Thursday, August 9, 2012

Corduroy and Trust

Another sleepless night, another restless hour before dawn.  I have the suspicion that this trend is beginning to exceed the normal adjustments imposed by jet lag and global travel.  Though this morning, my bride has joined me as our youngest has awoken weeping with continual pain in her teeth.  This occurs from time to time as a result of some of the blood abnormalities that she was born with that affected bone and teeth development when she was an infant.  As a result, her teeth are brittle, some have crumbled.  Our physicians all desire that they should come out naturally to provide proper spacing at the base for her healthy permanent teeth, so this is the end result; a little girl with tooth pain crying in the night.  And as for me; a 4:00 am trip to the local store for meds and children's pain killers because we ran out.

I am kneeling in the sandy African soil facing a brilliant sun.  He stares at me uncertain as to my intent.  This is it.  "First Contact" so to speak.  I have been waiting a long time for this opportunity and here it finally is.  A small child from our Ludlati care point, cautiously eyeing me as I attempt to interact, attempt to show love. 

He is a serious little one, with serious eyebrows and a piercing gaze.  He stares at me, ascertaining my dress, my movements, my body language.  I speak in soft light tones to him and he does not respond.  He only studies me.  He is wearing a pair of small yellow sweatpants that have a hole in the knee and a white t-shirt with blue and green stripes.  His small feet are adorned by crocs and I marvel that these small rubber and plastic shoes would endure this landscape.  He is holding a yellow soccer ball.

It is evident that English is not going to work and sign language and body motions are limited so I engage in the next logical language I know:  play.  I motion to this little one to roll the ball.  Doubtfully he studies me and never taking his eyes off of me, rolls the ball towards me.  I exclaim my delight in gentle tones as I roll it back.  His eyes never leave my face as he rolls it again.  Again I gently reassure him, praising his aim, his strength, anything to encourage.  Again, he solely focuses on my face as we continue this back and forth.

For an hour our game continued.  Occasionally a ball would go wild and I would chase it down or he would, likewise, run after it on small legs.  Every so often his piercing gaze would drift off into the distance and he would sigh.  Never a word was uttered by his lips, never a smile was raised by the corners of his mouth.  Yet in this silent game a bond was forged that carried through the week.  I had found my first little friend at Ludlati.  He came to me and I was blessed to hold him and carry him to the food line.  Again, never a smile, never a word.

Later in the week during colder mornings, my little friend wore a corduroy coat and as we had a tendency to do, when we could not or did not have names for some of the children, we began referring to them by distinguishing characteristics or clothing.  We had "Batman" and "Topknot Girl" and "Backpack Girl".  And then there was "Corduroy Boy", my little friend.  In the days we were at the care point, my friend continually sought me out and took my hand.  Often he simply wanted to be held.  Sometimes, he led me to a ball.  Never, did he speak a word.  On the next to the last day, I garnered my very first smiles from him as we played and I leaned him backwards and tickled him. 

Our last day, "Fun Day" as it has been dubbed, I did not get to play with him.  We were all so busy and there were so many children.  We helped in distributing the chicken dust lunches and gift bags, ran games and put the new soccer goals up.  It was not until the very end of the day when the children were all heading home and we were saying our final goodbyes to the bomake and children that I crossed paths with my little friend.  Much like our first meeting, he had a ball.  I motioned for him to roll it.  Studying me with that same piercing gaze, he proceeded to do so and our game commenced...for a few minutes.  Then his older sister came to lead him away home.  I said goodbye to the two of them.  His sister said "bye" and then Corduroy Boy turned and waved and said "bye" and walked away.  This was the only word he ever spoke to me in my entire time with him. 

I happen to know that these children go into a home of need as their family was one of the families visited by our home visits.  Lack is present and my little friend is in a home that is in need of food, income, and other basics.  This Ludlati care point is a very literal lifeline to my little friend who walks to the care point daily.  And though in my last post I promised not to follow the comparative, I cannot help but ponder the fact that these little ones are not afforded the luxury of mom or dad running to the local store in the middle of the night when they are sick or hungry or in need.  In Africa, they don't say you have a cold, they say "you've caught flu" as every slight illness is "flu".  Many of these kids had caught "flu", walking around with runny noses, sniffling all while singing praises to God, playing, and being loved.  All of them live in unheated homes and the nights were getting down to as low as the mid/upper 30s.  As a trip to town on public transportation costs 10 rand one way and a baker at the local market is making only 150 rand a month, one can guess how often trips to town are made for "necessities" and whether or not that list includes medications.

As I check on my daughter, now nestled in with my bride asleep, I cannot help but wonder if my little friend experiences the same love and compassion in an environment where hardships are continually present.  Where existence can be difficult, even brutal, is my little friend able to find comfort in the arms of a loving parent?  Many of these children are not, and are somewhat hardened for the realities of their existence in the process.  Difficulty and struggle promote ruggedness and strength, even at a young age and these children are far more self reliant and inventive than most children I know near my home.  However, this process of hardening is not without scars.  Many of these children are too wise too young and are hurting as a result.

One of the recurring themes in our teaching through the week was trusting God, even when life is difficult.  My bride enclosed daily notes of encouragement to me while I was away and on a very specific and needed day, I opened one with the following scripture:

"For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever"   2 Corinthians 4:17-18

I am convicted in the writing of this passage as I also shared this scripture with the children during my teaching.  The children of Ludlati walk this out daily, with hope for a better future because, very often, God's promises are all they have.  To tell children who have recently lost their parents to AIDS "your problems are momentary but they are producing an eternal glory" is hollow if I cannot carry that back to my life.  To hear of a young man at the care point echoing these words to one of my team-mates and letting them take root in his heart is an amazing testimony, but it is fruitless to me if I cannot walk them out myself.  God's Word requires a paradigm shift when witnessed in action, particularly by the "least of these".  Even in the midst of lack, the children and families of Ludlati have given me far more than I ever gave them.

Peace has returned to my home.  Toothaches have been chased away, the sun is rising and my family sleeps.  I will continue to pray over Corduroy Boy and all of the children of Ludlati and trust in God's plan as he continues to breathe life into the midst of desolation on a remote Swazi mountainside.

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