Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mission Trip--The Story

A week ago today, most of my job crew on the mission trip was finishing the roof of the carport we built.  So that as many teenagers could get on the roof as possible, I took myself off the roof.  I hung out at the top of the ladder, relaying messages, water bottles, tape measures, and chalk lines.  Through the repeated hits of seven hammers, I could hear moaning or wailing.  I looked around, unable to identify the sound’s origin.  I kept hearing it.  Finally, I spotted her.
At the housing project diagonally across the street, she stood on the front stoop crying.  She was small, preschool age, and I know from lots of personal experience that crying and preschoolers often go together.  I watched, waiting for a mom or childcare giver to appear.  I kept watching.  I thought maybe the mom had put the daughter on the front stoop as a timeout of sorts. 
Then the teenagers on the roof noticed the crying between their hammer whacks.  “Angie, can we go over there?  You said on Tuesday we should play with the kids in the projects.”
“Let’s wait a minute and see if an adult shows up.”
Another teenager, “Angie, let’s go.  You said we could go over there.”
“I know.  I know.  I’m just trying to get an idea of the situation before we walk over there uninvited.”
We waited.  We watched. 
I listened to the wailing and crying until my heart ached.  I know what it’s like to hear crying non-stop, to get frustrated, to be pushed to my limits.  But this cry didn’t sound like fussing.  It was sad and lonely and crushing to hear.  I listened until my heart was breaking, and my anger was burning simultaneously.
Enough is enough.  Why has no adult appeared to console or comfort or even fuss at this little girl?!
Then I saw him.
Naked except for a blue diaper.  Crying, hiding behind his older sister.
 I got three students off the roof, and we took off toward that housing project with determination, fire, and righteous indignation.  (An adult male on our crew decided it’d be best if he followed, which was smart.)
As we walked toward them, the kids went door to door in their building, begging for anyone to open the door.  No one did.
Anna sitting under our carport.  Kids' home in the background.
We caught up with them two doors down from their home.  I sat on the stoop and cleaned their faces with my bandana.  The girl hid her face with her arms.  The boy stared at us with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen on a baby.

The girl is probably four.  The boy is probably close to 18 months.  The same ages as my kids.
We got the girl to smile after some peek-a-boo.  The boy just stared.
A woman across the street approached us.  I explained we had heard the kids crying and were just trying to help.  She assured us we were okay.  Then she stormed over to the kids’ home and banged on the door.  When no one answered, she let herself in the open apartment, searched through the house and came out, “She left.  Their mother left!  There’s no one there.  That’s it!  I pulled that boy out of the road yesterday when he was unattended, and now this.  I’m calling for help.”
While she called to report child neglect, the man with her called the police.  And I sang.
I sang the preschool songs I sing with my kids everyday:  Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, etc.
I touched them gently and told them that they were beautiful and that they were good.  I felt the urgency to lavish on them as much love as I could in a short amount of time, doubtful of how much love they received.
Then a woman claiming to be their aunt stormed onto the scene, yelling for the girl to come back to the apartment.  She started crying again, looked at me hopelessly, and obediently went home. 
The woman yelled at the boy to come.  For the first time, he moved.  He shuffled his bare feet toward me, making eye contact and slightly shaking his head “no,” before dropping his head.  The woman came and took him, and he started crying again, too.
Social workers didn't show up.  The police drove by, and the man who called stopped them and talked to them.  But they never got out of the car, never checked on the kids.

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