I read a book last week about a Vietnamese refugee who came over in the 1970s. It was a great story and one I oddly connected with–partially in our work with refugees stateside & partially in our own life straddling Asian and American culture.
One passage in particular stuck out to me, and it has haunted me this week. I can’t find it again, but only recall him discussing poverty and remembering being grateful for a small meal as he sat next to children who didn’t have lunches to eat.
Something about it made me wonder if all the kids in our neighborhood have lunch at school each day. Do they have breakfast?
In short: are they sitting outside my door and playing in my home hungry?
I remember one morning as the kids gathered at “the bus stop”–our porch–I watched one of the little girls open her lunch pail. There were two little layers in the container, each with rice and one sausage; which would serve as lunch for her and her brother.
That is a small lunch, yes.
But it bothered me more to watch her tear each sausage in two so they could eat part of it now, at eight in the morning. They each had a few bites of rice, and then she packed it all back up to take with her.
I asked her if that was for lunch or for breakfast? Was she hungry? She said it was fine; it was for lunch. I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed that I had perhaps “caught” her eating lunch early? Or perhaps it really was nothing? I couldn’t really tell.
I haven’t seen it much since; they mostly bring their lunch pails and set them on the porch until the school car comes and everything is gathered in a flurry.
But when I read this in that book, it worried me.
You see, sometimes living in poverty becomes, well, a part of our every day. I see what the kids eat for dinner, since again, they often eat it on our porch. I see the insides of their homes and I see the tears in their clothes.
I might make little mends to their clothes or offer them snacks and food here and there; we might help a family with food or support a neighbors local business to help their families out. But poverty becomes a part of our every day.
Yes, everyone is poor. Yes, the meals are unbalanced and minimal. Yes, the homes are small. Yes, the clothes are worn through. Yes, the littles kids are crying and want to be held.
Yes, this is life. So we learn the names and love the families. And it becomes, in many ways, normal.
I am ashamed to admit that in many ways it becomes acceptable.
But what if they are hungry? I tell myself they will tell me; I tell myself they know we’ll give them something as we have every time before.
And yet, I find myself dreaming of a breakfast plan: how could we serve breakfast every morning before school and work? How could we find something small to send them on their way with protein and vitamins? How do we give these children a chance? How can fit that into our lives that are already so far over capacity?
But what about capacity and boundaries; what about sustainability? These are big words we use in our education and our studies, but how do they rival words like hunger? Or starvation? What do these words mean when we lift our eyes from a book and rest them on a face with a future?
We are only two people. We are just two people with hearts broken, asking God to show us how to love well.