I didn’t intend for him to see it.
I tried to close the image, but a split second was all it took to cause the horror and shock in his blue eyes.
I was reading an article by Live 58, Pick Up the Child, that tells the story of a well-known photo of the famine in the Sudan. The picture came from the lens of Kevin Carter, an award winning photojournalist who, while on a trip to the Sudan came across the scene of a starving toddler trying to reach a feeding camp. He was about to take a picture of the little child when a vulture landed mere yards behind the boy, leaving one with the undeniable conclusion that the vulture was just waiting for the photographer to leave. Carter took the picture and left. He went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for it. The fate of the child has haunted many; some suggest it haunted Carter to the point of ending his life at the young age of 33.
Bernu saw the vulture.
And the little child.
He wanted to know about the child. I explained as best as I knew how. Leaving the impression that there might have been someone else who came along to help the little boy. But I did tell him about Kevin Carter who walked away. I was trying to impress on him that we all have choices every day. We can choose to help or we could just walk away.
Bernu seemed fine with the answer and ran off to play. I was busy in the kitchen preparing lunch when he came back twenty minutes later, his face tear-streaked, holding out a clammy fist with $2,72, the entire content of his piggy bank, to me.
“What is this? Are you okay?” I asked him.
“It’s for the kids Mamma, we need to help them today! We have to buy them food.”
He was serious.
I sat down on the kitchen floor and held him in my lap. Realizing that the brutal reality of a world filled with injustice has made its first real impression on his innocent little mind. Many children open their eyes to nothing but suffering, hatred, and violence; it’s the only reality they know. Bernu’s biggest fear is that a poisonous centipede might get to his younger sister (living in Wisconsin where nothing really survives winter, I’d say we’d be okay).
This was a new reality for him. The fact that people could choose to walk away. That little kids really do starve because they do not have enough to eat, and that it is not just a thing Mommies say to force their kids to eat broccoli.
*Image from Compassion Sunday 2015
I do not know what happened to Kevin Carter that day his camera clicked. Given the gravity of the situation, this child was very unlikely to be the only starving victim. Perhaps he felt overwhelmed. Perhaps he panicked. Perhaps he was traumatized. Perhaps he thought he could help in the only way he knew how, to bring the image to those who could make a difference.
“So why are you not helping them Mamma?” his voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Well, we are honey, we sponsor four children. Uhmm, Mamma is an advocate for Compassion. Ughh. We try to help.” I fumbled through my list of defending arguments.
“But why don’t you do Compassion stuff everyday? Why do you wait for Compassion Sundays?”
I was beginning to feel like the accused in the witness stand, facing a relentless lawyer.
“Well, I have other responsibilities too. I help where I can”, came my pathetic attempt to justify.
“Why don’t you help them Mamma, why don’t you take our food and give it to them?”
“It is complicated Bernu. We can’t just take food and send it, these countries are far away, and the food would spoil. That is why we send money to organizations like Compassion so that they can buy food and give it where people need it.”
I could see he was not satisfied.
“Mamma, we have to help them, don’t you know that every six seconds a child dies?”
He has become a more efficient advocate than me.
I had no wiggle room left. I knew it then. I couldn’t deny it anymore.
I also walk away.
I choose to walk away when I get caught up in life. I walk away when I allow the mundane to quiet their desperate outcries. I walk away when I value things more. I walk away when I get consumed with my little corner of the world as if it is all there is. I walk away when I convince myself I cannot change the whole world and that my little contribution doesn't even make a dent in global poverty anyway. I walk away when I shove the responsibility for a solution off to them, whoever "they" might be, be it the government, the church, the rich people, anybody but the one staring back at me in the mirror.
I walk away.
When all they ask and plead for is for me to stay.
To linger for a moment longer. To stay till the reality of hunger and thirst, filth and cold nights penerate my white picket fenced heart. To walk closer and see that the child in need is not just a photo but a real human being not unlike the children I get to tuck into their beds at night in our home. But more than just lingering and seeing and realizing, my hands must become His love by reaching out and empowering them to chase the vultures of poverty from their homes and lives.
I looked in his piercing blue eyes, seeing the urge that compassion stirred in his heart. He wanted to take action. He gave it all he had, only like the spontaneous love of a little child can do. My heart ached because tears still stained his cheeks, his safe world forever altered by the ruthlessness that exists out there. But I also quietly rejoiced because I desperately want my children to life lives bigger than their own desires and wants. Feeling someone else’s pain and then stepping up to help is not bad for him. It is the gift of giving. It is what true men and women of God do. They step up. They take action. They scare off the vulture with whatever they have; even if it is only a few clammy quarters from a young boy’s hand.
I have prayed since before his birth that he would live up to his name’s meaning, which is brave. We have had a first row seat to the bravery couped up in this little boy-body...
My prayer continues to be that he would be brave even when it is hard, even when he chooses what is not popular. That he would be brave to take the lead when he sees a need.
That he would not waiver, that he would not back down.
I saw God beginning to answer my prayer that day, the day Bernu-the-Brave conquered his very first vulture.
I remember it well because it was the same day God challenged me through a little boy to go and do the same.