We Are Their Fathers and Mothers

Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?-Malachi 2:10

We encountered a sad and disturbing incident. Unfortunately, there is a sentiment that is growing among many in the city.

We just got to the public square where the children were and noticed a commotion. A ten year old boy, Wesley, was in the middle of it. We saw some adults looking at his neck. We enquired what was going on and Wesley showed us his bruised neck. The bruises were actually impression of a hand. Wesley was obviously upset and told us that a policeman grabbed and squeezed him by the neck. A passer-by who had witnessed the whole incident confirmed this and added that someone had their phone stolen and the police were certain that the children had it. They lined up all the children and one of them grabbed Wesley and tried to intimidate him into giving up the culprit. The passerby then told me something that astonished me. He said that the children deserved it. He went on to say that the children have been getting out of hand and someone needed to put them in their place. By this he meant that it was perfectly fine for a grown man armed to the teeth to choke a defenseless ten year old child. This happened during the afternoon in one of the most busiest sections in the center.

I do not doubt for a moment that one of the children had stolen the phone. Even if they did not do it this time, it is not something beyond them. They did not deny anything when we spoke to them. However, their bad behavior does not change the fact that they are still children. If these children were our own flesh and blood, we would not tolerate a complete stranger physically abusing our child, let alone choking him until his neck is bruised. No decent parent would condone such behavior regardless of what their young child had done. However, these children do not have parents. They are orphans. No one looks out for them. No one misses them when they are gone. No one cares if they are gone. Apparently, no one vouches for them when they are physically abused in public. These children are non -existent in all practical sense. They sense this in their souls. They try to assert their existence through bad behavior just like an attention-craving child would do in any given context. This does not excuse their bad behavior. It needs to be addressed but not with hatred and violence.

Unfortunately, a seed of hatred was planted in Wesley’s heart on this day. However, all is not lost. It does not necessarily mean that bitterness and anger are going to take root in his soul. Evil actions are not as powerful as we imagine. These children have experienced much hatred and rejection in their lives and they still are open to be loved. They still believe that there is someone who would love them. They still want to be loved. In other words, they still want to believe that their existence is worth something to someone in this world. Most of them are able to overcome the hatred that they experienced in this life if they can discover that they are important to at least one person in this life.

The Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. Churches around the world celebrate this special day as the beginning of the church. The message of Pentecost Sunday has something significant and powerful to say to these children and teens. The coming of the Holy Spirit changed the nature of relationships. Before this blessed day, the apostles imagined the preaching of the gospel within their cultural, geographical and social limitations. With the miracle of the tongues, the apostles discovered that the Holy Spirit has something beyond their limited imagination. It is no longer of a religious message of a certain people or language. It is a message of adoption. All peoples were now part of the great family of God. All the orphans and widows from all over the world now have a Father who cares and loves them and a family that includes them as their own brothers and sisters.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God-Romans – 8:16

The Spirit of God is poured upon all peoples to testify to their spirit that they are adopted. No one is an orphan anymore because God is their Father. No land is too distant for us to seek and care for our brothers and sisters who are still unaware that they are part of this new family. Our children and teens in the streets sense the longing for a Father in their spirit. They understand that fatherhood is not restricted to flesh and blood. They know all these aspects of the Truth and yet they need to see and experience the reality of this adoption in a clear and tangible manner.

They need to see fathers and mothers who are sent by the Holy Spirit to testify to this adoption. This should be, perhaps, the only and true motivation of missionary work. It is a motivation that can only be inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We can only receive the orphans of this world as our own family members when we have experienced the power of adoption in our own lives. For those who have not experienced this reality would consider it absurd to go out into the world and care for the children of outsiders. They would claim that we need to take of our own first. The Holy Spirit is a generous Spirit. There is enough love for those far away as well as those who are near.

The next day, all the other children that had witnessed the event wanted to do an activity with us. We were surprised that none of them were using or sniffing paint thinner or any other drug. They just sat and colored together with us and asked questions about ourselves. They just wanted to be with us. I have to say that we enjoyed just being with them. This is the first step towards a real spiritual adoption. However, the police were lurking around behind us. The children were a little afraid and they did share this sentiment with us. However, they also felt safe with us despite the presence of potential violence. As for the violence, it is not going to go away. It will loom around the children and teens always. We are always in the midst of it. However, it cannot undo what the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts.

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Loving the Unlikable

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.-Matt. 5:20

The spirituality of the Pharisees wasn’t any different from the values of the world except that it was cloaked in religiosity. They shared the same standards. They only cared for people who were like them. They only invited their friends to their banquets. They did seemingly charitable works but always ensured that everyone knew about it. They cared for their community but it was always tainted with ulterior motives or blatant self-promotion. Jesus said that they had already received their rewards. The Pharisees believed that they were the custodians of the Law but Jesus said that their spirituality did not reflect the essence of the Law. Of course, the Pharisees might have brushed this off as a question of opinion. They were right in a sense. They had no obligation to listen to Jesus’ opinions whereas for Christians, only the opinion of Jesus counts in this matter.

There is another parable found in the same gospel which I believe is closely related to this. It sheds light on the kind of spirituality that Jesus is looking for in people. The parable is a familiar one; it is about the sheep and the goats. It talks about the end of time where the King will come to judge the world and He will separate the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep to His right hand.

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’- Matt. 25:34-36

Those who heard these words were surprised that they had been serving him and the King tells them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner; these are the people the Pharisees would overlook in their personal and public lives. They are ones through whom God has chosen to manifest Himself in this world. We should not romanticize these groups. Superficially speaking, there is nothing appealing or beautiful about these little ones of the gospel. Sometimes people tend to paint a picture of them as being sad and lonely people who are always open to our warmth embrace. The truth is that usually they are not easy people to serve. Most of the time, they might not even be likable. The hungry and thirsty can be so consumed by their basic necessity that they may seem angry and impatient and perhaps ungrateful. The stranger might not trust you and treat you with suspicion and disdain. The naked in the Bible are usually the mentally ill. They may not even acknowledge your presence. As for prisoners, they can be dangerous and manipulative people. Usually, no one really wants to care for them. Many would prefer to see them suffer in their cells. They are not easy people. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us He is present in them in a mysterious way. This is not some romantic idea. It is merely stating that nothing has changed in Jesus’ ministry. In His earthly ministry, He was present among these little ones and it makes sense that His Spirit continues to dwell among them in the present. His presence in them does not make the prisoners innocent and less dangerous or the hungry and thirsty less angry, the naked less mad or the strangers less suspicious. It only means that when we ignore them like the Pharisees of these world, then our lives become poorer and our spirituality becomes barren. The source and strength of spirituality comes from our daily encounter with the Living Christ. He is present where He is needed the most. We must find Him there.

 

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An Odd Family in Streets

We had a good day.

The children and teens were exceptionally open. We had meaningful conversations with some and the others were just happy to spend time with adults. There has been a drastic drop in the number of social work agencies in the streets and consequently, the children have fewer interactions with adults. Even though the children and teens would never admit it, they do crave for adult attention. Today, they were open about their desire for adult company and we openly enjoyed their company. This is why it was a good day.

As we were on our way home, we ran into Alex. He is 15 years old, but no one would believe it. He is small for his age. He was carrying a huge backpack perhaps too big for his size which made him look a little awkward. He was walking briskly away from the area as it was full of police. We suspected that the heavy backpack contained some paint thinner which he was selling. Alex has always been a loner. It is hard to get him into a conversation. Most of the time, he doesn’t engage in any activity with us. He is an extreme introvert. Today, however, he was different. When he noticed us, he came to us and asked to do an activity with us. We were a little taken aback. Alex never makes such requests. Even though we were ready to call it a day, we decided that it was worth extending our time just to spend some time with Alex.

Recently we have been trying to do more art with the children in the streets. Most of them have responded very positively to this. They are partial to water colors. We were expecting things to turn messy but to our pleasant surprise, they do a good job with their painting. Alex wanted to paint a horse today. He asked if we could draw him a picture of a horse. The only artist in the group is Mary and she drew a lovely horse. Alex happily chose the colors and started working on it. We also noticed that Alex had a horse keychain. We asked him if he ever seen a horse before. He said that he rode one when he was living on a small ranch in the outskirts of the city. He told us that it belonged to his family. This was a little strange because we know Alex’s family. They were not a family that could ever own or even rent a small ranch. They were extremely poor.

Alex alternates between the streets and his grandmother’s house. She lives in one of the worst neighborhoods in center. It is an area riddled with drugs and violence. Unfortunately this is the only place where she can afford to rent a tiny studio apartment which she shares with her four grandchildren. To call this place an apartment is an exaggeration. It is an old historic building that is literally falling apart and the so-called apartments are really just rooms with bathrooms. Most of the renters are drug addicts and dealers. Crime and violence are an everyday occurrences and the children have grown accustomed to them. The grandmother makes very little money doing odd jobs to support herself and the children. Mary has met her and she found the grandmother to be a kind person with a sense of humor. However, she is limited in what she can do for the children. She has no one to help her and most of her grandchildren are under fifteen. The youngest is a girl and she is 9 years old. Alex has another younger brother who is thirteen who also alternates between the streets and his home.

We enquired once again about the ranch. Alex smiled and told us that he was lying. It did not belong to his family. However, he really rode horses at the ranch but it belonged to a children’s shelter. In São Paulo, children’s shelters also function as orphanages. Alex and his brother were sent there soon after their mother’s death. He was about ten when it happened. We did not really understand the details of his story but it appears as if his mother suffered a sudden cardiac attack and died before the paramedics arrived. Unfortunately, he remembers vividly that the ambulance took forever to arrive even though they lived three blocks away the hospital. His grandmother could not take care of all the children and consequently he and his brother were sent to the shelter. We asked about his father. He told us that he remembered very little of his father. All he remembered was that his father was a crack addict. His father eventually died but Alex never had a relationship with him.

In the course of our conversation, Alex spoke and acted like a young ten year old. It was the age when he lost his mother. He had a little bit of a cold and I gave him a piece of tissue and he blew his nose in it and tried to give it back to me. I told him that this was a gift that he should keep for himself and he started laughing. At that moment, we all forgot that Alex was selling paint thinner and he was sleeping in the streets. We forgot that he was usually closed to conversations and a recluse. He forgot that he was alone and an orphan. We sat around and talked like an odd-looking family on the floor of a square in the center. We felt a strong love for him and we believed that he sensed it as well. It was the first time that Alex had a long conversation with us. He started asking questions about animals and different stuff; not unlike the questions a young child would ask his parents. Perhaps Alex never had the chance to ask such questions before. Perhaps the adults in his life did not have the time or energy to answer such questions. God wants to answer his questions and I am grateful that He used us as His mouthpiece to do this.

We went home happy that we stayed longer today. We pray for many more moments like this with Alex.

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