On a 2012 trip to Santiago, my friends and I met Juan de Leon – a pastor and artist who operates a ministry in La Yaguita de Pastor. His art covers a variety of media and subjects, largely related to various social issues. Limpiabotas – shoeshine boys commonly seen on Dominican streets – are one of his common themes. Many of these youngsters are sent into the streets around 7-8 years of age to earn money. While some work to support their education or other endeavor, many are are not to come back home until they’ve earned enough money to support a share of the family, so they end up spending much of their childhood on the streets.
Kids Without Faces
Juan sometimes paints the boys without faces. He explained that he does that as a symbol of how society sees them – kids without faces; faceless “background noise” in a busy city. Too often, they’re overlooked by the tourists and populace, or chased off by the authorities as miscreants. Simply offcast human beings. I’ve carried a picture of some of his paintings in my phone ever since the day I met him.
His telling us that story the first time planted a persistent soft spot in me for these kids. I almost never wear shoes that require shining, but try to slip them a few pesos and a “¡Dios te bendiga!” whenever we encounter these little guys around town. Should I ever come up with a good way to add them on a larger scale into the scope of our mission, I’m on it like white on rice.
We were re-introduced to Juan this past week by a friend we have in common. Juan took us into his house to see some of his work. I was able to secure this painting (at right), which is one of the very ones I photographed the first time and have shown people ever since. It’s a bit large at almost 6′ tall, but I was sure Kristi would forgive me (she did) . It’s actually half of a two-part painting, but the other half went to a gallery exhibit and he doesn’t know if/when he’ll get it back. If he does, I hope to own it, too.
My prayer is that I won’t fall into a mode of seeing anyone as faceless “background noise.” Philippians 2:4 tells us, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Scripture tells us – repeatedly – to look after the widows, orphans, and those in need. It’s all too easy to overlook those around us for any number of reasons; almost none of them valid. Maybe we just ignore someone in a more difficult situation in life because it makes us uneasy. Perhaps we don’t know how to help, or even think the little we could do wouldn’t make a difference. It’s possible to simply look away from anything that makes us uncomfortable. I’ve certainly been guilty of these before. The truth is, probably no one reading these words is unable to give of ourselves to those around us.
There is no shortage of need in any of our lives. People around us hurt, no matter where we spend our days. There are monetary needs, emotional needs, educational needs, and certainly no less importantly, spiritual needs. People need Hope.
Look. Listen. Lend a Hand.
The guy on the corner asking for change or holding a cardboard sign? You know…the guy we’ve rationalized looking the other way by telling ourselves “He’d probably just spend it on booze or drugs“? Pick up an extra McDonald’s combo or cup of coffee on a cold day. Or, a gift certificate for the same. Heck, give him a couple bucks. As my friend Geoff wisely says, we’re not on the hook for what he does with it. We are on the hook for sharing the Love we’ve been shown. Yes, we’re responsible for being stewards of that with which we’ve been blessed. More often than not, though, I’ve found this to be more excuse than valid concern. If we’re overly concerned, how about we take 15 minutes and talk to him? Maybe he is tangled up in some addictive behavior that’s consuming him. Maybe he’s ready for help and simply doesn’t know where to turn. Share some food. Share your time. Share your faith. Not begrudgingly, or from some sense of “duty.” Do it because we’ve been loved, and the Source loves that guy on the corner just like us. He needs Hope, just like you…and me…and all the rest of us on this rock. He certainly doesn’t need us to be the next person who treats him as a someone without a face.
Some have financial blessings to share, others a compassionate heart and empathetic ear. Others still have connections and useful resources. Many of us have faith and Hope (which, if we’re paying attention, we’ve specifically been told to share with the world around us). For as long as you’re topside, you have time. Appointments…our kids’ ball games…our work…they’re all important. But, we have to keep a perspective that reminds us those things are not more important than the people around us. For those of you following the same Path as me, I challenge you to pray for eyes that see what’s around you, blessings to share, and a willing heart to do it. Drop me a line in the comments below and let me know how it goes….