When Jesus said to let the little children come to Him, He didn’t just mean the clean ones; or the ones who smelled good or those who wore nice clothes.
Some of the children Jesus held had snotty noses. Some needed a diaper change. Some of them were crippled and unlovely. Some were filthy and hadn’t had a bath for weeks. Others came from broken homes. Some misbehaved badly. Some were beggars.
These are not the children we naturally want to pull into our arms. If we are honest, they are the ones we want to pretend we didn’t see.
But when Jesus said to let the children come to Him, He meant all of them…. especially these.
I didn’t understand this very well until I came to Mae Sot. Yesterday I learned about it in a deeper way.
Our team was in the garbage dump with the medical clinic, seeing a few patients on the far side of a large lake where mountains of garbage are piled, and among which, people live. It is one of the most dismal places I have ever seen; the meager huts which are “home” to so many, are surrounded by trash and infested with flies.
Everything looks grey in the dump. Everything is filthy; the color washed out by layers of soot and dirt.
Children live here. This is where they grow up and is most of the life they will ever know.
When we come to the dump, the children are always dirty. Their faces are smeared with snot and dirt; bare feet and hands black from playing in the piles of trash around their homes. They smell bad. When I hug the dump children, I come away dirty and oily; I smell like them too.
There is one little girl who took my attention from the very first time I visited. She is about seven years old, the middle of three children. Her family situation is heartbreaking. With a mother who is mentally unstable and detached, the children are largely left to fend for themselves.
Yesterday we were treating some wounds on the little girl’s scalp; she was absolutely filthy. Who knew when she’d last had a bath? Her face and little arms and legs were nearly black with soot and grime from playing among the trash.
What bothered me the most about this particular visit, though, washow quiet and still she was. Usually this little girl is alive with energy; jumping and playing all around us; clinging to me excitedly and giggling the whole time. This time, she was unnaturally quiet. Her face was empty and sober. “Oh little one,” I thought as we cared for her wounds, “What has happened to you?” Her eyes looked sad and old.
Cleaning her scalp only created tiny rivers of black trickling down her face so we took her to the community well to wash her head off more thoroughly. A crowd of people was already gathered there for evening bath time. We joined them and someone provided us with a bucket of water and soap.
I donned gloves and set to work, gently cleaning away the grime around her face and neck, until Daniel [our Burmese translator] suggested that we give her a full dip-bath. I asked him to help and he dumped a basin of cold water over her and began to scrub her little hands and legs…with his bare hands… singing and talking to her as he worked. A little smile crossed her sober face.
And suddenly I was ashamed of my clean white gloves. In the grey, they glowed stark and sterile and I wanted to rip them off and hide them. Somehow, they represented a huge, selfish gap between that little girl and I: I had placed them on my hands to give her a bath, and communicated, “You are dirty; I must protect myself from you.” The realization made me want to cry.
I don’t feel this way toward her in my heart; in fact, I would rather hold a dirty child in my arms if it will let them know they are loved, then keep myself clean and healthy and in so doing, communicate to them that I do not want them.
But I had put on gloves to handle this beautiful little girl…and I had isolated myself from her world. Suddenly I felt like a spoiled American. And I wondered, in a deeper way, how well I really understand Jesus’ gentle rebuke, “Let the little children come to me— and don’t forbid them! For of these, is the kingdom of heaven.”
Sometimes it’s hard to hold a child who smells terrible and is filthy dirty; somehow personal comfort becomes more important than their desperate need for love. Somehow cleanliness takes precedence over their need to be comforted. My noble nursing endeavor to make the little girl clean did nothing for her heart like me kneeling down and wrapping her in my arms would have.
I learned a valuable lesson yesterday and a little about myself in general. Namely, that reaching out with compassion is easier said then done; we like it to be comfortable, and when it isn’t, we justify stepping back. I realized how many, many times, I reach out with my own selfish arms instead of Christ’s selfless, loving ones.
The struggle to embrace the children extends beyond those in the dump. In Mae Sot there are dozens of beggars; children roaming the streets all day long, trying to collect enough food and money to support the family. It is no kind of life for a child.
And yet, they are brushed away. Shop- owners shoo them off, because dirty children hanging around outside are bad for business.
Nearly every time I go into the city in the evening, a crowd of beggar children finds me. Sometimes I don’t feel very compassionate and don’t feel like buying supper for 5 kids; I am tempted to push them away too.
But God is doing a work in my heart and giving me a love and compassion that was not there before. He is giving me His eyes; a glimpse of how He sees these children. And what I see is beautiful.
Beyond the grime, the snot, the tangled hair, the soiled clothing, is something Precious. Inside that package is a beautiful child with a hungry heart that desperately longs to be loved.
People stare when you take time to give love. Sometimes I know they think we’re crazy. When I buy supper for the street kids and sit with them while they eat—stuffing their mouths and laughing, with light filling their eyes—everyone in the restaurant watches. I can see the amused question in their eyes, “You crazy foreigner—don’t you know you’re just being taken?”
And yes…I guess I do. But that is not the point. If, by entering into their world and communicating that they are important, I can give them a taste of Jesus’ love, nothing else matters. I am not here to do what is comfortable for me; I am here to love like Him.
People get tired of the street children hanging around, begging. They brush them aside and the children move on, with one more lie burned into their heart—“you’re not wanted…you don’t belong here… you are on your own.” This is not the message Jesus gave children. His was the exact opposite—He invited them, drew them, interacted with them. He wasn’t embarrassed to be seen with the snotty-nosed kids; the ones with deranged parents; those with bad behavior; or the child beggars. Instead Jesus openly loved them. With Him, children were safe. They were sheltered and treasured; delighted in and rejoiced over.
Here in Mae Sot, where there are so many children growing up in poverty and in pain, I long to be Jesus’ arms of compassion. I long for a love that is always available, and which embraces them, not for how they smell or look or relate, but for who they are as beloved children of God.
Oh Lord….continue to break my heart for these children. Take away my selfish demand for personal comfort which so often tempts me to hold them at arm’s length. Give me eyes to see past the unlovely things and give me arms that embrace, for their sake; to show them Jesus; to love them like you do.
Compasio Volunteer Sept-December 2011