April 29, 2008


" 'Lord, when did we see You as a stranger and welcomed You in,
or naked and clothed You?'
And the King will reply to them,
' Insofar as you did it for one of the least
of these, you did it for Me.' " Matt 25: 38

Rosinha. Thirteen years old. Found wandering aimlessly, naked, down the middle of the main road outside the Centre, late at night. She said she’d been walking forever. She said she’d been thrown out of home by her father. She was scared.

Rosinha was obviously traumatised. She was not in her right mind. She would not sit down and she could not stand still. She prowled back and forth endlessly like a trapped animal. She talked on and on without making sense. She did not know where she was. She could not tell us where she lived or what had happened to her.

Rosinha, to me, is the personification of the darker depths of this nation and a reminder of the hidden suffering of so many children still out of our reach. I cannot imagine what she had been through. She is just a child.

We could not take her in to the Girls’ Dorm overnight. We would not risk the safety of our resident children. Rosinha was offered warm clothes and a place to rest, protected in the guards’ hut at the front gate. She would be safe until morning when some decisions could be made.

But she did not stay. Rosinha came within our reach for just a few hours but, by morning, she was gone. Later in the day, we heard reports of her being seen many miles down the road.

Nothing here is simple. Western assumptions of civilisation and safety do not apply. The rules we play by in this developing nation are different and oftentimes unfathomable to us.

And so, this night, one desperate, damaged, broken-hearted little girl walked back out into the night, alone.

When I found out that she was gone, a chill ran through me. I cannot yet think of her without feeling gut-wrenchingly guilty. Perhaps we did not serve the one in front of us as we are called here to do. Perhaps we missed an opportunity. Perhaps we could have done more.

Or, perhaps we had to confront and acknowledge the fact that sometimes we can do nothing in the moment when up against such a dark and giant foe. And that perhaps the big picture is what we must focus on.

This explanation does not satisfy me or ease my soul one bit. Nothing is simple here, or straightforward, or predictable. But how does one deal with the fact that a child in desperate need was within our grasp then lost once more to the streets from which she came?

I pray that these feelings of culpability and discomfort stay with me as a reminder for as long as I can picture a thirteen-year-old girl drifting, all alone, through the Mozambican night.