Saturday, March 21, 2009

Remembering to Forget

Her name is Maria and her story is one I will never forget.

I sat beside her at Mully Children’s Family in Kenya conducting research for a follow up story to the life of the founder, Charles Mulli. MCF is a home that rescues children from the slums of Kenya. I was there for the first time five years ago. I came to teach for 3 months.

But when I got there, I was invited to write Charles’ Mulli’s story - how at the age of six he was abused by his father and then wakes up one morning to discover his family has completely abandoned him.

Charles went from hut to hut begging for food. Unable to afford school he started working and eventually started his own businesses. He ultimately became a multi-millionaire and was on a first name basis with the president. Then one day, God called him to sell all he had and to go into the slums to rescue street children.
Today he has more than 2,000 children under his care.

One of them is Maria.

I sat beside her and took notes about her tragic life. Her parents divorced when she was young. She went to live with her father. Then one day while her dad was at work she took Maria and left for a remote village. She never saw her father again. Her life with her mother went from bad to worse. Her mother became and alcoholic and turned violent towards her daughter.

I found it difficult to hear her story. At this point she stopped and looked at me.

“Are you taking notes of this?”

I felt terrible. I explained that I was doing a follow up book on Charles Mulli and…

“Yes, yes I understand that,” she said with typical African compassion and kindness. “You explained that all to me. It’s just that all of this that I am telling you up to this point is just background information. The real suffering in my life hasn’t happened yet.”

I sat there stunned. Too shocked to continue writing. I looked into her young eyes, eyes that had experienced more pain and suffering than many of us could even imagine.

She began to recount her life story. I’m not sure that there are words to describe what she went through. I recall an interview with Tom Hanks about Saving Private Ryan. He commented about recreating the Normandy scene and said something to the effect that what it looked like they can get, but what it felt like we’ll never know. I hope no one has to experience what Maria went through.

But I realize that this is wishful thinking. There are Marias all over the world going through what she went through.

She stopped halfway through the interview and heard the singing of the children in the evening devotions. She asked if we could go and join them. We walked in and she got onto stage and called me up. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Then she invited me to join her in leading the group in singing the song “I’m trading my sorrows…for the joy of the LORD.”

So there, in front of 400 kids, she sang her heart out about how much she loved Jesus.

We came back and finished the interview. I was in a state of disbelief. How does someone who has been through so much still love Jesus? I felt outclassed. Embarrassed. Ashamed of my Christianity.

Mostly, I admired her. I was with someone who had totally transformed my thinking.
She finished her story. She described the real suffering in her life.
After a long pause I turned to her.

“Aren’t you angry at God?” I asked. I probably shouldn’t have. But I had to know. You can fake Christianity for a while. But you can’t fake getting abused, then getting up in front of 400 kids and singing your heart for Jesus. There was something deep going on.

“No,” she said. She smiled. “That’s all in the past.”

How is it that this young girl who has lived through unspeakable pain can be so loving to Jesus?

It reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s writings in Philippians 3 – Forgetting what lies behind…I press on toward the goal.

That’s a challenge for us as Christians.

We need to remember to forget.

We need to remember where our focus should be.

Am I more interested in complaining about my past, or more interested in pursuing Jesus Christ?

Paul is the author of Father to the Fatherless: The Charles Mulli Story. His first feature film Among Thieves, a movie about the Iraq War comes out in April. His latest book about Winnipeg inner city pastor and activist Harry Lehotsky will be available later this year.

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Hello Paul,
This is such a heart-warming story on the one hand, and both heart-rending and heart-searching on the other.
The love of God in Christ is so very clearly evidenced.
Thanks, and Lord Bless,

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