I know a family who, when they laid the concrete slab for their new house, pressed their palms into the wet cement and wrote their names and the date with the end of a paintbrush. I thought it was so cool- as the frame went up and got surrounded with bricks and render and carpet was laid furniture arranged pictures hung on walls, their marks remained, set solid into the path around the back of the house. And over the years bushes grew over it, and one day they’ll move out and it will be someone else’s home, but their hands will still be there.
My friend Esther told me about something our other friend El said once. She said that kids are like wet cement, and while they’re kids, marks are made in that cement. And as they grow, it dries, and things might change around them but the indents and handprints and etched initials and surfaces have set.
There’s a small, soft hand in mine, the cocoa colour of its skin glowing against my own freckly white variety. Another hand belonging to another someone is clutched around my arm; I’m surrounded by so many kids I actually don’t know which limb belongs to whom. “Sister!” echoes around me as the surrounding children call for my attention- take a photo sing a song skip with us what is your name? This place is alive. Conversations begun in broken English end up in fits of giggles as the language barrier becomes too difficult and who needs speaking to have a bollywood dance off or play cricket anyway? The older girls push aside the others to hold my hand and ask how I am. I admire these girls- their depth of desire to learn everything about anything, their commitment to exploring such things with excellence and focus. I feel ashamed to think of my own attitude to learning, the lack of value I hold for the stories of others.
It’s a similar scene on another day in another part of India, this time though, I’m standing on the sidelines. Thoughts of the previous week tumbling tripping through my head: dirt horns beggars junk disease street hopeless need. There’s no rhythm to it, it all just happens all at once like playing six different songs all at the same time all at full volume. But then I look up and my heart explodes as I see a vision of heaven. I took a photo of it, but it doesn’t do the reality justice. The green, safe, clean field in front of me is full of children- young older boys girls, some disabled tired parentless not-so-smart, but all loved. Living, in that moment, with so much joy. The sun is shining and they’re all playing together or washing their hands getting ready to eat or drawing the most beautiful pictures all over the concrete. Surrounding the field are buildings that these kids meet in each week- for tutoring, or church, or youth group or art and craft. Singing and laughing are lifting through the air. It probably sounds corny or Disney-tastic to you, but shivers it was real and it was right. This was the way things should be.
These children- the girls who love to learn and the kids drawing chalk all over heaven- are living proof that the promise is being fulfilled. The darkest depths of despair and hopelessness cannot escape the light brought forth in these lives. They’ve been offered an alternative, and are themselves becoming the change-makers and alternative-offerers. These children are part of a Compassion project in their local community. As part of this, their school fees are taken care of, they’re getting fed a decent meal every day, they are being counselled, they are given a safe and thriving environment to grow and play (side note comprising much depth: all of this is initiated and maintained by locals). Above all, the love of Jesus is being shared with them, fostering a hope and value that cannot be matched by any earthly thing.
Much of this support is enabled by donations of sponsors in another country- but this is more than just giving 50ish bucks to some charity to ease our moral conscience. This is about being part of someone’s story and allowing them to be part of yours. Child sponsorship breaks down nameless, faceless poverty and in its place builds a mutually transformative relationship. Too often do we just lump kids into a category of ‘future adults’ and just pay attention to them when they’re old enough to vote or earn money or engage us in a witty conversation. In India I learnt that there are lot of questions answered problems solved hearts healed in allowing children to challenge us with their value. It’s not a case of adults ‘giving’ kids their value either- the value is there the whole time. We just need to get over ourselves, humble ourselves enough to be challenged and changed by it.
Siva is one of the kids supported by Compassion in India, in a little village called Suviseshapuram. That’s him in the blue checked shirt: a skinny little fella, short for his age, and he’s got one of those smiles that stays quietly and politely tucked away until you coax it out, at which point it turns into the biggest most hopeful and pure and joy-inducing grin ever. He’s not got the easiest life, especially since his mum took off with some other guy and his dad left with another woman, leaving Siva and his little sister Santhya to be cared for by their Grandma. If he’d been living in Suviseshapuram ten years ago, he would likely be working instead of being at school and Santhya would be a child mortality statistic. But since a Compassion project was started there, the whole community has seen massive turnarounds. Through children.
I’ve been sponsoring Siva for about four years and was so blessed as to meet him at the end of our trip and man, I am so blown away by this kid. They way he leaped at every opportunity, how he so carefully practiced guitar, the love protection listening he showed to his little sister, his simple rest in God. He sets an example for me that helps me see why God, in the bible, keeps urging his people to become like children.
Siva turned eleven last week. His figurative concrete sets a little more with each year. There will always be the indents of hurt and abandonment that scar him, but etched even deeper will be the irremovable hope of Jesus Christ. Compassion is rendering over the cracks of hunger and loneliness, and shaping Siva into a leader, encourager and giver.
Look at the kids within your reach (let’s think beyond borders here too). What is being etched into their concrete? What marks are you leaving?