Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cultivating Compassion

No sooner had we stepped foot into the fast-food restaurant than our kids darted furiously to the colorful plastic play area. While I perused menu options, Pedro kept an eye on the children's antics. He seemed especially watchful on this particular day, and I promptly understood why.

Three children - two boys, one girl - were huddled around our kids asking a lot of questions. My "mama bear" instincts propelled me to quickly walk over and join the conversation. I surprised the three new faces with my arrival but the distraction worked and soon they were directing their questions to me instead. "Are you his mother?" "Yes." "And did you abandon them?" "I think you mean 'adopt' them. Yes, I adopted them." "So these are your kids?" "Yes." "And you abandoned them?" "Adopted them. Yes."

While they plied me with their questions I looked closely at the three children, whom I assumed were siblings. From their grubby faces and disheveled appearance (the boys were barefoot and one was even shirtless at the moment) it seemed obvious that they were not paying customers. It wasn't the first time we had run into children off the streets who found a haven (and people to pick on) in this particular fast-food joint. Sometimes they would outright beg for some money to buy food but in this case the little girl chose a different tactic.

She simply followed us back to our seats and continued with her questions. Quickly realizing we'd have no peace unless she was otherwise employed and envisioning an opportunity to help in a small way, I purchased food for the three of them and for a time there was sweet silence. Eventually the questions began again and this time I decided to ask a few of my own. "Where are you from?" "Alto Hospicio." "Where's your mom?" "At home." "How did you get here?" "On the bus." "Won't she be worried about you?" "We don't have money to get back home." "Do you go to school?" "Yes." "Where? What grade? What about your brothers?"

Eventually it was time to go and as we gathered our things I heard her whispering with her brothers. I made out the words "cinco mil" or "five thousand" and I have to admit that my first reaction was to make sure Pedro and I still had our wallets! I felt conflicted as we said goodbye and headed home. On the one hand I was still suspicious of the children's intentions. On the other I was ashamed at my lack of compassion. This was supposed to have been a special family outing and my knee-jerk reaction was annoyance when three poor kids interfered with my plans! But what about them? What about their situation? Thoughts swirled somberly through my head as I faced the implications that without God's intervention the future of at least some of my own children could have been the same as theirs.

I asked God for forgiveness and I prayed for the three faces that had watched us leave. Whatever the truth of their story, no child with a loving home and mother and father should be wandering alone in this city. I asked God to cultivate greater compassion in my heart, especially those times when compassion might feel inconvenient. I never want to get to the point when I am so settled in my own circle of family and ministry that I lose sight of the suffering around me. Here in Chile it is more subtle and the challenge is that often poverty is intertwined with lawlessness and it is a struggle to find the balance between being caring and being careful. I could cite cases in point but the bottom line is that finding that balance is necessary to cultivating compassion. I pray I am able to find it with God's help!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember times when it was hard to know what to do and who to trust. I'm sure you are teaching much to your kids through these experiences too. You know our prayers are with you. Love, Mom