Sweet, Sticky Grace
by Allison Mock, 2014 college intern - Texas A&M University
Giants are real. Evolved from fairy tales, they operate under different names and in subtler ways, but wreak just as much havoc as the creatures of old. The country I visited is full of these modern day giants. I fought them every day. I battled oppression as I prayed with women hammering mountains of rock as immovable as their debt. I grappled with neglect as I distributed rice to children with thin arms and big smiles. I clashed with deep poverty as I held a half-naked little girl, her only piece of clothing a ratty blue t-shirt, and challenged ignorance as I told the gospel story to ears hearing it for the first time. But it was a little boy alone on a rooftop who brought me to my knees.
After three weeks of fighting, I felt tired and overwhelmed. For every person we helped there were hundreds more waiting and suffering under the thumb of another goliath. I spent my last week with Children’s Relief the “Y” family. Our group accompanied them on their monthly visit to a government run home for children infected with HIV.
In a culture obsessed with status, HIV positive children have no place. Parents abandon them at these facilities, ashamed at having a diseased child, though they infected them in the first place.
The home is in a poor neighborhood in the heart of the city. An unobtrusive two-story building holds roughly forty children and their caretakers, a Buddhist man and his family. The kids filed into the room in silence, their hair still wet from their nighttime shower. Since they hadn’t been exposed to Americans before, I attributed their solemn attitudes to shyness. We began our lesson with a rousing rendition of “Our God is so Big!” I wanted these kids to understand our God is big, strong, and mighty. Bigger than HIV. Stronger than the caste system. Mightier than death. They needed to know how to hope.
Despite our best efforts, the kids finished the lesson just as solemn as before it began. I felt like we had failed. We passed out mangos and followed the caretaker upstairs for a tour.
The rooms on either side of the hallway were empty, the paint chipping off the walls, a faint smell of medicine lingering on the thick, stale air. The children slept on the floor, the only thing between them and a layer of rough concrete a lumpy mat, its faint red stripes barely discernable under layers of dirt and filth.
The passageway emptied out onto the roof. I nearly missed the small boy sitting in the furthest and tiniest room. A rust orange shirt swallowed his skinny frame. His hands lay limp in his lap, his inky hair gleamed in the fading light. His eyes darted toward me then back to the wall.
“He is in isolation. Tuberculosis. Highly contagious.”
The caretaker’s words sounded far away in my ears. I couldn’t breathe. Escaping onto the rooftop, I took big gasps of the polluted air. I turned to Mrs. “Y” for answers.
She looked sympathetic, “the government only gives them 50 dollars a month per child. I don’t know if they can afford Tuberculosis medicine. He probably won’t live.”
I glanced back at the little boy. He had no family-- or none who wanted him. Now he was isolated from the other children. To die. Alone.
But he didn’t have to be alone right now.
I walked over and crouched next to him. He looked at me, his face uncertain.
“What’s your name?”
“Sandesh,” he murmured.
I stared at him, at a loss. I didn’t know any more of his language. How could I explain God without words?
“Why don’t you give him a mango?” Mrs. “Y” called across the rooftop.
I hurried down the stairs and grabbed one from the bag of extras. Sandesh looked surprised, but his small fingers wrapped around the gift, his fingernails bitten down to the quick. It was such a normal, sweet little-kid thing to do, I smiled. He rewarded me with a small grin in return. Encouraged, I pantomimed praying for him. He nodded his agreement. I lay my hand on his shoulder and closed my eyes, but I had no words. By all appearances this boy had been abandoned by the world, abandoned by God. I knew God loved him, but I couldn’t see any evidence of it.
God, why are you allowing this boy to die? Why did you leave him alone?
My answer seemed to float in on the breeze.
You’ve all been given a death sentence.
My tears slowed, then stopped. Peace came.
He hadn’t been abandoned. God sent Jesus to the cross for Sandesh two thousand years ago, just as He sent me to this rooftop. We both deserved death, but out of a love so deep it exceeds understanding, we received grace, instead.
Sandesh and I spent the rest of the time playing a handclap game. He marveled at every contact, unused to being touched. When the group returned the caretaker once again pointed at Sandesh.
Sandesh pulled his small hands back into his lap, his head down. I reached out and held his hands once more, smiling when his brown eyes met mine. We had to leave, but when I looked back Sandesh was still smiling, holding his mango carefully in his lap.
I wrote Sandesh a letter explaining who Jesus is. Mrs. “Y” promised to translate and deliver it on her next visit. I would like to say the rest of the trip was easy, and I never grew discouraged again, but it wasn’t and I did. Yet for every giant I saw, I met a hero ready to make a stand. I witnessed Peace in the teenager who gave up his home to be baptized. Hope in the prostitutes who dared to dream of a better life for their daughters. Selflessness in the boy who left college to teach four year olds the Bible. Strength in the women who attended church in spite of their husbands’ daily beatings. Joy in the little girl who sang songs about a God her parents deny. Grace in the sweet, sticky juice of a mango.
I have no idea what Sandesh felt those few minutes, or what he thought of the American girl crying and praying over him, but I see his face every day. He reminds me of the power of the gospel, and the importance of our mission to spread the truth of Christ, one person at a time.
Out of forty children in the HIV home, I only talked with one. There were thirty nine others who desperately needed someone to touch them, talk with them, love them. I couldn’t reach every child.
Does that make my work there less important?
Christ is not asking us to single-handedly eliminate every giant, but he is calling and commanding us to pick up our sword and go to battle. For if David sat back, who would have slain Goliath? If I hadn’t flown across the world, who would have sat on that rooftop with a lonely, scared little boy? We are called to slay giants.
It’s time we did.