Screams of joy fill the kid’s area of the Tabitha Center as I bounce from group to group, playing with blocks and whatever else has captured their attention for the moment. Many would shy away from this scene, overwhelmed by the chaos. But it’s our chaos, and that’s how we like it. As my eyes scan across the crowded room, it’s a wonder that one, tiny child is able to catch my attention a midst all the activity. I don’t recognize him as one of the women’s children, but his appearance has me very concerned. His skin is red and peeling all over his head and neck. Bumps cover his face as if he has severe acne, and there are open sores all over the back of his head. Every area of skin that I can see on him is dry and peeling. As I walk closer to him, I notice that the children around him stop and stare as he shuffles past them. What utterly captivates me, though, is his gentle smile and joyful, beautiful eyes. He is the sweetest child in that room.
I kneel down beside him where he is happily playing with blocks by himself, and he turns to meet my eyes. There is something so wonderful inside of this boy, a beauty that explodes from within that for a moment completely masked all of the physical imperfection on the outside. I place my hands on his shoulders and say to him, “hold on sweety, we’re going to help you”. I go and get DeeDee and we carry him inside. His giant smile slowly fades as a look of alarm takes form in his eyes. I too would be nervous if two strange white women carried me into a dim room, and plopped me on a chair in front of 50 Burkinabe women. He sits there very still, slightly smiling, but noticeably uncomfortable as DeeDee searches through our bags of medicines to find something with which to treat his skin. I kneel down in front of him and hold out my hand; he grasps it and holds on tight. He gazes deep into my eyes, and I try to convey with a smile that we are helping him, and that he need not to be afraid. DeeDee begins cleaning the sores on the back of his head, and I’m certain that he is going to cry out in pain. He doesn’t. He can’t be older than 3, but he just sits there quietly. Motionless, he continues to look into my eyes, and in his, I see the courage of a grown man- he is the bravest boy I know. He clenches my hand as DeeDee continues to tend to his ailments. Without thinking, I whisper to him “Jésus t’aime”, forgetting that children his age only speak Moore. However, whether he understood or not, he nods his head slightly and his eyes grow even more confident. I smile at him like a proud momma.
When we were finished, we carried him back to the play area, where the kids now stare at him in a different way: now they are jealous of his bandaids and special treatment from the white people! But, once again, the little boy doesn’t even notice, and returns to his blocks to play contently by himself. I marvel at him as I watch his imagination progress as he builds towers and adds more and more toys to his creative, fictional world. After a while, his beaming eyes and huge smile invite me over to join him, and I happily accept.
Since then, I have not seen him again, but I am thankful that God allowed him to stumble into our lives that day. I am confident, though, that he helped me more than we helped him. In him I saw strength where there should have been weakness. Joy where there should have been sorrow. A warm smile where there should have been tears. I saw myself, a broken, dirty, imperfect jar of clay, filled with the perfect, radiant light of Christ.
He gives beauty for ashes.
I don’t know if angels can come in the form of a small boy or not, but Hebrews 13:2 has always fascinated me. I am jealous of people who have seen angels with their own eyes… but who knows- maybe I have, too.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:1,2