“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”-Genesis 4:9
Ruan is a terror. This is the general consensus among those who work in the streets and perhaps even the children might agree. He is always involved in some altercation. It is not uncommon to see him in a physical fight with some teen. He does not seem to respect anyone, not even us. Once he grabbed our deck of Uno cards and ran away with it. As form of discipline, we decided to suspend activities with him for a short period. Unfortunately, it did not seem to bother him at all.
Ruan is only twelve years old. It is possible that he is just going through a phase right now. He might change in a few years time. Nevertheless, we cannot help but sometimes wish that he would just go away and let us do our work in peace. However, Ruan is really not a hindrance to our work. He just reminds us that we are inadequate and limited in our ability to help people. This makes us uncomfortable. In the same way, Cain was uncomfortable with the presence of Abel. Abel reminded Cain that he did not meet the standard. Our human tendency is to remove or distance ourselves from anything makes us feel inadequate. However, our inadequacy should not contaminate our sense of responsibility. It is the calling of the church to care for the forgotten and despised. Despite his difficulty personality, Ruan belongs to this neglected family of God.
When God asked Cain about Abel, He gave the answer that I find myself giving to God sometimes when I deal with difficult people in my life, “ Am I my brother’s keeper?” This is an important question to ask, although in the case of Cain, he was asking this question to avoid facing a serious crime. Perhaps we tend to ask this question to avoid caring for difficult people as well. Leaving all ulterior motives aside, it is a good question to ask God. Do we really have the responsibility to deal with all the difficult people in our lives, especially those who make us feel small and insignificant? It is a question asked several times in the Bible. Who is my neighbor? How many times must I forgive my brother? These are some of the variations of the same question. All of them asked in hopes of finding a loophole to despise unlikable people.
The answer is given in various shapes and form in the New Testament.
It is given in three famous parables; the parable of the sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. The parables themselves are a progressive argument that Jesus makes. In the first one, there is not much controversy. The sheep is an innocent animal who got lost and it is the property of the shepherd. His search for it seems to be a rational thing. Nothing out of the ordinary. It is same case with the coin. An inanimate object that got lost and it is of value to the owner. The response is something anyone would do. However, the last parable is controversial. We are dealing with a rational being here. The son is a self-conceited young man demanding his inheritance to indulge in his own personal orgy of self-gratification. Finally, when things don’t work out, he comes running home to his father. If we are willing to be honest, we would agree that the older son was right. The younger son was an irresponsible opportunist and he did not deserve a welcome home party. Apparently this is not the version that Jesus wants us to understand. The story is not about the son but it is about the Father. It is not about the merits of the Son, but the joy of the Father in having His son home. The older son was thinking about himself and not about the Father. In this way, he is not much different from his brother. He failed to see that the younger son, despite being a selfish person, was important to the Father.
Ruan is important to God and so is every annoying and callous person that we know. However, in practice we cannot handle all the people in the world. We can handle the ones God sends to us. He brings certain people in our lives so that we can become their keepers. In the world, rejection is the answer to difficult people. The gospel teaches that God does not reject people, but people reject him. If we want to represent God then we should remove the vocabulary of rejection from our language. However, honesty is important here. God does not want us to pretend a difficult person is a saint when they are behaving like the devil. We cannot pretend that they are good and lovely people. We need to learn to see them the way God perceives them.
In one of our regular days in the streets, we were doing an activity with Ruan when a social worker walked by the square and noticed him. Later on, the social worker approached me and asked me how long Ruan has been in the streets. It was less than a year at that time. He said that he had known him and his family for some time. Ruan used to accompany his stepfather who is paraplegic to a project for physical disabled people. The social worker said that everyone was impressed by the way Ruan would help his step-father and care for him. However, about a year ago, his mother left him for another man. Ruan’s stepfather had to leave the household and this was about the time Ruan ran away to the streets. The child he described was very different from the one we have encountered in the streets. It helped me to notice different things about Ruan from then on. On the day when an insane person tried to hurt me, Ruan was the first person to run up to me and ask me if I was alright. I also noticed that he was trying to console another homeless person who had lost a loved one. I began to perceive that the caring sensitive child was still alive and present in him. Most importantly, I was able to get a glimpse of how God looks at Ruan. He is still a terror, but I realized that he is our brother and God has send us here to be his keeper. This does not mean we overlook his negative attitudes and actions. It would be unwise and unhelpful to do this. Instead we pray that God would help us see Ruan as a complete person, a person who struggles to overcome the odds to be loved in a difficult and lonely world. We are here because God loved us and consequently, this means we become the keepers of those whom God loves as well.