"What is your dream for your six children?" I asked her. The interpreter then relayed the question with a bit of explanation.
We all came to this moment drenched in emotion. Tears welled in her eyes. I had spent the previous seventy minutes with this woman and her children in the middle of the unspeakable filth and stench of a slum worse than any I, or any of my seasoned companions, had ever seen. The room was less than eight by eight feet in size. Eight people called this their home. The mother struggled with her own physical problems. Her husband was gone — he hadn't run off, in all likelihood, he had passed away. The grandmother of these six children slipped back into the shadows of one corner and ducked her head. After a pause, the woman gave a short answer; her voice was soft and distant as if speaking from some unseen place in the deepest corner of her soul.
The interpreter paused as the woman's eyes filled with tears and reddened. He shared a few words, then asked the question again, as if hoping for more of an answer.
Her answer sounded similar, except this time, even more distant and clearly carrying an element of shame that she could offer nothing more. "She hopes her children can live to adulthood." Those were the stark words of the interpreter as he ducked his head and refused eye contact. His voice sounded resigned.
Those were her dreams. Not her prayers. Not her assumptions. Not her expectations. The wildest expectations she had were small by most modern standards, but huge in this place where we stood. I understood — at least as much as one so blessed and protected could understand. I knew what had been done to immunize, treat, and nourish our little Compassion child. If she had not been placed in Compassion's Child Survival Program, our Compassion child would not have lived to see my visit. I would have never met her. I would have never hugged her or seen her smile. I would not have done the uncomfortable dance of trying to break the ice and help her get to know a strange looking man she had never seen, speaking a language she did not know, representing a family who wanted to sponsor her and pray for her and help her find Jesus.
Of course none of this would be possible without Compassion and the folks of the church committed to making a difference in this dark place. No one can know her future outside the Father of us all. I pray that somehow, our partnership from a world away joined with these people committed to bring light to this very present darkness, can make a difference for her. As I visited with one of my fellow travelers after my visit, I was barely able to keep my emotions in check. We both struggled to find words appropriate for what we had seen in the parents' eyes we had seen today. It is not despair, because despair at least involves the loss of hope. This malaise of suffocating low expectations lies heavy on the street corners and settles in like a fog, flooding every nook and cranny of the slums, sucking the life out of the souls of a people expecting nothing ... except the worst.
My fear is that my experience will be casually tossed aside because we have all seen so much and our calluses have grown so thick. These things seldom move us to act anymore. Somehow, we can wrangle our minds into thinking that they deserve it ... or brought it on themselves ... or should work harder to prevent it ... or it is unfair for us to be expected to do anything. All I know is that the all African staff here, and the tens of thousands of church members seeking to make a difference, have run out of fingers to put in the dike and they know the tidal wave is nearing. I'm not talking theory. I'm not talking partisan rhetoric or promoting the latest charity fad.
Our family prayed. We have been so blessed. Then, we were sent a little packet of information about a little girl we didn't know and hadn't seen. She was to go with the young boy we have sponsored for several years. And I flew halfway around the world to see her. I was so nervous about frightening this child and blowing this opportunity to convey our family's love, and the love of Jesus, that my legs were wobbly when I was done. But I tell you, it was worth the trip. And it will be worth your time ... and prayer ... and monthly support ... to give a child hope, when there is none. And I'm not ashamed to ask, "Have you found your Compassion child?"
I hope you will: http://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/default.htm
A hug and a smile and a wave ... and then you know why Jesus said:
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these"Matthew 19:14 TNIV).
Also see Phil's blog about this visit, written one week after his visit!