"Let the children alone,
Tonight I met Pedrito. Eleven years old. Wearing blue jeans and a bright yellow t-shirt. He carried a basket of peanuts and a little plastic container to scoop them into the hands of his customers. He had a sweet smile that drew my attention and kind eyes, alert and sad all at once.
Pedrito was wandering the streets of downtown Maputo at 8pm. He was all alone. He silently edged up to our group of four– three women from America, Botswana and Australia and a young man from England.
When he joined us, Pedrito offered us peanuts for sale. We smiled and refused him gently. He then moved closer to our young English friend, the only male in the group, and made the offer again, standing nearer to him.
I watched as Dan bantered with Pedrito, one speaking English and the other Portuguese and still managing to share a joke.
Pedrito looked like any normal, healthy eleven year old boy. He smiled. He laughed. He was quietly friendly. He stood patiently near Dan even after we refused to purchase any nuts from him.
It was Katie who worked it out first. Katie, who works with girls from the streets, helping these young women find a way to live that does not require that they sell their bodies to strangers. Katie watched and listened and put two and two together.
The girls working the streets often carry a basket of peanuts as a covert sign of availability.
Pedrito’s goal for the evening was not to sell peanuts. Under Katie’s gentle questioning, he freely admitted that he was offering himself for sale tonight. That he was selling his body for money. That his name was not really Pedrito. That he wasn’t selling nuts. That his mother was waiting for him at home.
We do not know if Pedrito chose this work to make some money for himself or his family, or if he is being forced to work the streets of Maputo. We don’t know where Pedrito lives. Katie gave him some money and told him to go straight home. We prayed that this money would be enough to get him off the streets for one night. He wanted no more help from us than a pocketful of change.
We do know that, tonight, God put us in the same place at the same time as this precious boy. This was a divine encounter of the highest order. We prayed that the Presence of Jesus would go with him, that he would be touched by the love given to him in a brief encounter with us and that the gift from some strangers of a night off the streets would make him think. We prayed that the Holy Spirit would whisper love to him and lead him to freedom.
A few minutes later and a few blocks away, we saw him again. We watched from a distance as Pedrito crossed the road. A man in a parked car nearby called to him. I held my breath. Pedrito went up to the car window, they talked for a moment, and then he turned away. He walked up the street and noticed us watching him. He smiled and laughed. He was going home.
For this one night, he was safe. What will tomorrow bring for Pedrito and his friends?