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When Your Worst Nightmare Becomes Real Life

I cried in church yesterday morning. It’s become a weekly occurrence, salt drops sliding from my face in the middle of a pew. Usually they come during the singing, when the words on the screen don’t match the state of my soul. But sometimes tears come from a random memory of my daughter, or at the sudden thought of my youngest child’s less-than-great medical results and the shadowy fear that the next test will show worsening.

Yesterday, though, my tears were different. They welled up as I listened to the guest speaker read James 5:1-6.

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

My mind deserted the sermon. “I am that rich person. I know how the conditions are for those who make the cheap crap I buy, and yet I knowingly contribute to their poverty. Oh God, I have seen the innocent one – it’s the children, especially the children with special needs.”

I know it seems like a stretch, but when you hop on a train of thought, you end up in places like this.

I found myself back in Bolivia, sitting next to Joe, a young man in a wheelchair I met at the Special Needs Center we visited. If I had to guess, I’d say Joe is about 15, but he looks like he’s 10. You can’t tell by looking, partly because children’s growth is so stunted from lack of nutrition, partly because special needs children’s growth is even more stunted from lack of health care, and partly because of his story.

Special Needs Center Bolivia

(Sadly, you can't see Joe sitting next to me in this photo -- I'm at the extreme right edge.) ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

Joe cannot move on his own (they think he has cerebral palsy), and until World Vision arrived in the community, he had no wheelchair. He dragged himself around or had to be carried everywhere. Since he’s a teen, and despite his small size due to malnutrition, he’s cumbersome to move. So his family just doesn’t move him.

Joe’s family does not feed him enough.

They don’t bathe him. (Think about that. The floor is dirt. He can’t get himself to the bathroom. And they don’t bathe him.)

He doesn’t go to school.

World Vision staff found him lying in a truck bed one afternoon. They learned he’d been there, in the blazing sun, for a few hours. This wasn’t the first time they’d left him like this.

These were my worst fears for our own daughter with special needs. But my fears had remained figments of my imagination… until that day. My imagined fears for Ellie were everyday life for Joe.

Correction. They are everyday life for Joe.

As I sat in the pew, I imagined lying helpless, thirsty, hungry, and burning in the sun, and my heart bled tears. I sat in the pew, digging in my pocket for a shred of tissue to sop up the breaking.

I remember asking, as our bus bounced away from his town, if the government of Bolivia would ever terminate parental rights and move Joe somewhere better. Somewhere safer.

Their answer was no.

His situation is normal for children, particularly for special needs children, in poor nations like Bolivia. These children die from lack of medical care, insufficient nutrition, ignorance and superstition, or the desperation of poverty-stricken families who abandon these children to die. Their countries don’t have the resources that ours does to step in and help. No safety nets means that these precious children die.

I was blessed to be Ellie’s mom (our oldest child), with all her medical challenges and special needs, for 8 1/2 years. I know how difficult, how overwhelming, how exhausting it is to care for a child like her. I also know how beautiful she was and how much God loved her. God loves children, God loves the helpless, and God commands us to love them too.

One month from today is the third anniversary of Ellie’s homegoing. I believe that she knew how much we loved her, and more important, how much God loved her because we not only told her God loved her but we showed her with our actions. This is what Jesus did.

We must do both. We must both say and show the helpless, poor, and needy the love of God.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

Joe has hope. He has a sponsor. World Vision is in his community, and they will do everything they can to help him, and they will try to expand his family’s capacity to care for him. They will tell and show them the inherent value of human life because we are each made in God’s own image.

You can show God’s love to a desperate child and their family, you can truly save a life, today. Sponsor a child, give a gift out of the World Vision catalog, call 1-888-511-6443  and donate to the special needs medical care fund (many children are in need of life-saving surgery). Every little bit helps.


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