First things first: the kids were not not smelly. Wakwak, at a distance, smelled like moldy cheese–one you’d put at the back of your pantry and have forgotten for weeks. When Trixie appeared by the gate, she was barefoot. My God. Barefoot. Her little toes were drizzled with mud and all the grime that came with it. They were two little mess of children whom, if I was in a certain mood, I would not want to sit or stand beside me. But under the rain, under the gray of clouds, I looked at them and recognized the sparkle in their eyes. Who cares whether Wakwak’s shirt was worn backwards (I was about to change it properly for him, but I realized that they might wear their clothes one side for a day, the other side next)? Who cares whether they’re ploughing into the mud, the grime and all the toxic things along with it?
When I woke up this morning, I was prepared not to go to church. It was raining. It flooded. And it flooded here, it most probably be flooding there, in Northville 9, in the site beside the river, where small houses sheltered a poor community of people who had no idea of the nicer things the world has to offer. I didn’t want to go. I just wanted to lay here, on my bed, and soak in the gloomy weather because this is my favorite. But my dad, the mission pastor, has prepared for the morning’s sermon by fasting instead of breakfast. And my mom was singing behind the stove. My brother was awake, and he took a bath first than I did. And I wondered why the day is completely strange because I was the only one who did not want to go out, face the puddle, and face the muddle of people drowning in the many things they lack.
But I did. I had to. I could have chosen to go to my home church since I won’t be carrying the piano with me, but I tagged along with my parents towards that other end of town beside the bridge. We were welcomed with smiles and with kids and Mr. Abraham sitting on the bench outside the window.
The kids carried pencils just as I asked last week, but I was completely bare. I had nothing, just my offering and an old phone that carried my old songs. I taught them a dance. I wasn’t a very good dancer. I taught them how to read. I was very good at reading. And when I had a chance, I had a good one-on-one with Trixie and taught her vowel sounds. I had to describe what A E I O U sounds like. She told me she could write her name. I told her she couldn’t write anything more than that.
9 years old, and she still can’t read. I think the biggest disability one can have is to not know how to read when you have two good eyes. Heck, even the blind can read.
Before I knew it, this burden grew bigger than me. I have carried this thorn since last week, when I was thinking of ways on how to make reading enjoyable for them. They have to read. To read is to know. And knowledge, for poor people especially, is the only thing that gives equal opportunity for everyone. It is not right that they are poor and are still uneducated.
They have to lift themselves up. We can only lend a hand, but not cut our fingers for them.
Just to tell you, I am not writing this as a self-righteous post. I am not, in any way, righteous. I am lazy and selfish and whiny and tedious. But when I see these kids my little half-empty vases, I see hope. Hope that only requires to be stirred. Hope that needs to be lighted up in a the dark corners of their heart. Hope that may one day, many years after now, will give them a new chance at life. Somewhere far from this small, smelly place.
There have been many times when I wanted to stop and run away and escape this form of service, but come weekend, I wake up and remember these dirty faces looking at me, reminding me that if I don’t share the Good News, no one would. Even if someone did, it may be too late.
So here I am, back at the dirty gate in front of the flood-filled rice field, looking at children whose big eyes were demanding for an art activity or a little drama. Children who, after an entire week of schooling and playing and returning to a small home with little food, may find something new: that a Great, Big God is looking after them, and whatever their status, barefoot or with shoes, He looks and loves them equally.