Several weeks ago, Aaron and I were headed out to grab a bite for dinner, and as we pulled up to a stop light, two little boys caught our attention as they stepped in front of the stopped cars and started to perform their routine. Their show included the older boy, who looked to be about 7, doing a handstand, and the younger boy, who we think was about 4, doing a toddler-version of a cartwheel. I scanned the intersection, looking for a parent or older sibling, but there was none to be found. Aaron handed me a few dollars, and I rolled my window down. The older brother came quickly and took the money, shouting "gracias" as he ran off. The younger boy approached me too, eagerly holding his hands up. His right cheek and chin were covered in dry, streaked dirt, and he hollered excitedly as I handed him another coin. They ran to the side of the street and huddled together, counting their spoils. Through Aaron's window, we heard the older brother say, "faltamos un dolar, y ya podemos ir a la casa" ("we just need one more dollar, and we can go home"). Aaron quickly grabbed another dollar and yelled again to the brother. When he put the coin in the boy's hand, he shouted joyfully to his brother to grab his backpack. The little boy looked confused for a moment, then jumped up and down shouting "yah! We can go home!" as he pumped his fist in the air. Both boys grabbed their backpacks, threw them over their shoulders, and took off running through the grid-locked traffic, presumably towards home. As they were leaving, Aaron asked them how much money they had to get in order to "punch the clock" and go home- the older brother answered, "five dollars." And with that, they were off.
We both thought a lot about those boys that night, about how our two kids came home after school, ate a snack, played, had dinner, did the bedtime routine, and were tucked soundly into their beds by 7:30pm. I don't say this to try to emphasize that our way of raising our kids is better, and that the parents of those boys are somehow negligent. Although, to be honest, that's my first response, to assume that those boys are not being cared for because they have to fend, at least in part, for themselves. But in all reality, I have no way of knowing what happens to those boys once they go home. I think I'm right to assume that finances are hard for that family, or else the boys wouldn't be required to "work." But maybe once they leave, they meet up with their parents, purchase a meal with the money they've all made, go home together, and have meaningful family time before they go to bed under a pile of warm blankets. Or, maybe they deliver the money to the parents, eat a meager meal, and sleep with no blankets. Or maybe there's a third or fourth or fifth option that I can't even fathom. I will never know unless the Lord gives me a chance to walk alongside them and actually engage them outside of my one encounter with them.
My interaction with those boys reminded me to stay focused on several things: in every opportunity, I can show someone the love of Jesus. Us supporting those boys and helping them go home gave them cause to celebrate and smile. That's what I want to be about, being an instrument that brings joy to others. I was also reminded that I need to be willing to engage people deeply, to not make assumptions based on one interaction or observation. The way people "punch the clock," for example, is not an indication of every facet of their lives.
I have thought of those boys often, and wonder what their lives are like. I hope I get to see them again, and interact with them. More than anything, I hope that they know Jesus. I also hope that they are safe, and well cared for. I hope that the joy we saw on their faces as they raced for home is an indication of the fulfillment and peace that they might feel. Most likely I will never know, but I'm grateful for having had the chance to interact with them, however briefly.