My children met some of the boys who live on the streets of Maua, Laare and Mutuati today.
They represented two different, understandable responses to the boys of these towns. Their responses are largely personality driven, but I can't help but find in them my own impulses. It completely misses the point to assess their behaviors as though one child responded correctly and the other incorrectly. We all have multiple instincts and manners of responding to adversity we see in other people.
My child who is more shy and introverted was overwhelmed by attention received from these boys. We met the boys around 9:30, and many of the 8-12 year-old boys had already fried their brain partially or completely for the day. In a glue-induced stupor, they walked over and touched the white skin of my children. Unused to seeing children with skin this color, my children presented a novelty. The boys smelled of glue, and could be considered unruly. Being on the receiving end of 30 boys who are grabbing, talking over each other, sometimes stumbling, and entering your personal space can be intimidating for anyone. When you are smaller than those reaching towards you, and you haven't yet begun primary school, the expectation is you will pull back from such an encounter – perhaps even mortified by the experience.
Yet, we adults also have our tendency towards pulling back from such encounters. While we do not fear our physical safety in the same manner, our emotional security and the stability of our worldview is interrupted in similar ways. We feel helpless in the face of suffering, especially suffering facing children who live on the streets, hide behind glue and have no hope of a brighter future without help – help that we may fail in daring to give, and help that we may fail by not daring at all.
My other child, a bit more outgoing, did not shy back from meeting the children. This child did not mind the children's touch, and in fact was sad when this child came to know others had gone to purchase bread, bananas and milk for the boys. This sadness came not because the boys would receive these gifts; rather, the sadness came at not being able to help more. This child was ardent about serving the boys bananas, milk and bread, and did so when these items came from the store. Thrust comfortably into the mix of the boys and their raucous commotion, my child played, sang and danced along with the boys from the streets.
I also joined in playing, and learned a great joy in standing alongside the boys from the streets as though we were equals. In truth, we are equals. I was reminded today that we can only truly love God if we also love the crowning jewel of God's creation – humans. We can only truly love humans if we are willing to embrace the most difficult and wretched people we know. This world can only be the place we were created to be when all children are welcomed as equals, as in truth we are.
I am not bothered by the difference in my children's responses, morally speaking. It can take a long time to consider the costs of truly loving others, and sometimes a quick embrace leads to a flash in the pan and is good only for a moment. We must both consider the costs of loving deeply, sacrificially and truly, and be willing to embrace others as ourselves. In this way, we can more deeply join God's effort to love into existence a new creation.