Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.-Matthew 18:5
I have been carrying a letter in my bag for the past couple of days. It was sent about two months ago. We have been waiting for the right moment to share its contents with Ruan. There are several reasons for the delay. Our month of absence meant that we needed to reacquaint ourselves with the children. The children have a unique way of perceiving prolonged absence. Living in the streets changes the way they sense the passing of time. Everyday is the same for them. There are no holidays or weekends. They build relationships with people based on familiarity. The more they see someone, the stronger they bond they forge with the person. Familiar faces become their sense of security. We are part of this secure environment. However, our absence disturbed this fragile construction and they eventually begin to think that we are not part of their social fabric. As a means of self-preservation, they get accustomed to our absence and move on with life. Our return requires them to make readjustments once more. There is not much resistance to this but it still takes time. To help this process, we keep doing the old activities we did with them to assure them that nothing has changed. It was crucial that nothing radically new is introduced at this time. This is why I have kept this letter all this time. This letter as simple as it is is going to introduce new dimension into our relationship. It is important that it is presented at the right time.
Ruan was nowhere to be found. However, we did find the others and we went to the courtyard nearby and sat there and just talked. We have been having more moments like this for which we are immensely grateful. Then, out of nowhere, Ruan appeared. He wanted to be included in our activities immediately and it did not matter what we were doing as long as he could be part of it. Most of us have grown accustomed to Ruan’s childish demands and everyone just laughed and told him to wait like the rest. He did not mind. He just wanted to announce his presence. He then proceeded to take a bottle of paint thinner and started to sniff it. We told him not to do its because we wanted him to have a clear mind when he is with us. To our pleasant surprise, he put it away and sat down with us. This was the first time he has done this.
Mary was playing a game of checkers with one of the boys. Ruan wanted to play the next game with her. I took this opportunity to take him aside. I told him that I had something for him but there was need for some explanation. Ruan knows that we are from the church but he never asks too many questions about us. Recently, he has been more open about his feelings towards us. He does not hide the fact that he likes being with us. Last week for instance, he spent a few hours with us even though he was itching to go out and beg for a snack. However, he knew that once he left us he would get too distracted to return. He stayed until his hunger pangs got the better of him and then he took off, promising that he would try to return. He never did. It doesn’t matter. It was good enough for us to know that he wanted to spend as much time with us as possible.
I shared about the churches in the States and the people who are praying for him, not only him but for the others as well. It was the first time I shared this with any child. Not because they would disapprove but we wanted them to understand that the prayer was a first step towards relationship building. Ruan wouldn’t have understood what I was saying several months ago. Our relationship with him has opened the doors for him to have relationships with others in the church. The letter, I continued, is a fruit of this prayer. It was written by a grandmother in Florida. To be precise, it was a Christmas card but it didn’t matter to Ruan. He has never written or received a Christmas card in his life. I asked Ruan if he wanted me to translate the letter. He nodded in approval. I could see in his face that he was processing everything that I have just said. The author of letter shared how she received his name and what prompted to pray for him specifically. She made it plain and simple that it was the Holy Spirit. The Spirit stirred her heart to her connect with him. In closing, she asked if she could pray for Ruan as if he was her grandson. Ruan listened intently to what was written. I asked what he thought about this grandmother praying for him like a grandson. He became a little timid at this point and nodded his head to say, “yes”. I take it that it meant ‘yes’ that he wanted her to pray for him in this way. It was a short letter and it said everything that was needed to be said. I kept the card in its envelope and asked him what I should do with it. He wanted me to keep it for him because it would be safer. However, he stressed that he wanted it back one day so that he could keep it safely in his house. Ruan usually goes home for a few weeks a year. Even though he hardly stays at home, it was a symbolic way of saying that this letter is going to be one of his treasures. Then he asked where was this person living. When he heard the words, “Florida”, it dawned upon him that this letter came from thousands of miles away. His face lit up and immediately he transformed before my eyes from Ruan the street kid to Ruan the little boy. His eyes widened and there was huge smile on his face and he said, “You mean someone all the way from Florida wrote to me!” I guess that when I told him about churches in the States were praying for him, it did not register. They sounded abstract but the letter was something real and concrete. It showed the reality of the connection between him and Florida.
I asked him if he would like to write a letter to her. He said, ‘yes’. However, it wasn’t a convincing affirmative. Then I realized that Ruan comes for generation that perhaps has no clear understanding what is a letter. I haven’t received a written letter ever since e-mail came into the picture. Ruan never lived in a time where there was no internet. I rephrased my question. I asked him if he would like to say something to her some time. He smiled and nodded his head. I told him that I would help him. Ruan was visibly happy and he stayed longer than usual with us this day. We were playing a game when a man in a wheelchair passed us by. Ruan then told us that his step-father was a paraplegic as well. I already knew this from another source but this was the first time I heard it from Ruan himself.
I was initially planning to write a post about doing ministry beyond the idea of success and failure. Then I read the letter to Ruan. I think that this interaction with him would better describe why any Christian ministry cannot be defined on success and failure. These standards are imported into the Christian ethos from the world. They look at temporal results. The gospel deals with eternity. Our goal is help the children be conscious of an eternal reality. A simple letter opened up Ruan’s world, but not just his world, but also the world of it’s author. A grandmother who perhaps will never meet Ruan in this reality has gained a grandchild for eternity. The world does not possess the vocabulary to express the beauty of this reality. It cannot define it in its narrow view of success and failure. It goes beyond what is imaginable in this world. The gospel does things like that.