizing the opportunity to share the beautiful gift of comfort we have received. What that looks like is as different as there are people in the world.
Our responsibility as believers is not to sweep in and fix everything, but to bring those broken to the One who heals (Mark 2:1-5) while we do what we can to help. We are not enough, but He who heals is.