Last week Nandi and two other 11-year old little girls knocked on my door in the middle of the day.
They had walked miles from their houses to mine because they were afraid and hungry. One girl’s mother had eaten all of her food and told her to go beg for more. The girls stole eggs from someone’s yard and got caught. So now they were on the run looking for sanctuary from their heavy-handed mamas and for something to fill their stomachs.
What do you do?
December’s a dangerous month in South Africa. There’s no school or structure for children, and Christmas bonuses are cashed in at liquor stores. There are so many tragedies I can’t handle thinking about, so many I can't see and can't reach them.
And three little girls knocking on my door for help.
The girls walked a very dangerous road.
Their mothers were dangerous – but hiding with me would likely put them in more danger with their mothers later.
My mind was reeling, stuck on, "What do I do!?!" All of a sudden, those three buried faces popped up out of those dirty hands and asked with hopeful eyes, “Can we go play now?”
Children who look like grown-ups because of the distances they walk alone, the ways they learn to provide for themselves, and the life skills they learned the hard way.
They’re hungry children.
And they squeal like the schoolgirls they actually are when their calloused feet land on the trampoline at the Ten Thousand Homes base.
What do you do?
“Feed my lambs.”
I loaded them up and took them to a Ten Thousand Homes feeding. And then it was time to take them home to face the mamas together.
I woke Nandi’s mom up. She didn’t even know Nandi had left.
The next girl’s mom only cared that the white lady wasn’t angry – but I could tell the tables would turn as soon as I left that property.
The third girl took off as soon as my car door unlocked – disappeared before we got a chance to meet her mom.
At the end of that day, the same questions were still in my mind and I had no idea if I’d made the lives of these girls better or worse that day. I had no idea if I’d made any impact for the Kingdom of God – or if I’d actually endangered them.
That evening, I realized 80 Rand was missing from my wallet. (About $10 USD – and almost the equivalent of a full days’ work for most people.)
What do you do?
“Take care of my sheep.”
They’re scared, hungry children.
Whose moms probably don’t have moms to teach them wrong from right.
Whose moms eat their food and tell them to go find their own.
And whose moms don’t wonder where they are when they’ve been gone all day – or even notice.
After church and lunch on Sunday, I pulled Nandi aside and talked with her about the money.
She wouldn’t look at me. She denied everything, and then changed the story a hundred times. Ginormous tears fell far away from me, where she kept herself locked up.
I told Nandi that I love her the same as I always do.
I told her that nothing would change that.
Family stays family.
I also told her that, even though her actions didn’t change how I felt about her, there was a responsibility for a bad choice. I knew she’d never be able to produce R80, and asking her to would lead to more danger, so I told her I would come get her the next afternoon to come help me clean my house.
Nandi disappeared the next day, but this afternoon Lifa and I found the three little girls walking to base again. This time to clean the house. They didn’t have the, “We’re in trouble” faces; they didn’t seem conscious of that at all. They were three little adventurers delighted that someone would invite them over and give them jobs.
I put them to work – washing dishes, sweeping floors, beating rugs and mopping. They loved it. And God started speaking to me about His love.
Three little girls scurried around a one-room cottage I’d already cleaned once that day, but was already filling again with uninvited pests and summertime dirt.
They were playing house. We were practicing Family.
They were happier than I’ve ever seen them during their “punishment”.
What do you do?
“Feed my sheep.”
They ran out to play, and I cooked dinner. I set our little coffee table and thought about our lives and His love.
We steal - Truth from each other, love already paid for by grace, and glory from the Name of Jesus.
We scurry – bustling about to make it look shiny and clean in our one little corner of life, and the pestilence of brokenness contaminates while we are still cleaning.
He invites us over – bidding us to His Presence, no matter what it takes to get us there.
We work – but none of it adds up to the debt, nor the work Jesus did for us on the cross and in that empty tomb.
We go out to play after work - and he’s pudding dessert in the fridge.
The feast has already been prepared. The table’s already been set.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to handle December. I don’t know how to love well. Most of the time I feel like I keep sweeping that same corner of the cottage when it comes to loving Nandi and her family.
But the One who made it all clean knows.
The One who is preparing the feast – the One who is called Love – can make our dusty-cornered love perfect through Him.
And He can make those girls who play house and practice family know they have a Home and a Family that lasts.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”