I have been a missionary for over 9 years. I would consider myself “seasoned.’ I have seen abject poverty that words cannot even begin to describe. I know what desperation looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like and tastes like. I have seen people surrender every last shred of their humanity and fight like the hounds of hell were on their tail to get to a one pound bag of rice. And I’ve cried, knowing that it was the only thing holding off starvation for their babies, and that when it was gone, they would have no idea where the next pound of rice would come from. And after all of this time. All of these experiences. All of this…life…I still have one question that eats at my very soul.
Why do they keep having babies? Why do they keep having babies that they cannot feed and care for? And please know that I am not speaking from a “two cars in the nice suburban garage and an iPod under the Christmas tree” mindset. I came into this life with that mindset–if they can’t take care of their babies to my standards, then they aren’t doing a good job. I have learned that I was totally, completely wrong. I am talking about basic necessities like food and clothing. Every day I pass mothers selling candy in the streets, just trying to earn enough to buy their little ones a piece of bread. Typically, there are two or three playing in the median strip, one baby on her back, and most likely more children that have gotten old enough to fend for themselves, whatever that looks like. There is no man in the picture–he left long ago. She looks old. Defeated. Beaten down. Do they love their babies? My mama’s heart wants desperately to believe that they do, but I don’t know. I just don’t know. I can’t help but wonder if the desperation and the fear and the helplessness has pushed aside the love, and if all they see is another mouth to feed.
Yesterday the authorities removed five children from one of these mamas. We know this mama personally–she is part of the ministry at the dump. They took five of her nine children. Two others died at birth, and one precious baby died before his first birthday of malnutrition. I do not know where the sixth child is–presumably he is old enough to take care of himself. I know some of you are asking why we didn’t do enough to prevent this. Please believe me when I tell you we’ve done all we can, but sometimes all you can do is still not enough.
Most of these precious babies have different fathers, and not one of them is around to help. They took what they wanted, and she let them, either because she was hoping desperately that one of them would finally see her as beautiful and care enough to stay…or because she no longer believes that it’s possible for someone to see her as beautiful, and she just doesn’t care any more. Birth control is not an option. Even if she could afford it, she wouldn’t take it, because at this level of poverty, women believe that they only thing that will keep their man around is if they can give him babies. And it almost never keeps him around.
I know that I am not here to judge, but to help. I know that there is probably something terribly wrong with me for even thinking this way. And I realize that I have probably caused some of you to wonder why I’m here. It’s about breaking the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. It’s about change.
I love those babies. I love holding them and playing with them. I love their grubby little faces. I love making them smile and giggle–especially the tiny ones who have already lost the sparkle in their eyes–they already know that life is hard and hungry and that it isn’t going to get any better.
I love what I have been called to do. But I still wonder…Why?