South African Street Children: A Narrative Sermon

Miss Helena Mayles, Ordinand, Westcott House

10th February 2013

‘Truly I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.’ 

I met Judy Westwater at a local school where she was giving a presentation about her charity, The Pegasus Children’s Trust, and the work that they do with the forgotten street children of South Africa.  Having been a street child herself she has a real sacrificial devotion to these children.  When she looks at them she sees a child of great worth, a significant individual, a beautiful child of God.  Although The Pegasus Children’s Trust is not an explicitly Christian charity; negative experiences of Church at a young age have turned Judy away from Christianity, her beliefs lie in a profound sense of the importance of the other.  God she says is not a transcendent, distant God, God she says, is in here, God, she says, is in each one of those children. 

Mother Teresa once said,

‘When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her.  It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.  We have refused to be instruments of love in the hands of God to give the poor a piece of bread, to offer them a dress with which to ward off the cold.  It has happened because we did not recognize Christ when, once more, he appeared under the guise of pain, identified with a man numb from the cold, dying of hunger, when he came in a lonely human being, in a lost child in search of a home.

Where do you see Christ?

He was only a child.

He was a typical boy of his age he used to play football with his brothers and sisters… and anyone else who wanted to join in.  They would tear down the streets laughing and shouting, trying to dodge the mothers carrying the shopping and the old men as they sat smoking cigars.

They were happy.  In his family they didn’t have much but they did have each other.  Maybe you would say that they were poor, but as long as they had each other the world never seemed that bad.

Until one day, one day, his parents weren’t there anymore.  He had gone to school that morning and when he came back they weren’t there.  His grandparents were sitting in the corner of the room with a look that made him feel uneasy, that made him want to cry.

‘There’s been an accident’

The words hit him like the truck that had hit his parents.  His legs gave way, he found himself falling to the floor, he felt his whole world falling around him.  Not a limb moved or even a tear fell from his eye.  If you could have seen him you would have sworn that he actually stopped breathing for a short while, it was as if his whole body was numb.

Since that day his grandparents tried their best, selling oranges and pineapples on the side of the road, but he had a lot of brothers and sisters and he saw that his grandparents, try as they could, were struggling to feed all the hungry mouths and that’s when he knew he must go.

He loved his family very much but he couldn’t be a burden any longer and maybe if he could find a job he could send some money back.

That day he did not play, he didn’t even smile; he went to bed with a heavy heart.

In the middle of the night he stuffed some clothes and a loaf of bread in a plastic bag and crept out of the house and ran.  Ran away.  Ran away from the family he loved, away from the warmth of a home, away from the fun and laughter with his friends.  He ran.

‘Look I’m here; I’m right in your face, why can you not see me?’

Sometimes he wanted to scream at the faces that walked straight past him, with not even a glance in his direction, as if he wasn’t even there.  Was he there?  Perhaps he wasn’t there at all; perhaps he had become so small and insignificant that he was like dust, dust that is so fine that people don’t even notice it’s there.  Was he just a speck of dust?

He had been living on the streets for a while now, he hadn’t been able to find a job – no one was interested in a child working for them.  He couldn’t remember the last time that he didn’t feel hungry; he found what he could in the bins, maybe potato peelings for lunch and some chicken bones to chew for dinner.

He dreamed of home, running in the streets with his brothers and sisters and then coming home to the smell of rice and beans and a loving smile from his mother.  He dreamed of going to school with all the other kids, dressed in smart uniform, playing in the playground… he used to love maths…

‘Oi you, move on you can’t stop here this is public property’ – he had been noticed…

It took all the energy he had in him to struggle up on to his feet and as soon as he was standing he felt a strange gushing sensation through his ears and heard a ringing that seemed to be getting louder and louder until he could bear it no longer, he covered his ears to take away the ringing, to make it stop, he felt like his head was about to explode and then… nothing.

No one seemed to know how long he was unconscious for, how long he was lying in the shop window for.

But when he did open his eyes he wasn’t in pain any longer, the ringing had stopped and, and he wasn’t cold any longer.  Had he died?  Had he died and gone to heaven?

‘we were wondering when you would wake up, some of us were getting a little worried, but I knew you’d pull through, you have the fighter spirit in you.  What’s your name kiddo?

‘Sharka’

‘Well Sharka, welcome to Twilight, you are welcome to make your home with us here.  There are plenty of girls and boys here to make friends with; they will be thrilled to hear you’ve woken up.  My name is Mama Judy and if there is anything at all you need you just ask me.  Now that you’re awake though I’m sure you are hungry, would you like some food?  Beans and rice?

Sharka quickly settled in and made plenty of friends at Twilight, he even taught them all how to play football.  He loved going to school too, he studied very hard, he was still determined to do well so that he could get a good job and look after his brothers and sisters.  Mama Judy had said that she would help him find his family.

That day he was running back home, he had come top in his class for this week’s maths test and had been given a gold star.  He couldn’t wait to show Mama Judy she will be so proud.  He was so excited that he didn’t notice the big group of men in front and ran straight into them.

‘Watch where you’re going kiddo, where are you off to in such a hurry?’

Sharka looked into the eyes peering down at him, these weren’t the comforting eyes of Mama Judy, these were cold, full of anger and hatred.

Sharka froze.

‘Cat got your tongue?’

As he was saying this one of the other men came forward and seemed to whisper something to those cold eyes.  A broad smirk spread across his face.

‘Looks like you just been to school?  How much do they pay in school then?  50?  100 rand?

Sharka managed a slight shake of his head.

‘20 rand?  Surely more than that?’

Another shake.

‘Nothing?  They make you do all that work and they pay you nothing?  That’s disgraceful.  How do you fancy being paid for your hard work?  You do work for us and we’d pay you handsomely and you get to choose what work you want to do.  We’ll even give you a bed and lots of delicious food, you can join our family, what do you say?’

Sharka, still stunned, thought about his family, his brothers and sisters without enough food on the table.  He thought of his plan to send money home… Maybe…

But then he looked down at his gold star, he remembered Mama Judy and his new friends… the school that he went to…. the games he played…. The football and the running… the…

Ow what was that?  A jolt to the head woke him from his thoughts…

When he looked up this time he saw that the smirk had gone those cold eyes were about to pop out of the face disfigured in anger and a gun was fixed to his head.

‘I’ve had enough of this time wasting, you’re coming with us.’

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Sharka’s voice came back and he shouted ‘I’m in Mama Judy’s gang now’ and as he did he spun round and darted off.  He was fast; he had been running his whole life….

Bang

He was fast, but bullets were faster.

He was only a child.

‘for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’

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