One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4
The question came up on two different occasions. Ruan was the first to ask it and the other was a recent arrival to the streets. The question left me feeling a little awkward. It was nothing complex. In fact, it was one of the most common questions often asked by strangers or acquaintances. Usually I would be able to answer it without any hesitation. The response is usually satisfactory and succinct when it comes to complete strangers. It is mere curious enquiry with them, whereas Ruan and the other teen were not curious. They want an answer that would give them a deeper insight into the kind of people we are. It is a desire to know us more intimately.
The question was none other than this; “Why did you choose to be with us?”
Mary felt the complexity of the answer too. She turned around and said, “Stephen can answer it better than me.” This was not true. I was paralyzed for a moment which made me frustrated. I should be able to handle this one being a priest and all that. Unfortunately, I found myself fumbling around to find the appropriate words. The standard reply would not do. With a complete stranger, we talk in general and neutral terms. Ruan and the other teen want an answer spoken at our level of friendship. The words have to contain affection and understanding. I made a mistake. I used the word, “vocation” and suddenly I felt a little embarrassed. It is not because this was not true. It is a genuine answer but, for them, the word is more religious jargon. The word has no meaning to our children. Both teens momentarily lost interest in the answer when I said this. Vocation does not exist in their world. It is not that they are atheists or agnostic. Quite the contrary, our children believe in God despite all the harsh experiences life has dished out to them. They don’t blame God for any of their misfortune. They just think that God is far away. They believe that He watches over them from His mountain. No matter what the metaphor they use, God is always at a distance. They think that they perhaps they are too small for Him to take interest in their lives. It is not their fault that they believe this. Whenever they go to churches that their families frequent, they hear people standing in the front proclaiming victories, testimonies of the things that God has done for them. No one talks about the struggles and neglect that they know too well. It is natural that they come to the conclusion that God is not doing anything for them because He is too far away from their reality. It is better than the alternative which is that God doesn’t care for them at all. They want to keep their faith in God but they have reconciled themselves to the idea that they are beyond His reach. They are not bitter about this. Perhaps they blame themselves for this distance.
The word, “vocation”, is for those who believe that God is near.This is a word that is not in their vocabulary. I had to find the words that would make sense. If I explained to Ruan that God is doing something here and we want to be part of it, he would not understand. He is not at a place where he can understand God’s active presence in his midst. I could say that we are here because the church sent us out as a missionaries. This would be a simple answer but it would be meaningless. He is not a church goer. He doesn’t understand why a church would take interest in these children. Besides, he wanted an answer that would bring him closer to us. This is why he chose to ask the question when no one was around. It was the same case with the other teen. The answer has to be a door into our hearts.
We were playing a game of cards when Ruan asked this question. It was his turn to play which meant I had some time to think about the answer. Finally, I gave it. It was clear and stripped of all religiosity. I told him that we are here because we want to be here. Ruan was winning the game and his mind was on his victory. He had already forgotten the question. It was fine. The answer was not for him. It was for us. Perhaps it was a question that God was asking us through the teens. Our answer was really a commitment to God. Ruan and the other teen have inadvertently challenged us to think about our presence here. We are here because we rather be here than anywhere else in the world. It took us almost four years to come to this point. I am sure that this question will come again and again. Each time we answer the question, it will be a renewal of our commitment to God’s presence here.