Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Orange Soda

It happened at the end of outreach. We were really tired and had seen all we wanted to see of Romania. A half a year earlier, my imagination had been captured by this newly freed people and the way they collectively said “enough!” to their oppressors. When our Youth With A Mission leaders gave us the choice between a team going to Nicaragua, another touring the States and one to Romania, I jumped at Romania.

We went for a month. Then four months later, we went back. The first trip was magic, just being with 92 Romanian girls in an under serviced orphanage for a few weeks. We made friends. We shared our hearts, life, space, games, songs and food. It was cold, it was an adventure, it was meaningful, it was good.

The second trip was frantic. We travelled all over with a fifty-five minute allegorical gospel play called “Toy Maker and Son.” Our mission contacts ran us ragged. For it’s time, this production was the top in it’s class and the Romanian people ate it up. And we performed whenever and where ever we could. Once, we did four performances in one day. I was the clown. By the end of four shows, I looked like a demented horror movie clown with a blue hair fountain out the top of my head. I was so tired, I went to sleep in my makeup and costume.

People responded, people had conversion experiences but we didn’t come away knowing anyone. It was good for what it was. We were serving our faithful missionary friends.

We were tired. Twenty-five exhausted traveling performers were ready to go home. At the start of the long journey back we hit a snag and got stuck at the train station in Bucharest. It was really late and we were facing a dodgy sleep in the airport as it was.

Nothing to do and nowhere to go, we circled the wagons while our leaders tried to work out our transport issues. We piled up our luggage and waited. I was done. With a few lei in my pocket still I decided to use it all up and buy myself a treat. I went to a snack counter and bought a liter of orange soda. I think it was Fanta. Or maybe it was fake Eastern European Fanta. I tried to disappear to enjoy it quietly and alone.

In the train station was a group of about twenty or so street kids. They were dirty and probably gypsies. Despised by the wider culture and left on their own, these kids scratched out an existence for themselves by begging and stealing. These kinds of kids cope by tightening their belts to not feel hunger, sniffing glue to stay unaware and self mutilation to distract from the other pain they feel much deeper.

We, a group of twenty-five stuck westerners were quite conspicuous and attractive to these kids living on their own and looking for any opportunity. They moved in and some from our group began interacting with them. Doing the thing we had been doing with numerous kids groups like this for the past month, communicating in broken Romanian and English and hand motions and playing simple games.

I stole away from this scene to enjoy my soda, by myself. I opened the bottle and took a sip only to look up and see a train station boy looking at me. I smiled at him and he asked me for my soda. I inwardly panicked. No, I am not going to give you my soda. I’ve worked hard for a whole month and have no more money and I’m going to drink this soda and enjoy it. No, no, no! Change the subject, anything!

I said to him in broken language, “What is that on your arm?” And he pulled away, a bit embarrassed that I had pointed out his scars. “Why do you do that? Don’t do that, it’s bad for you.”

“I want your soda.” He demanded. I was inwardly angry. Holding it together and still trying to steer him away, I thought I should try to speak to him about Jesus.

“Isus te Ubeste (Jesus loves you), he doesn’t want you to cut your arm. Jesus loves you and doesn’t want you to hurt yourself! Please don’t do that anymore.”

I knew it as clearly as if I understood fluent Romanian, the kid looked at me and said, “Jesus does not love me. You wont give me your soda!”

I knew that he was manipulating me but that didn’t matter. He was right. I had no idea what his life was like, the things all those boys and girls face, the horrors they encounter without physical, protective love in their life. What’s the problem with a fat American letting himself be tricked out of a small thing like orange soda? What good will sticking to my guns and proving a point do?

I can still do this. How many ways do we try to divert the possibility of giving up some personal time or comfort, the actual cost of relationship, to instead stay on the moral high ground of discounting others because of their shame? It can be so easy to keep them locked behind the bars of ‘them’ and we retreat safely to our ‘us’ foraging out every now and then to remind them that they are broken and need to change.

I gave the kid the soda. I wish I could have given him more.

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