From November 5-November 10 Beau and I traveled to El Salvador with Compassion International to meet our Leadership Development Program student. This is just one of the stories that came from around our table this week.
I forgot the way you smell.
Just days ago in El Salvador, we loaded up on a bus and were driven into your belly. Even though the home we went to could have been traveled by foot, it was too dangerous.
But I guess you’ve always preferred violence.
We stepped off our ride and began an uphill climb through a narrow, broken path. The first thing I caught was your aroma. The sharp, inescapable scent of sewage. The palpable tang of sweat. The swelling, suffocating rise of rotting trash on every part of the land.
I forgot the way you look.
As we stumbled through briars and broken paths with our guide consistently saying, “Watch out here, and here there is lots of broken glass and make sure you do not slip here.” I wondered how the kids play where we can barely walk. I saw homes that were nothing more than pallets of wood somehow jimmied together. And people, I saw the neighbors outside, nearly nude trying to catch a cool breeze.
I even forgot the way you feel.
Like sludge slipping through my shoes, broken glass ready to pierce, and heat so fierce my physical strength was drained beyond usefulness. You feel heavy. With each step my chest got a little tighter. My heart a little more out of control. You feel like an anchor tied to an ankle making sure your victim cannot escape.
I started to remember the way you sound. Mostly, you sound like 1,000 lies darting at your target all at once. The sound so loud you make it almost impossible to hear anything else. A broken record barely able to be quieted. “You are worthless. You will never amount to anything. No one will come for you. You will never escape this.”
I’ve looked into your eyes a thousand times as I have visited children caught up in you. I’ve yelled at you. Spat at you. I’ve buckled under the weight of your hopelessness. I’ve collapsed under how useless and privileged you’ve made me feel. I’ve cried because of you. I’ve cried. I’ve cried. I’ve cried.
But there is something I didn’t forget.
I didn’t forget the children you’re trying to hold captive. When I stood in Marcus’ home, his tiny one room home that was as big as my bedroom and his mom kept saying, “Thank you for coming to my humble home. Thank you for being here.” We talked with her awhile and I noticed so many tattered hammocks hanging from the ceiling and I wondered at how old they were and if they really could hold the weight of a body and how could this home carry the glory of a soul?
And then Marcus walked in. And he looked so misplaced. Like a stranger who had wandered into some elaborate movie set. He stood tall, perfect posture, he was in his school uniform which was pristine and even looked pressed. He talked with pride about his studies and about how he is in an orchestra that has played all over El Salvador. And I thought about how Marcus could have easily been my brother. He could have been my friend when I was his age, we would have rode to school together, gotten ice cream with all our friends and gone to the movies…But here he is, waking up at 4am to help farmers so he can support his family, then he heads to school, then the Compassion center, then band practice.
Talking to Marcus was like talking to a young man who had forgotten about you too. That while he is immersed in difficult, unimaginable circumstances he holds tight to hope. He presses hard into the opportunities he has been given through Compassion and his local church. He said, “God has blessed me.” He said that. He said that while standing and living in all your ugly. And I knew how little of a grip you had on him.
I guess I forgot about you because you can’t hold a light next to a child who has tasted hope and has grabbed onto it with their whole being. You can’t hold a light next to the glory of God burning bright inside a soul.
I guess I forgot about you because a child who has Jesus has been told with more force and more assuredness than you will ever posses, that they are loved. They are created for a beautiful purpose. They have hope. They have a God that will never leave them. That will always hear them. That has run after and revealed Himself to them, even though you tried to hide them.
I forgot about you because I remember Maria and Carlos. Who have grown up in gang infested communities, in the vice of injustice. But leaned into the local church. Who studied hard in school and made it to university. Who, when I speak with them say, “Praise God, He is my refuge. He in my hope.”
I think I forgot about you because I’ve witnessed Compassion and the local church releasing children from your grasp in Jesus’ name. And Beau and I have silenced you by sponsoring children. By saying, not on our watch. Not during our life.
We visited Carlos (our former Leadership Development student) and Maria (our current Leadership Development student) and we laughed. We prayed. We smiled. And I found in them your lies misplaced, the hope of glory thriving in their being.
I don’t think you look like this. In fact, in their hearts I hear the words from Rumi, “You broke the cage and flew.”
I think you talk a big game. I think you throw a lot of big stones. But when we partnered with God to act on His behalf and to open your grip, you buckled.
I think, in their lives, you look defeated.
To my readers, my friends, my family. If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you sponsor a child, thank you. If you want to help defeat the grip of poverty and bring the hope of Jesus into the precious life of a child being held in bondage, please sponsor a child. You will never regret this decision.