Yesterday there was a group of school kids on the subway platform, waiting for the next train. As they boarded, I noticed many of the adults who were close to that subway car’s door walked further than usual to get onto the next subway car, to avoid the noise of that class of children. I followed the kids onto the train, to observe and catch whatever phrases I could understand. Most of them were playfully interacting with each other, and I’d say they were probably between 9 and 12 years old. A few had smartphones, interestingly the girls who had smartphones were using them in groups–one group of three playing an electronic Uno game, another group taking pictures of each other and laughing a lot, whereas the boys tended to be using their phones by themselves. When the train crossed the bridge over the Dnipr river, most of the kids turned looked out the window at the river, at the shore, at the world around them, except for one of the boys who had his nose stuck in his smartphone the entire time.
I reflected on my love for kids, for playing with them, and for helping them understand God’s incredible love for us in Jesus Christ. I miss singing songs with the kids at my church back in Chattanooga, and miss my friends’ kids. In Henri Nouwen’s South American journal, he said that for most of his adult career in seminary, in university, and in his teaching positions, he wasn’t around kids–from his 18th year until his 50th year, when as a missionary he moved into a roof-top room with a poor Peruvian family. He reflected in his Thursday, January 28, 1982 journal entry:
The children always challenge me to live in the present. They want me to be with them here and now, and they find it hard to understand that I might have other things to do or to think about. After all my experiences with psychotherapy, I suddently have discovered the great healing power of children. Every time Pablito, Johnny, and Maria run up to welcome me, pick up my suitcase, and bring me to my “roof-room,” I marvel at their ability to be fully present to me. Their uninhibited expression of affection and their willingness to receive it pull me directly into the moment and invite me to celebrate life where it is found. Whereas in the past coming home meant time to study, to write letters, and to prepare for classes, it now first of all means time to play. [My grandpa’s margin note here says, “Beautiful!”]
In the beginning, I had to get used to finding a little boy under my bed, a little girl in my closet, and a teenager under my table, but now I am disappointed when I find my friends asleep at night. I did not know what to expect when I came to Pamplona Alta. I wondered how the poverty, the lack of good food and good housing would affect me; I was afraid of becoming depressed by the misery I would see. But God showed me something else first: affectionate, open, and playful children who are telling me about love and life in ways no book was ever able to do. I now realize that only when I can enter with the children into their joy will I be able to enter also with them into their poverty and pain. God obviously wants me to walk into the world of suffering with a little child on each hand. (Nouwen, p. 123) [Here my grandpa wrote, “Let the children come to me & don’t let them get cut off because God’s reign belongs to those who are like children – Matt 19:14. Beloved we are already children of God – I John 3:12.]
I’m thankful all the other families on my team have kids. Last night I had dinner with my team leader’s family, as I often do Friday evenings. I love arriving at their house and hearing their son Zachary’s enthusiastic greeting, “Joel is here!” as he runs from the living room or kitchen to the entry-way to give me a hug and start telling me about whatever he’s doing.