One year ago, May 2014, I arrived on an island many think is paradise. I understand why. The drastic cliffs are beautiful, the lush vegetation explodes with flowers, and the sea breezes keep thousands of tourists cool as they lay on the equatorial beaches. After spending one day on “the Island of the Gods” a resident asked me if I wanted to join him for a late dinner. He said we would pickup a simple meal of vegetable fried rice and take it to one of the busiest intersections on the island. Once I accepted the invitation he bought over 20 servings and we proceeded on motorbike downtown through rush hour traffic.
That evening we shared our meal with 20+ children (infant to 14 years old) and three mothers. Having eaten rice with our hands out of the traditional banana leaf wrapping the kids began to climb on us like a human jungle gym. My heart began to melt as I recognized they were starving not for food but for attention and affirmation. The games we played, due to my non existent language skills, were simplistic variations of tag and hide & seek; Anything could think of to prove I valued their existence on this earth. Our time of laughter was quickly cut short. I watched the “mothers” communicate that break time was over and the real reason they were on the streets quickly became apparent.
Children, some too young for preschool, were sent into traffic. As the light turned red they would weave through the slowing cars and peer through the windows - if they were tall enough. Their plea was obvious as they hoped a departing tourist would hand them the leftover currency from their vacation. One of the taller girls slung an infant across her chest as to increase the sympathetic case for her begging. The mothers told me through translation that they, and the children, were not from the city but from a small village 3+ hours away. My heart was broken. I recognized each of these children had become a source of income multiple times more lucrative than a the average local daily wage. Yet their true value is infinite and based on the image of their Creator. This experience became seared in my memory as I prepared to return permanently one year later.
May 2015 I returned to meet my little friends. Their smiles and excitement were just as I remembered them, possibly because of my return, but likely more influenced by the hot dinner we began to share. Over the following weeks they began to recognize me and I started to remember their names. My language learning has allowed me to start simple conversations often revolving around the “rules” for a game like tag, duck, duck, goose or a new card game favorite, Uno! (Some of their words sound very similar to my untrained ear, examples: Green & Rain, Yellow and Cat, Red and Angry, Blue and New… You can imagine how this makes the game of Uno quite entertaining.)
Building relationship with times of silliness and play has earned us the right to enter into serious topics. One night many of the children obviously had a contagious eye infection. Divine provision allowed that the same night a European doctor was visiting with us. After diagnosing their symptoms on the side of the street she offered to visit them the next day to bring the correct treatment and medications. Finding the children was quite a challenge and required hours of driving in systematic circles. The driver said finding their location in the maze of back alleys was “miraculous”. One week later and all symptoms of the eye infection were gone! It is these types of interactions that we pray will allow us to meet the root physical and spiritual needs of this community. Your prayers for these children opens the heavens for these types of miracles. Please pray that as we learn the language and build deep relationships we can share the Source of these miracles and the Love that motivates us to share our evenings with them.