By Kevin Squires | Senior Director of Church Partnerships Several years ago, on a trip to southern Africa, I found myself all alone, sitting in a restaurant, staring off into space. I couldn’t get out of my mind what had just happened. His body was so frail. His eyes were so empty. His toes were so cold. This beautiful, AIDS-ravished, baby boy had just died in my arms just hours before.
I remember at that moment in time, I needed a way to escape the dark realities that were sleeping in the dozens of other beds in that pediatric AIDS center on that given day - beds that would soon host the final breath of little boys and girls who were unfairly born with the AIDS virus.
But, how does one truly escape reality?
On that day, my attempt to escape seemed somewhat simple - find a nice, air-conditioned, clean restaurant (not always easy to find in Africa) where I could grab a bite to eat and wash away my thoughts and cares. After ordering a sandwich, I gazed out the window into the busy, city streets. Admittedly, one of my favorite hobbies is to “people watch,” wondering and assuming what the lives of passerby’s are like behind the surfaces that we all tend to project. But on that day, I couldn’t even go there. I couldn’t even fabricate storylines for the people that walked by. I couldn’t even look at them. To be honest, I stared right thru them. That is, until something shattered my stare lines.
A little boy approached the window and began staring back at me. I blinked a few times to adjust back into reality, then found myself looking into the eyes of this 3 or 4 year old boy. It was easy to see that he was a street kid. I remember we stared at each other for a few seconds, which felt like years, until my stare was interrupted by the waiter who was delivering my sandwich. All of a sudden, my attempt to escape reality by eating away my sorrows was battling face-to-face with a hungry, staring boy just looking to eat.
Needless to say, his beautiful brown eyes not only crucified my appetite, but my whole nature of being human. Thoughts began racing through my head - some clear, some blurry. All I remember is feeling so close to that child. Those thoughts of being so connected to him caused me to freeze, unable to lay a finger on my sandwich. My waiter must have seen the abrupt change in my countenance because it wasn’t long after that he came over and closed the window blinds. Though I could no longer see the boy with my eyes, my soul continued to see him more clearly than ever. It was as if the waiter assumed that by closing the blinds, my appetite would miraculously return and everything would be back to normal. Instead, I sat there for a while after, still unable to eat my ever-increasingly cold sandwich. A few minutes passed and I casually stood up and walked over to the door to see if the boy was still outside the window. He was gone, but in some strange way, he was still there. Years later, he still is.
Today, I barely remember his face, but I clearly remember the thoughts and feelings I faced on that day several years ago. At the time, his suffering caused me to suffer. His hunger caused me to hunger. His hopelessness caused me to feel … hopeless? Well, almost.
It at least made me stop and ponder if it happens that easily? Can someone else’s hopelessness pave the way for hopelessness to creep its way into my own heart? Can opening my blinds to the darkness that lives in this world defeat the light that lives within me?
So that’s when it all happened. At that table, in that African restaurant, I became aware of something that changed my life forever. I became aware of my own sin and all that Christ had brought me through.
Weird, I know. You see, as I thought about the world’s brokenness … about the baby boy who died in my arms … about the hungry street kid who stared at me through the window … all these moments came back to God’s ultimate plan to bring peace to the chaos, to bring love to the lost, and to bring light to the darkness. All of a sudden, rather than feeling hopeless, I began feeling more empowered to be part of God’s plan for redemption because it was clearer than ever that I was a sinner saved by grace.
You see, I always knew that Christ came to seek and save the lost - the downtrodden, the wicked, the orphaned. It just took me a while to realize that I neatly fell into each of those categories. And the more aware I became of my own sin, the more I felt called to love others - to extend grace … to forgive … to care for those in need … and to reach out and serve those who didn’t fit neatly into my bubble of a life. It was a huge leap from the place where I came from, where I ministered to those in need because in some way I thought I was special, dare I say “more special” than they were.
In retrospect, perhaps that’s why I experienced such closeness with the boy outside the window. In some abnormal way, maybe the window was more like a mirror, allowing me to see myself from God’s point of view before He rescued me.
The brief connection I had with that little boy outside the window continues to teach me that awareness of our own imperfections and admittance of our own weaknesses opens the door for God’s grace and power to be manifested in our own lives (2 Cor. 12:9). And when God’s Spirit of grace and power are flourishing in our lives, fewer people die from AIDS … fewer children are abandoned on the streets … fewer children are orphaned … fewer people are trafficked … fewer people suffer from injustice … fewer people go to bed hungry … and fewer refugees are left to find homes in foreign lands.
Why? Because God brings peace to chaos. I know, because He did it for me.