Her little hands held the Bible like she needed every word to be true, like she’d seen enough pain and felt enough heartache in the ten years that she’d been alive to know that there must be more. Her fingers turned the Bible’s pages like they knew with certainty that this couldn’t be all there was, that as sure as they eventually found their place in the Gospel of Mark, she too, would find her place, her meaning, her purpose. As her big brown eyes darted around the room’s circle of people, ten American bloggers, members of World Vision staff in Bolivia, and a host of her own peers, she spoke with humble authority about Jesus’s words regarding the mustard seed. The words that came out of that little girl’s mouth weren’t merely preaching to us about what could happen if our faith in God was the size of the mustard seed, she spoke those words as if she expected Jesus to swoop in like a superhero and rescue her from the broken surroundings of the town that she and her friends called home, a town located an hour outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia.
As I listened to her talk, I couldn’t help but wonder which of Bolivia’s dark truths was her truth. Was it the one about child malnutrition? Had malnutrition put her name among the thousands of Cochabamba’s least of these (and youngest) as victims of stunting, a term that’s used when malnourishment is so bad that it begins to keep a child’s body from developing at a normal and healthy rate? Was this little girl a victim of abuse? Had she been emotionally abused? Physically abused? Sexually? It’s estimated that in some areas of Bolivia nine out of ten children suffer some kind of life-altering abuse. Or maybe she’s one of thousands of Bolivian children who have been abandoned by their fathers (in some cases, the child is abandoned by both parents.
That’s the story that broke my heart the most today—that chances were very good that every child I met lived with a personal truth, one that was bigger and deeper and more traumatic than their tattered houses, cold dirt floors, mud-stained clothes, and chronic coughs that many seemed to withstand. Behind their dust and snot covered faces, statistics suggested that another story existed, stories that rarely get shared during a first meeting, stories that aren’t remedied with food and water, stories that stain and scar souls, stories that time might heal but the symptoms won’t let you forget.
And then I met Philippe (pictured above) when I walked into his story late this afternoon. One of eight kids. Philippe’s the “man” of the house if you will. Not the oldest child. But the oldest brother. Before going inside Philippe’s house, a World Vision employee informed us that Philippe’s daddy left. We weren’t told when or why. The World Vision employee didn’t call the boy’s father a deadbeat or a good-for-nothing addict or give us his personal opinion on whether or not this mom and eight kids were better off without the daddy around. I’ve never once heard a World Vision staff member belittle or put down a man or woman whose sins or mistakes are the main reasons that World Vision must help. Besides, the answers to questions like when and why or the verbal judgment of Philippe’s daddy’s actions won’t help this family survive. Still, I wondered how much Philippe knew of his father. Does he remember ever being held by his daddy? Can he think back to a time when he and his father kicked a football around? Can he recall the scent of his daddy’s cologne or body odor? What would he feel, if anything, if the sound of his daddy’s voice echoed through the mud and wood framed walls of his home? Would he be excited? Scared? Would he even know his voice? Philippe was probably two or three years older than Elias, and when that occurred to me, for some reason Philippe’s truth hit me hard. Sometimes when you’re out doing these kinds of visits to foreign countries, the hard situations that people encounter and live become mere words that you hear but don’t feel. I can’t tell you how many times today I heard about a group of brothers and sisters being abandoned by a father or mother or both? And it wasn’t until I met Philippe that I heard and felt that truth. And I know that this is just me being emotional, but I couldn’t help but look at Philippe’s bright smile and lovable nature and not think about my son, Elias, and how he’s asked his Mommy “Daddy coming home today?” every day since I left. And then I wondered, if Philippe does know his daddy, how many has he run up to his Mommy and asked her when his daddy coming home. Of course, unlike Philippe’s Mommy, Jessica gets to tell Elias how many days still need to happen before his daddy comes home. Still, Philippe seemed really happy to see a bunch of white people from the United States of America walk into his backyard. His smile lit up my afternoon.
Right before she started her talk, the little girl holding the Bible handed a volunteer a small bag of mustard seeds. Each of us received a seed to hold in our hands. Slightly bigger than a grain of sand, I looked down at that seed and then back at the little girl holding the Bible. In Spanish, she said, “Even if your faith is this small, Jesus says we can still do great and wonderful things.” And while there have been many times in my life when I’ve questioned those words of Jesus, I didn’t today. Today, I believed them. Because the little girl holding her Bible believed them.
By the end of her talk, I was pretty sure that I was wrong to think that the little girl was anticipating Jesus to swoop in and save her. I think that she believed with all of her heart that he’d already been there.
Will you sponsor a child?
It’s $35 a month. For most of us, the faith it takes to scrounge up $35 a month is much smaller than a mustard seed. For some, it’s bigger than a mustard seed. You’ll change a kid’s life. You’ll help change a family’s life. And you’ll also play a role in helping bring resources to a community of needy people, resources that won’t enable them, ones that will give them the ability to become sustainable. And you’ll also help World Vision maintain the ability to continue helping children with special needs, offering professional counseling to children who are victims of abuse, and providing a safe place for children who are living in dangerous situations. It’s a small seed. But it will help World Vision do big things.
Sponsor a child in Bolivia through World Vision by clicking here.
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