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This is one of the images I can’t get out of my head:
It was being pulled through the filthy streets of a slum by a bald headed girl in a pale yellow dress wearing worn red flip flops. [I have a video of it but I don’t think I can upload it until I get to a place with a faster connection.]
She pulled it behind her with a sly smile on her face. She was having fun. Walking next to her was a little girl – a sister? – wearing a white dress with three holes in the front. And when I pulled out my camera there was a little boy wearing a pendant and short, faded teal pants; a boy with an impish grin who definitely wanted to check out the tall foreigner – a boy with an impish grin whose toes on his left foot were fused together.
She pulls it everywhere, pitter patter, clickity clack through the house, over the hard wood floors, over the wool carpet, through climate controlled comfort. She giggles and talks to the animals and when she is done she drops the woven red string and runs off to another toy, another game, another bit of luxury.
One night I woke up, called Kim to tell her the story and cried and cried. It was too much. The intimate contrast was too great.
But as I’ve thought and thought and reflected and prayed about that moment I keep stumbling back to a thought – that I am not just crying for the little girl. I am crying for myself too… and for my family… and for our rich American life. I am crying for innocence.
At that moment, in that slum, that little girl was playing and smiling and she was laughing. Her joy in her unknown poverty was complete. It took so very, very little to make her happy. She didn’t need to be placed in front of a television set or set in front of a computer or bunches of puzzles or dolls or stuffed animals or crayons or electronic games. She had fashioned or had been given the most basic, crude little toy and she was happy.
But a part of me remembers. I remember being a kid and having a few toy cars and a single set of blocks and a single set of Lincoln Logs and I remember simpler and smaller and I remember life without a car – let alone multiple cars. I remember life when I happily lived on a $21,000 a year salary where a visit to a restaurant was the most joyous of occasions even if I had to keep the bill under $25.00 for two.
I’m not saying being poor means being happy. I’m not saying having stuff makes one unhappy or that it makes you immoral or anything like that. I’m not saying that at all. I am certainly NOT saying that girl should be as poor as she is. That she is that poor is a crime against humanity and a crime against God. Of that I have no doubt.
But I am saying that she made me confront a poverty of my own and it is breaking my heart. It is a poverty of excess, a poverty of comfort, a poverty of wealth. It is a poverty in myself that I don’t really understand yet.
And, frankly, this could all be completely wrong and I was just crying for her life. I don’t know, I’m just figuring it out.
Last night I was talking to a man who helps bring kids out of poverty and into college.
His name was Steven.
I asked him whether he thought it better for a child to be brought up in the wealth of America or in the poverty of Uganda.
“Oh Uganda. Uganda. Absolutely,” he said with passion.
“In America, your plentifulness drives you away from God. Here, for the poor, for me, I am grateful for every meal. I am dependent upon God and I know it.”
“Even the poor, you see, they are happy and they are thankful to God. One of the things we need to know is that Africa is very hopeful and that keeps us going even if there is nothing today. Tomorrow, we believe, will be better.”
That is as far as I have gotten in my thinking on this… and this is an event from the first day. I’ve got a long way to go! Today, with my friends now off on a safari, I am staying in Uganda and meeting another friend. We will see an orphanage and a hospital and whatever else God brings our way.
Thank you for being on this journey with me.