Mom, I find it awkward to interact with the homeless community.
We were praying for a local homeless shelter during family Bible study when Owen uttered these words. I’d ask him if he’d like to volunteer with me there; that was his response.
I understood Owen’s heart. Different can be awkward. Uncomfortable.
Still, I made Owen go with me the next night. Not in a mean “you will go” way, but in a “I want you to give it one more try” way. He went. He played with the boys staying at the shelter and gave them some of his clothes. As we talked on the way home, he said it still felt weird knowing all he had and how little they had.
Still awkward. But, the boys were just like him.
They liked coloring, race cars, and Legos. They didn’t like school so much. And, I reminded him – most of all, they want to be loved. They want to know they matter – just like you, Owen.
I can see that. Sure, Mom.
I now work at the shelter; Owen’s been back a few times with me. He was there last Thursday with me, and I noticed…awkward was almost gone. Owen seemed at home there, walking in, saying hi, and settling in.
Perhaps familiarity stamps out awkward.
In February our family began praying about allowing Hannah to join me on a mission trip to Honduras in June. Every time she’s watched me board a plane since 2007, Hannah’s wanted to go. I always said, when you’re 13.
She’ll be 13 this week. But I know the realties of Honduras, so this decision hasn’t been an easy one to make.
As we’ve prayed and discussed the trip, I’ve asked Owen a few times, “Do you want to go?”
Owen has always responded with a quick no. Never.
That answer has always been ok with me. Just because I love Honduras does not mean my kiddos do or should. I want them to love missions, but it doesn’t have to be in the same way I do.
Still…I wanted to understand Owen’s quick NO. So, I continued asking and discussing the trip with him. He revealed that he’s scared of the people there. They are different from him. Life is different there. Armed guards protect Dunkin Donuts. It’s not everyday you pull up to get a donut and have to walk by a rifle or machine gun.
In my heart, I’m thinking…Here we go again…dealing with different. This time I realize that awkward is rooted in fear. Fear of different people. Fear of different places, customs, cultures, languages, and beliefs.
I get fear. I should probably have more than I do. I have no problem with Owen’s (or anyone’s) fear. It’s healthy to fear.
But, I don’t get prejudice: preconceived judgment or opinion; an adverse opinion or leaning formed before sufficient knowledge.
And prejudice is what I read between the lines of Owen’s concerns. To be fair, Owen is 10. Yet, his fear of people who look different and speak a different language broke my heart. That’s not how we want to raise our children.
In our home, we teach that every single human being is an image bearer of Christ – made in His image.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
We emphasize loving others…
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-38
We strive not to box people in, making sweeping generalizations about who they are or what they believe.
WE strive to love regardless.
So, we started having conversations about the people I’ve met in Honduras. We started showing him pictures and videos of some boys his age that live there. This was in a no way an effort to get him to go on a mission trip or to love Honduras – this was an effort to help him love people.
All people. Not just the people like him.
And, when I say love, I mean love. Not that fake “oh, poor child” crap that we spout right before we sign a check. I mean care deeply for the child in such a way that your heart aches for his plight and desires to sacrifice in order to help.
A love that at the very least intercedes for the other in prayer.
I began to pray for this change in Owen’s heart, and I continued to include him in all Honduras conversations. He voiced concerns that Hannah would be kidnapped or killed – all valid concerns when traveling (to Florida or Honduras). Because let’s face it – life is risky. I could die driving to Wal-Mart. Not as likely, but possible.
Owen continued to hold fast to his beliefs that the trip is too dangerous and scary. That he wouldn’t really want to get to know or serve anyone there. He finally said to me…that’s just how it is, mom.
Sigh. Ok, my work wasn’t done, but I appreciated his convictions even if they weren’t in line with my theology.
Last week I was FaceTiming my friend, Jen, who was in Honduras. Owen was curious and joined me for the call. My friend had four little boys with her – all Hondurans – so I talked to each of them. Then, she introduced them to Owen.
Owen looked on skeptically. I could tell he was unsure and a bit nervous. Awkward. The boys spoke some English, but Owen liked listening to their Spanish.
The conversation centered on …What’s your name? How old are you? What grade are you in? What games could we get on Jen’s iPhone? What’s your favorite game? What do you call football? What do you call soccer? How are they different? What’s your favorite sport? Do you play soccer?
Owen’s asking. Jen’s translating some. The boys were answering. It was so cute.
The boys would like Owen to visit so they could play together. Owen says he’d love to come play with them.
It was as if I watched a light bulb appear above Owen’s head. He’d just said he wanted to go to Honduras. What?
The call ends, and I ask Owen…what did you think? His response…they’re just like me.
Yes, Owen, they are.
We are all the same.
We are all image bearers of Christ doing our best to find purpose, to love, and to live in this world.
No one is better than anyone else. No one is more loved by God than anyone else – God doesn’t love America more or less than Honduras. He is love and loves all the same.
It’s so dang simple. Love one another: So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. John 13: 34
Owen grew to love FaceTime with those sweet boys. They even showed one another their muscles, and Owen asked if they were enjoying the games he recommended.
Owen’s heart changed because “Honduran” now had a name and a face. Instead of “boys who live in Honduras,” Owen knew Mario, Antonio, and Francisco specifically. And, suddenly, all Hondurans weren’t dangerous anymore; some are just regular kids like him.
Often, that’s what we all need – a name and a face – a real person – to replace our detestable stereotypes and judgments. To break the walls of our boxes.
Familiarity and love stamps out awkward and fear.
That’s what Owen needed – to know a real person, not a statistic. And from that, God transformed Owen’s little 10-year-old heart, helping him to see that we are much more alike than we are different.
Most of all, God loves us all…equally.
Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136:26