Tragic Little Heroes

Dear friends,

We’ve had quite a week, starting with the chance to hold our new grandson, Jeremiah Nathan. The moment quickly passed, when our state of Queensland, because of a few new cases of COVID, announced a snap lockdown, telling us all to “go home, and don’t come outside til we say so.” During that drama, “Jay” (as we’re going to try to call him) and his mom were required to stay in the hospital for a few more days until he could pass his “jaundice test”. It was heartbreaking to see the kid, having just discovered the joys of being held by Mom and Dad, now laid under a light with his eyes covered in gauze. He passed with flying colors on Friday, however, and is now discovering the huge estate he’s inherited, complete with the family dog. That sounds like a sermon … but I think that’s Tony’s department. Now it’s Sunday, the lockdown has been lifted (provided we keep wearing our masks), and I think we may just mosey 60 miles up to Brisbane this afternoon to give him another cuddle.

I was going to paraphrase this little ‘note’ sent to me by some dear missionary friends from Africa, but I realized the one who sent it is a much better author (and surgeon!) than I am, so please read with me what she wrote. I’d like to call this blog “The Heroes Who Live as Children”.

But first, a little context. The scene is set in a forgotten corner of Angola, featuring Missionary Doctors Daniel and Priscilla Cummings (Daniel was a Japanese Missionary kid and our Trevor’s best friend and who grew up in and out of our house). Their website is  https://www.healthservicecorps.org/chsc-hospitals/kalukembe-hospital/ and you are more than welcome to send all your money to them.  They’re the ‘real deal’.

Here’s what she wrote:

“Our friend Pedro and his brother Avozinho (”Little Grandfather”) had been picking, as they often do, unripe goiabas for several hours in our yard. It was still early, but he called out, a respectful distance from the front door, and asked to speak to me. It was unusual for Sunday morning, but I went out, and he shyly asked if he could have something to eat, “The Hunger” was too much he said…. explaining quietly that he and Little Grandfather hadn’t eaten in three days. His mother was bedridden and couldn’t sell fish and his pregnant, 16-year-old sister was gambling away the money she earned, refusing to buy food. Breakfast in Angolan Portuguese is known as “Mata Bicho” : “Kill the beast” … and the beast of hunger was still growing stronger in Pedro’s belly.

“Pedro is 10-years-old and a full foot shorter than our Ezekiel (also 10), probably from malnutrition. His head is scarred and indented in a corner, and I’ve always wondered who beat him there as a child. The neighborhood children used to tease him for his funny shaped head. He lives in a small, crumbling, adobe house in the “Sanzala” neighborhood (in Brazil, where I grew up, we call it “slave’s quarters”). He just started going to school (after many years of encouragement), though has a somewhat erratic attendance given his responsibility to feed his siblings. He usually is selling small piles of bananas or avocados for a profit of 5 cents, which he mostly has to give to his parents. His home life is sad, dark, abusive, with a mother accused of witchcraft, being responsible for the death of a grandchild and selling poisoned fish.

But Pedro is a kind, quiet child. There are often several other small children who usually follow him as they scavenge for food, especially Avozinho, whom he cares for like a father…. Avozinho reaching for his hand and Pedro always clasping it with tender reassurance.

Of course we prepared Pedro a good meal. After all, I’ve known Pedro for 5 years now. He is our friend. He’s consistent, kind, honest and trustworthy. So I was surprised on Thursday when in the middle of work in the OR, doing a fistula repair, I hear a conversation behind me about a student’s computer being stolen by one of “my” friends from Sanzala.  I can only imagine what hunger will drive a child to do, but it was surprising to hear that it was Pedro. Others accused him of stealing a computer last year, of regularly breaking and entering homes, and his father said to the young men holding him hostage they could do with him what they willed: he was a child who “messed around too much anyway.” The young men beat him, trying for a confession and discovery of the computer’s location. He didn’t know.

“I confronted with him yesterday morning, the self-righteous lady that I am (God forgive me). I asked in an almost accusatory tone, what he had done. He related the whole day, and ended asking me in a tired hoarse voice that seemed to have repeated the story over and over, “Would I not have told them, as they beat me, if I had known?” I tried a different angle, reminding him I was his friend and didn’t want to find out later. He stood his ground. I finally brought up God, as if He were my last card, saying we are people of Truth, and don’t lie. Liars, as my father always said, are children of the Devil. He said he wasn’t…. then he prayed, quietly saying, “Jesus where I walk You are, where I was, You were too.”

“And as he prayed, I confessed. Jesus, walk with me too. Pedro doesn’t often go to church, he and Avozinho wear mostly Zeke and Elie’s old clothes, but he walks The Walk. You can judge a man by what he says in the church, but as others have pointed out, it’s what he does outside that matters more.”

It’s me again, Marsha.

As the Sunday School song goes, “Jesus loves the little children of the world.”  I pray especially for the little heroes who have it so bad, burdened with the responsibilities never meant for children. As our little Jay will be able to enjoy every advantage, may little Pedro also bask in the love of the Savior……… and please may he have just a little comfort for the sweet boy that he is.

Till next week,

Marsha

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