I found Potential in the slums (and he wore a dirty face)
(Note: This is the second in my Humans of Chiang Mai series). The heat in this town’s unrelenting. At 11:10 p.m. on a Wednesday night, our wheels touch down. The thermometer still reads 95. Now, on a fiery-hot Saturday, we set off into the Land of the Forgotten; i.e., the Chiang Mai slums…
We’re threading our way through dirty streets. Past abandoned storefronts, street carts and dwellings we walk. I note the filth, the degradation, the broken-ness of buildings, and homes, and lives.
“My goodness,” I think to myself. “Even in our small town, we have a machine that cleans the very streets.” And then this: “Dorothy, I know we’re not in Kansas any more.”
Our destination today is the slums. We’re hauling in some meager supplies, wanting to spend time with the children.
The further in we go, the worse it gets. I feel very–quiet now, taking it in. The dwellings, the places where humans are actually living…
I have heard the descriptions, but words are too small and feeble to pain such misery and lack and need. I don’t want to stare for even here, souls are worthy of dignity.
The scent of poverty comes to me on a languid breeze as we trudge past a fetid, stinking canal. It smells of sewage baking in sun’s heat. Trash is caught in the weeds that line the banks, and hopelessness pulls at my spirit like the very gravity that holds my feet to the soil.
We approach a small turn when all at once, a band of boys comes sailing around the corner. The tiniest one aims a swift kick at my husband’s leg. Then, excited and wild, they follow us past the canal and over a foot bridge to a large, open area that’s strewn with rocks.
It’s little Mr. Fierce who picks up rocks and begins firing them. Our son tries to divert him as we take out soccer balls and start kicking them around. We pull construction paper from satchels and begin tearing paper dolls. Something; anything to connect, to gain their interest, to engage them heart to heart.
That quick, Mr. Fierce and his posse are shredding the paper. Colored scraps pepper the dusty field, dolls mangled and torn into confetti. There is whacking and cuffing, general mayhem. On the field, the ref would flag this team for unnecessary roughness, but this isn’t the NFL. No flags. No whistles. Just…
Wait. We have Crayolas. Snatching up some papers, I spread them out on the only flat surface there is, a stone bench, and that wild, little posse gathers ’round.
“Give me your hand,” I say to one. And, laying it flat, I trace around it. One white hand on a small brown hand, tracing peace, tracing love in green Crayola.
Seeing those dusty faces bent, intent, scribbling colored marks onto paper, my heart squeezes, and I see the childhood innocence that’s already covered by a tough veneer. For a few brief moments, these little boys are just that–little boys without a care in the world, simply choosing the next Crayola.
I see it one more time when a plane flies overhead. In a split second, one beat of the heart, the crazy, little fighters are transformed. Shrieking and pointing, they hop up and down, excitement bursting through dirt and skin, shouting in an unknown tongue. Hands waving, they are alight with wonder over the flying machine with wings, and they wave ’til it’s gone from their sight. Just three little boys in the slums.
Walking back over the bridge, back past that canal, back over the foot path that winds, I know what I’ve just seen. In an unlikely place on an ordinary day, I’ve seen Potential with a capital ‘P.’ And it’s wearing a fierce, dirty face.
A crusted face, a filthy shirt and bare feet that roam all day long. Meet Arry, a tiny human of Chiang Mai. I believe with all my heart that with his ferocity, intelligence and spirit, this little boy could be a world changer one day. I am thrilled to tell you that even though I can’t be there to love on him, Jesus has put someone else in Arry’s life.
Her name is Roseanne, another Human of Chiang Mai, and her heart for Arry beats like His. Rosie told me her story. A teacher from England, she became captivated by the work that Emmi is doing and walked away from her job. She volunteers, now, with Emmi at Zion, and she carries a burden for those who live in the slums.
She knows little Arry and his brother and their mother who makes small items to sell at the night market. She visits them (and others) in their home (s), and those two brothers have calmed down enough to climb up and sit on her lap.
Pray with me, won’t you, that Arry (and his family) will grow up to be the hope of Chiang Mai, Jesus in skin, and that their world as they know it will be changed? I am. I will, so help me Lord.