April 13, 2010

a heart that breaks

It has almost been three months since I was riding a bus through the streets of Santiago, Dominican Republic with my grandpa. It was one week after the earthquake in Haiti. Our mission trip to the DR had nothing to do with Haiti (it had been planned months in advance), but Haiti was on all of our minds. The very slight tremors of an aftershock woke me up early one morning, and 120 miles really didn't seem so far away.

Being in Santiago for those few days gave me a connection to Haiti, and - Haiti has served as a reminder of Santiago ever since. Santiago; the second largest city in the Dominican Republic. Big, busy - but still hurting.

There's a certain street there that I remember most of all. I can always tell when I'm making a memory that will last forever. It's almost as if it's burning into my brain - and I'm conscious in that second that it is something I will never forget. Time seems to stop, as my mind hurries to pull in all the details, details that will give that moment life in years to come.

As we bounced along that Santiago street, approaching a busier side of town - I noticed a few things. The increased honking of horns, and truck exhaust, the very same fast food restaurants as back home, and the children on the street.

At every stoplight, the children ran and ducked among the cars - throwing wet soapy sponges on car windows - their somewhat forward way of advertising a car wash. Some sold water, some would offer to shine your shoes, some washed windows. Anything for a couple of Pesos. And as they swarmed, racing for time before the light turned green again - I found myself stunned and overwhelmed. The missionaries warned us to watch our belongings. These kids were quick. My camera went back in it's case.

We went another street deeper, another light caught us. We were further back in the line of traffic, it didn't look like the children on this corner would make it back to us this time.

I wasn't the first to see her, someone else pointed her out. I caught a glimpse of her as she ducked behind the car next to us, she spoke a word or two to the man inside - and then moved on. She was frail, tiny. By my American standards I could have guessed her to be six or seven years old - but chances are she was older than that. Her dusty hair was held in place with little pieces of colorful yarn and her stiff denim jumper was dirty and worn. As we watched her leave the shadows of an overpass to our left and come our way, I knew she was different from the children I had been working with that morning. I knew she was one of those moments I would never forget.

I still can't imagine why she chose me, perhaps she could read the pity in my eyes. For whatever reason - it was my window that she chose to approach first. She stopped, and she looked straight into my eyes. I've seen eyes with hurt in them. Pain. But I've never seen a child with eyes like these. I felt that I was actually peering into the depths of darkness itself. It was almost as if her soul was right there - right behind those empty black eyes, and it's lostness, it's ache, all of it's needs - simply poured from them. I was already holding the tears back, stunned, distraught. And then she whispered: Pesos? Pesos? while holding out her hands. Everything hit me full force then. The language barrier, the fact that I had no money to give her (it was a holiday, thus the banks were closed, thus no dollars exchanged for pesos yet) we had actually been instructed to not give money even if we had it - others on the street were watching, and if I had given her anything - it might have put her in danger. I knew all this, and it poured through my head as I looked at her. Pesos? She implored with me - knowing that time was short. There was literally nothing I could do for her - and the weight of that broke my heart. Lo siento, was all I could say. Lo siento; I am sorry, so very sorry. Her eyes flickered - and then she was gone - she ran to a few windows more - desperately trying for what time she had left. None of us had money. The light had turned green, she knew she had to get out of the way before traffic ran her down. But there was one last thing for her to do. Her little face lit up with an evil smirk - a look even more frightening than the hopelessness I had seen before. She walked down the row of bus windows - and at each one she spat a word. A Spanish word I didn't recognize; but the meaning was clear enough. And with that she was gone. She dashed to the guardrail - put one hand on it - threw her little body up in the air - balanced for one moment in a one hand head stand - flipped in the air - landed on her feet - and disappeared.

That's when we spotted the woman waiting for her. Her mother, maybe. It was clear she had been sent for money by her. Money for drugs? Money for what? Others on the bus were more familiar with these types of things then I was. But when I saw her do that little hand stand, that little flip - I knew she had been waiting under that overpass for a long time - this was her life. The bus moved on, life went on, even though it felt as if it shouldn't.

I realized at that moment that my heart had broken; and at that moment that's what I wanted. A heart that breaks. Orphans crying in Haiti, a little girl begging for money in the street, a little boy that I just heard of recently - a little Dominican boy - who was dumped in Haiti by his parents. Parents that wanted to get rid of him, and thought no one would ever notice him amongst all the chaos and confusion. These are the things that should break our hearts. But what about our neighbors? There are truly some in America that are just as hopeless, just as lost. That should break our hearts too.

I'm yet to forget that little girl - somewhere under an overpass in Santiago. As I've shared her story - I've wished for a picture of her; but didn't have one. Just the one in my head.

A few weeks back, another team member sent me a CD of photos from the trip. This one was blurry, I scanned over it, almost deleted it. Didn't even notice who it was, until a couple of days ago. Muted, anonymous, just as I remember her.

Please pray for her,
God knows her name, and where she is.

And ask the Lord to give us hearts that break.


Kyleigh said...

I am so thankful that God has given me a heart that breaks. I admit that sometimes I'd rather it didn't.
But I know that it's a gift from Him, and it draws me closer to Him and causes me to pray more.

- Kyleigh

Miss Breezy said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I know exactly how you feel. ♥


Hannah said...

What a beautiful post Kate! I can feel your heart ache through the words you wrote.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Kate. That was a really moving post. It humbles me, because I know I spend too much time thinking about myself, when I should be thinking about others. Always. Thank you for sharing.

Your sister said...

Praying for her Kate...

Kristina said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this, Kate. It is so easy to get so caught up in our own little world that we forget how many lost and dying people are out there. And right here - they surround us. When hunger and pain and sorrow has a face, we are forever changed.

May God give us hearts that break for the world He came to save.


Jill said...

I'll pray for her, too. I wish I could do more.