Friday, October 26, 2007

A Deserted Island

Imagine you are stranded on a desert island, and you are still a child. You have no way to feed yourself, no way to learn how things work, how to read, how to count or quantify anything. You have no idea how or why you were created. 2 or 3 times a day food appears in front of you, but you have no idea where the food came from, or that anything except that particular food you daily eat exists. Somehow you are wearing clothing, but you're not sure where that came from either. You never know how long you'll be able to wear it as sometimes it just disappears and you're left with nothing.

Occasionally the wind carries sounds to you, sounds of other children having fun, playing and laughing. You never see those children because you are stranded on this island, and those other children are just far enough away that you can only hear, not see them. There is absolutely no future, but, since you are just a child, you don't even realize that. The only thing you really know is that there is a constant ache inside you because you are completely alone.

Then one day, a ship comes to the island. Several people get off the ship, and they come to visit you. They play with you. They sing songs for you. They even go so far as to tell you that you were created for a purpose and that there is a God that loves you. Then they give you a lot of candy, some trinkets, and some socks. The candy tastes great, you like the attention, and, with winter approaching, you're glad to have some extra socks to keep your feet warm, since, obviously, there's no heat on your island.

But then the people get back on their boat and float away. That day, you learned that there was life outside the island. You realized that these people knew and lived that life. They had the means to rescue you, but it never occurred to them that they could.

So, there you are: Still stuck and still lonely. The candy, the trinkets and the socks don't seem so good now. In fact, all they really did was momentarily anesthetize your situation. In the end, you face the same future.

This image first came to my mind three years ago when we were visiting our middle daughter's orphanage in Kazakstan. She came from a city that had 4 baby houses, 6 orphanages and more street children than can be accounted for. The first day we entered her orphanage I was struck by scents (cabbage and bleach -- cooking and cleaning in the orphanage) that I recognized from my oldest daughter's orphanage several years earlier. But something felt different this time. Something was, in fact, wrong, terribly wrong.

Then I realized. I was in a building with between 100-150 babies and toddlers, and yet it was completely silent. I was surrounded by people who lived and moved, but had no being. When we finally saw a group of children, they would all just stand and look at us. There was no eye contact, no facial expressions, and certainly no playing. They would slowly walk, only when prodded to by a caregiver. This lack of life was also evidenced in our daughter, who would shake when we came near her, tense up like an iron pole if we held her, and did not make eye contact with us until weeks later, despite twice daily visits to her.

There was no hope, and these tiny little people, even though they couldn't say that, understood.

The first day we visited, our daughters group was chosen to receive a generous gift from an international ministry. A missionary and several members of her church came. They sang to the children, told them a story, and then each child was given a wrapped shoebox full of candy, small toys, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and sometimes even socks.

The kids opened the boxes, ate some candy and played with the toys, and then the presenters left. I watched as the orphanage staff did exactly what I expected they would: They collected up all the boxes and put the stuff in a communal spot to be administered by them. In most orphanages you don't own anything, not your own candy, not your own clothes and certainly not your own toys, even if those things are given to you as a gift.

That was the day that I had that image of a deserted island. I, in no way, want to slam any philanthropic organizations, and I'm sure that there are situations where those shoe boxes are very useful for ministering. However, at the end of that day, all 12 of those kids, with the exception of my daughter, were still facing a lifetime of institutionalization, loneliness, illiteracy and separation from God. Yes, a little candy brightened their hour, but in the scheme of things, what did it really do, and how will they ever learn about an eternally loving Father when all they experience is someone occasionally popping in and out talking about Him?

This is all coming to mind because I am seeing advertisements everywhere for the Christmas boxes, and while I see the good that can come from them I see a major pitfall. There is such a tendency to throw money and stuff at things to solve problems. Not just within the church, but here in our culture. I see this everyday with my physically handicapped children -- expensive devices, tools, therapies and treatments, etc. Everybody wants to try to fix it with something, when God's trying to work out an even better plan. And, its much easier to do the good deed of filling a shoebox full of dispensable items than it is to sacrifice greatly and listen to what Jesus is calling us to do.

When we were in Ukraine for our last adoption, someone there told us he had a friend who liked to say, "It's time we start taking these children's pictures off our refrigerator and actually start feeding the children from our refrigerators." I loved that idea, because it just encompasses my thoughts so well. We can send our money, even make trips to visit them, but are we willing to invest our lives into theirs? Are we willing to enter into their suffering, like Christ did, and make it part of our lives?

What we found is that when we chose to do that, God made their suffering into something beautiful and, actually, victorious. He has never made it easy, only good. We've had to rearrange our lives, make a lot of sacrifices, and put in a lot more effort than donating money or giving away stuff, but the rewards have been far greater.

1 comment:

gingerswindow said...

Gotta love the bow. :)