Last night I went with a local church team in Port Elizabeth to an open park in the old part of the city to meet some homeless people and their children. There were about 60 people and 25 children. Chairs were put out, and a little service was held. Welcome, worship, reading of the Word (Psalm 17), a testimony and a short presentation and invitation to the Gospel. With the Church across the road’s doors closed, we were in a Cathedral under the stars. The bitter cold did not stop the children, even those who had no shoes, from dancing. Their beautiful faces beaming hope and joy. On the sides, in the shadows, weary adults sat. They have heard it all before. Unmoved, they were impatient to eat and go and secure their place to sleep. But one man who had been in prison came and took the mike and like a poet poured out his heart, addressing heaven as he lamented his pain. Prayed for in a huddle, I sensed that his demons, his loss, his grief was silenced for a while and that the Gospel like gentle rain was falling on him. One day He truly will be free. After everyone had eaten and the serving team cleaned up, I watched as one happy boy collected a cardboard box on the instruction of his mother who was pushing their trolley carrying all their possessions. I watched as they disappeared around the corner into the night. I was left feeling, once again, that in the ordinary is the extraordinary and in the simple the sacred.
As many of you may know, I am an unlikely choice to work in the James 1:27 Trust space. My training and background seem to make for some disconnect, leaving me not always able to cope with the chaos and messiness of community development. There is no protocol, seemingly just a relational matrix of complexity. There is, however, some semblance of diplomacy; I was recently successfully lobbied by 4 children from a family I was visiting in Stinkwater, 2 boys and 2 girls ranging in ages from 5 to 9. Their skill at negotiation needs to be appreciated as they made their pitch, the substance of which was all about cars and dolls.
I originally captured their pitch on my camera in order to help negotiate with my 8-year daughter to access her dolls and “fluffies” from her vault of acquired and inherited treasures. Having 3 older siblings her loot is substantial. In any event, the 8 year old refused and instead persuaded me to purchase an additional “forest family” animal for her collection. Her response to my criticism of her values ended in stalemate and I found myself taking her on a shopping expedition, for herself!
As we searched for these Sylvanian family marketing gems, I remembered the pitch from the 4 Stinkwater children and realised that I may need to buy them toys having failed to acquire them through ethical and emotional appeal. Being a boy, I could find just the right cars easily. The dolls however, were another story. Immediately, my cognitive overdrive kicked in and resistance to buying any Barbie came to mind. Secondly, why buy a black child a white doll? As if it matters to a child, I searched for the correct appropriate doll. The toy store’s buyer obviously has no clue so nowhere was one to be found. Also having strict instructions to buy dolls with hair, I then purchased as do millions of other foolish shoppers, big plastic pink Barbie looking dolls with lots of hair.
Feeling exhausted by the complexity of the exercise I glanced at my 8-year old for some affirmation only to be faced with, “You do love your own children more, don’t you?”. I then explained that I had purchased her gift with my money and the Trust had purchased the cars and dolls with its money. Not satisfied with the side step, she stared very intently. Inspiration in a flash came as I told her that she had change from her R100 budget and perhaps she would like an ice-cream from McD. As we drove home, with a happy 8 year old eating potato based fake ice-cream, no longer preoccupied with how much her father loved her more than others, I thought of the smiling faces of 2 other little girls, of the fake dolls with fake hair. Then with great relief I thought of the beautiful cars as uncomplicated toys, of the boys and their delight. Life while complex seemed maybe doable! I was then left wondering what diplomats could learn from children about interests, conflict and negotiations and what MBA students could learn from a child’s elevator pitch and then of course what toy stores could learn about dolls and little girls. Maybe we all still have a lot to learn.