She is pressed against the glass, her face pained as she gestures wildly toward her mouth then rubs her stomach. My kids notice and say “Mom, what does she want?” And I say “Food and money,” but I know there’s so much more. Her clothes are torn and dirty and several sizes too big. Her feet are bare. Her matted hair a faded shade of orange-y brown that I know is caused by malnutrition. The first time I saw her here I gave her my food, thinking it would help if only for a moment. She took it but then turned and walked into the shadows where the older, bigger kids waited. I lost sight of her for a minute but then she was back motioning that it wasn’t food she needed but money. I shook my head, knowing that it wouldn’t help her but so tempted to give it anyway… if only to ease my conscience. She followed the boys and I down the street for a block or two then finally stopped with a look of disgust when she realized I wasn’t going to give her any money. But here we are a few days later, and she is back.
We finish eating and head into the grocery store. I grab a bottle of juice and a protein bar just in case. We walk outside, and she is there sleeping with her head in the lap of a teenage girl. Another little boy has joined them. We give them the drink and the bar then add our own snack items. It is so not enough.
We walk away. It is our last day in this place. In fact the vans we have hired to move our team to a new location are already on their way. We have gone about a block when I feel a small tug from behind. I turn and she has come after me again. She holds out her hand for money. I shake my head no. I see the desperation in her eyes, her young old eyes. My family is continuing ahead not noticing that I have stopped. A part of me wants to run after them, block this little girl out. I feel so frustrated, angry, and sad. I don’t want to turn to her because I don’t know what to do. I can’t bear to see and walk away…again. But I turn back anyway. I kneel down on the side of the road. We are face to face. I see an odd mixture of hope and fear in her eyes and a whole lot of other things I can’t define. I gently put my hands on her shoulders. She doesn’t resist, just looks at me with those fathomless black eyes. I draw her to me and hold her close. By now I am crying, and I just keep telling her that I’m sorry I can’t rescue her. I’m sorry that she has nothing and I have everything. I’m sorry I don’t know what to do to make a difference that will continue when the hunger pangs return. I’m so, so sorry. She doesn’t speak my language, and I don’t speak hers. But I know the One who speaks every language. I know He sees this little girl, and I know He sees me. I begin to pray. As I wrap my arms around her small body, I am overwhelmed by such pain and sorrow that it literally feels like a physical crushing weight in my chest. Is this what the Father feels when He sees the suffering of the helpless? Is this why His anger burns against sin and injustice? Not because he wants to keep us from fun and personal fulfillment as He is so often accused of but because He knows that the innocent ultimately pay the price for the darkness we allow in our world. That our pursuit of pleasure, comfort, and power paves the way for the oppression of the weak and eventually leads to the hopelessness of so many. We see it in the headlines about sex-trafficking, genocide, cop-killing, terrorism. I see it first-hand in the eyes of this little street girl. But it all comes from the same place…choosing hate over love, bitterness over forgiveness, excess over generosity. Serving self instead of God. What can we do to stop this? What can I do?
So we kneel in the dirt road, and I pray until I have no more words and there is silence. She finally steps back, looks one more time into my tear-stained face. This time she is the one who walks away. I can’t stop crying.
It has been over a week now, and I still cannot sit and write about her without the tears falling and that horrible crushing pain returning. I’m not sure what to do with it. I pray for her, over and over. I know it matters. My whole life has been a lesson in learning that God is faithful to hear and answer my prayers. I know that my pleadings on her behalf are not falling on deaf ears. Yet still I wonder if it’s enough, if God can take my prayers and move others into her path, if He can bring one who can and will rescue her, if He can bring her into life and safety and healing? Then I remember that He can…just like He brought me. God arranged a meeting between a little street girl with a broken life and a grown woman from halfway around the world with a heart capable of being broken. Who knows what eternal things are even now being sown into her future by my prayers? God does. He created her. He planned her life. His eyes are upon her. If God can bring me across her path, surely He can bring another and then another until she recognizes His pursuit and understands His love.
The lyrics to one of my favorite songs say “Break my heart for what breaks yours. Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause. As I walk from earth into eternity.” I never realized the full impact of what I was singing and asking for. I never thought about the physical pain that comes with a broken heart, and I’m pretty sure I’m only feeling the smallest part of what is on God’s heart for the hurting. It’s tempting to want to block it out, refuse to revisit the weight of that moment, to delete the pictures and block the memories. But I won’t. I will choose to remember. I will choose to embrace it. I will choose to learn from it and be moved by it. Moved from from my blindness and complacency. Compelled to fight for her and all the others like her on my knees. Reminded to be a better mom, to teach my sons that it is never okay to seek your own happiness at the expense of others, that sin and selfishness lead to only to destruction, that we overcome darkness by walking in the light one decision at a time. My legacy to that little girl is the prayers that are now covering her life. Her legacy to me is that for a moment I was allowed me to feel the Fathers heart. I hope that neither one of us is ever the same.
Note: None of these pictures are of the actual little girl. Her image is captured only in my memory.