We intuitively know when one is treated with dignity. We know that dignity is not a matter to negotiate. Human dignity is for all – rich or poor, black or white, adult or child. Many of have had the moment in life where we were the poorest in a crowd, separated from others by lack of status; and someone of great status saw our potential, believed in us, and gave us an outstanding opportunity. We are thankful for the one who believed in our dignity.
Thousands of years ago, simple old Hebrew herdsmen argued with power brokers of their day who considered humanity worthy of exploitation. They proclaimed all men are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). In our contemporary times human rights groups and the NGO community have argued for human dignity.
Yet, there is an image of Africa that is frequently seen which strips children of dignity. It is the picture of poor, malnourished, snotty nosed children desperately waiting their “salvation.” It plays to images of a hopeless Africa in need of rescue. It manipulates donor guilt and in the process turns a child’s dignity into a marketable commodity.
I am convinced those gifted with profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression would find the images of children stripped of dignity for marketing purposes repulsive. These courageous spokesmen would not hide their heads in the sand of denial. They would acknowledge the horrible effects of poverty, nonliteracy, and gender based violence. Children are abandoned every day. These children are treated as despised objects by both those who abandon them and those who market with them. The answer for these children is not an INGO. The answer is the timeless one of family.
Approximately 2,700 years ago these gifted spokesmen told parables. One told us, “On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die. But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel (Ezekiel 16:4-7. The New Living Translation.)”
A few weeks ago outside the 2020 Vision Estate in Gaculiro we lived this parable. On a Saturday night at approximately 8:00 p.m. security guards noticed dogs barking in the adjoining field. They went to see what the commotion was and found a few day old abandoned baby girl. Even on the edge of Kigali’s model communities humanity falls into our old destructive patterns of despising children. Thankfully, the child was alive and healthy. The following day the child was fostered in a family’s home while legal processes sought long term answers. The first picture of this child on the internet was of her dignity being preserved in a family.
Another spokesman told us, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15, New Living Translation.)”
Last week again in the poorer homes near Gaculiro we lived this parable. In the early morning hours neighbors heard a crying baby girl. When they investigated the biological mother was gone while the child she had been nursing remained. As I write the child has yet to find a family. Yet I believe with all my being in two matters. First, our God describes himself as both a Father and a Mother. He describes His care for us as One who adopts us like a patent who embraces abandoned children. He sees this child. Second, Kigali is made up of many people who love deeply. One from our Kigali community will be the family that represents God to this baby girl. She is spoken for.
A few common responses happen as most of us become aware of abandoned children. The first questions we ask are for details. Who were the biological parents? What were their lives like? Then we ask the why question. Why did they choose to abandon this child? Each situation is unique, but almost all have the common stories of nonliteracy, poverty, and a dysfunctional family filled with gender based violence. Many of us will be called to build the institutional frameworks so abandoned children become much less frequent. In a world filled with exceptional churches, schools, and businesses children are valued and nurtured. We must build our institutions for the sake of these children. When our institutions are strong children are abandoned much less frequently.
Yet, there also become the very pointed question for that specific child. Children do not belong in institutions like orphanages. Children belong in the institution of a family. Who will care for this specific child?
Two thousand years ago, a man named Paul proclaimed the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Social comfort of church has dulled us to the offense of this story. Paul gave a metaphor to illustrate Jesus death and new life. The metaphor is adoption. We are all like abandoned children. God rescues us. We are not rescued by an INGO or orphanage. When we are rescued we are given full legal and relationship rights. We are called sons and daughters. We are no longer called orphans.Adoption is offensive for the very reasons those 2,000 years ago found Paul offensive. However, it is the only answer to abandoned children that fully restores their lost dignity. Here though once despised they are loved and given full rights. Our community must endorse the dignity of adoption. Our families must be the answer.