(This is his funny face. He charges $1 to every person who just so happens to glance at him while he is making this face. What an entrepreneur...)
While in St. Louis our group would do one-on-one tutoring/mentoring every morning for 3-4 hours. I was fortunate enough to be paired with Pierre, a 12-year-old from Congo, Africa. I went in thinking I would change a kid's life forever. Turns out he was the one who would do all the changing in me. Humbling, yes. Impacting, yes.
What started off as a somewhat awkward meeting at the beginning of the week turned into one of the most difficult good-byes I've had to say. As I got to know Pierre more and more during our times together, I learned that he used to be a shepherd in Congo. That's not something you hear everyday. Our conversations went from sports to girls to school to money (his funny face is almost unavoidable... he'll catch you looking at it no matter what). He's a genuine 12-year-old kid loving and living life just like every other kid there. But it was his unique story that I will never forget.
Please take a little time to read his story here: http://www.catholicdigest.com/article/a-second-family-for-pierre/1
This short article tells his story better than I ever could. To sum it up, though, in case you were too lazy to click on it, Pierre has scoliosis. While in Africa it had come to the point where he could barely move because his back was so out-of-place. He probably would have died in a few years, had New City Fellowship (see my last blog) not come in and brought him to St. Louis in an act of love. One family took him in (the Svobodas, a white American family) and doctors from all over agreed to operate on Pierre free of charge. After several procedures, Pierre's condition was much better. He could walk and was much taller. The Svobodas became so attached to him that they adopted him as their 5th child in the family.
(Again, the article does the story much more justice, so go back and read it... now... thank you!)
Pierre's condition still affects him slightly. While we were hanging out I noticed the slight limp in his step and the brace on his much smaller leg. He liked to jump on my back when we were playing basketball so he could dunk on the 7 foot hoop. He had to jump one-legged when all the kids were playing jump-rope. But not once did it affect him. And not once did he complain.
I realize now that God made this divine meeting happen. I needed to see the love of the family that took him in. I needed to see their willingness to embrace another child of another race and another nationality. I needed to see the response of the church and the genuine communal love that the members express towards each other and those outside the church. I needed to see the real Jesus at work amidst busy lives right in my own backyard.
It's easy to wear the WWJD bracelets and sing upbeat songs every Sunday to a God that we call Father... But to live it out daily, pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones, dying to self, and taking up our cross to follow Him? Now that's another story.
It's another story that is embodied in the Svobodas and New City Fellowship. I was challenged in St. Louis with how I live my everyday life. How comfortable am I, really? Do I go out of my way to bring the love of Christ to someone who might need it that day? Some days, yes. But what would it mean to truly invest in the life of an orphan who would otherwise not know the love of a family? Again, I am reminded of James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
I am convinced that James deliberately said "God our Father" to remind us of our role in the divine relationship between man and God. We were (and some still are) orphans in need of a family and in need of a dad. We tried to live our lives without it, stubbornly grasping at the thin air of false hope. But there was still a gaping space in our lives. And the only true Father of all never gave up on us. He reached for us, pulling us up when we fell, brushing the dirt of our shoulders, and blessing us as we run off again. Some run off in rebellion still after seeing the love of the Father. It is the hamartia of humanity, the pride that destroys.
But in our brokenness, He is still waiting there with open arms. He calls after His sons and daughters, much like the parable of the prodigal son. We were orphans for so long, but he has redeemed us and brought us back into his family, the body of Christ. And He does this for every single person on earth, calling out to the orphans of the world, you and me, to enter into His family. Our heavenly Dad has paid the ultimate price, giving up His own Son, so that we orphans could enter into His family.
And that is exactly where my conviction lies. That is why my eyes have been open. That is why I want to adopt an orphan child. If I truly confess to believe in Him and desire to live as Christ did, I need to die to self and bring the love of Christ to a child without a family, just as I was before I knew Christ as my own Savior.
And as I mentioned in my last blog, I want to adopt a child from Africa. Some have asked, "why Africa and why not here?" There are a couple reasons for that. First of all, Pierre truly touched my heart, and although God is not leading me physically to the African country as a missionary, He has certainly put a burden on my heart for the children of the country. Secondly, in my personal journey for racial reconciliation, I not only want to cross racial lines, but cultural and national lines as well. I want to embrace someone into my family who is nothing like us except for the fact that we are all children of God. I want to truly learn what it means to be nothing like me at all. Thirdly, a child is a child, American or African. Either way I decide, one child would be left alone. Perhaps one day I will adopt more than once, but only God really knows. I don't know exactly what it will look like, as this decision is several years down the road. But it is burning brightly within my heart, and I sincerely hope that others' eyes are opened to the thought of adoption just as mine have recently been opened as well.
I truly thank God for my St. Louis experience. It's amazing how He works and opens our eyes to the needs of His people through different people. Thank God for churches like New City Fellowship and families like the Svobodas.
Galatians 3:26-29 - "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."