Have you ever had someone walk into your life, and almost instantly you know you will be changed because of this encounter? I still do not know all that this little boy has instigated in my life and mission, but I know he is the beginning of something. He has certainly drawn me into the circle of street children and has me researching and learning as to what can be done. I was walking home from language study when I saw him- caked with dirt, barefoot, wearing only a shirt, carrying a big bag over his shoulder and picking trash. I instinctively walked up to him and put my arm around him, asked him his name and asked him to come with me into the market to get a pair of shoes. At the entrance of the store, he instinctively withdrew. Street children are often shooed away from storefronts as they are seen as a nuisance to customers who don’t want children begging or stealing from them. “It’s ok.” I told him. “You’re with me.” I bought him some shoes, some bread and milk, and soap. By the time we left the store, he realized we were friends. He asked for some clothes. I explained that I was out of money, but we could walk together to my hotel, get him a bath, and I could see about buying him some pants. One of my favorite memories of this little guy is what he did next. We had walked about a kilometer when he suddenly took the large bag he’d been carrying over his shoulder and tossed it into an open field. It was as if he realized he did not need to be carrying that burden anymore and he tossed it aside.
We continued to walk along, him drinking his milk and eating his loaf of bread, while I worked on a plan of what to do now! He explained (with the help of bystanders who interpreted) that he was 10 years old, was very unhappy at home due to many family issues, and had hopped the back of a banana truck to come to the city where he had heard he could live. Now though, he just wanted to go home. Hotels are no fonder of street children on their premises than are stores and restaurants. Once at the hotel, he bathed and I washed his clothes and found some of mine for him to wear, at least until his dried. I could not tell you when the last time he had had a bath. His clothes had certainly not been washed in a long time. I hand-washed them four times, but they continued to wring out in filthy, murky-brown water. Once he was clean, he made himself at home in my room. I lent him my laptop and let him watch The JESUS film. He watched it once and wanted to see it again. He watched it again, and then fell asleep in my bed watching it for the 3rd time.
Now, I was stuck! While he was sleeping, I contacted several people asking about laws and protocol in Rwanda. No one seemed to agree on what the right thing to do was. The next morning he awoke and smiled brightly as soon as his eyes opened. I told him I had to go to the village and asked what he was going to do for the day. “Stay with you!” he replied. We spent the day together, with him tagging along as I ran errands and met with other people. He watched The JESUS film two more times. After consulting several persons whom I trust, I decided that the best thing to do was to get him home as soon as possible. Surely he had a mother begging God to send her little boy home. As much as I wanted to go with him to learn more of his story, or how I could help his family, after much prayer and recognizing my own limitations, two days after I met him and inadvertently invited him into my life, I took him to the bus station, put him on the bus, paid his fare and explained in great detail to the Chauffer exactly where to take him. I looked in the bus and found him crying. “I just want to live with you!”
I told him I’d see him again, and had to walk away. I knew I had done what I could, but was it enough? I have only a temporary visa, no permanent lodging and no means of or intention of permanently caring for a child. The culture dictates that if children are found in the street, the appropriate thing to do is send them back home. But I have to wonder what must be going on at home for a ten year old boy to decide that living alone in the streets with no shelter and little food was better than home. This was the question I could not answer, but that I wished to answer. I prayed for this little one and asked God that I could one day know what happened to him. I had sent my name and phone number tucked in his pocket in case he or his family ever needed anything. Walking away, I knew I had to learn more, to collaborate with others and find ways to help in more beneficial ways than a 2-hiatus from the streets in my hotel room. I knew this little boy would not leave my heart, and that something was being stirred deep within.
I put him on the bus on Sunday morning, I went back to the bus station twice that week to try to ask about his whereabouts and if he had made it safely home. Throughout the week, I came in contact with several other street children to whom I gave bread and milk and shoes where needed, but none followed me. I also met with a man here who has begun a ministry with his wife to feed street children 3 times per week. He’s working with sponsors in trying to help teach skills to the older teens living in the streets so that they may someday get a job and earn a living.
Friday night, I was walking through town to the bus station when I noticed a little street boy. They’re quite easy to pick out. I walked out of my way, just to see if they little guy needed anything to eat. As I approached, he turned around and to my great surprise there was the same little boy I had put on the bus and sent home only 5 days before! If there was any doubt, he was still wearing my shirt, which now was filthy and had holes in it. I hugged him and exclaimed, “What are you doing here? I put you on the bus!” With some help interpreting from bystanders, it became clear, that once I had walked away, he had decided he was not going home, and had gotten off the bus. He took my hand and asked to go get something to eat. As much as I would have loved to wrap him up and carry him home with me, I knew I could not take him with me. We live in a world of international child trafficking, and I wanted to be very upright in how I handled this. As we walked down the street, I saw a police officer and approached and explained all of the above. They said they had a “program” for street children and would escort him back home. I again gave them my name and phone number stating that if his family needed anything, or if I could pay his school fees to send him to school to please contact me. As I said, “goodbye,” I noticed he was again crying. Had I let him down? Had I failed him in some way? And again, the nagging question of what must be going on at home for a child so young to so desperately want to be free.
I don’t have the answers yet. It is possible with this little boy, I may never know his full story. I don’t even know what it will mean for the future that our paths crossed. I do know that he has left an impression on my heart, and that I will continue seeking the answers for him and all of the little boys sleeping away from home tonight.