God on the Front Page

The young girls of Africa who seek love and
security through early sexual activity are a call to responsibility for people
of faith. If we believe that God is found in the poor and dispossessed, then
God appears on the front page of the newspapers in the faces of these children,
asking for love, security and a reasonable chance at a productive

The story of the young girls in Mozambique who fall prey to the claims of men who promise they will protect and care for them if they have sex won’t leave me alone.

The girls are orphans. They’ve lost their parents to AIDS. They survive by their wits, many caring for other siblings, or living with extended families, some of whom put them out on the streets or abuse them otherwise.

What won’t let go is the desperation of these children, not only the girls but their brothers who inhabit the streets of every major city in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

One afternoon I watched a boy of roughly twelve years emerge from a curbside sewer grate in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. I was curious. No, I was shocked to see a child emerge from a sewer vent like a raccoon in an American suburb. I hung around and the boy came back and returned to his sewer home as unobtrusively as he had emerged.

Once on a street median in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, I watched a boy hanging upside down in a small palm tree, looking for all the world like a bunch of bananas. When he climbed down, he went across the street to talk with another boy. In time the two got into an argument and a policeman broke them up by whacking them in the head with the butt of a long rifle. The boy returned to the palm tree, in pain, crying, and assumed his position hanging upside down as traffic whizzed by.

For young girls, the search for safety takes them into the cynical arms of lying men who exploit and abandon them. For young boys, hiding in the sewers or hanging upside down in the middle of a traffic median is a way to find safety in a world of unrelenting violence.

It’s too much to comprehend that eleven million children are orphaned by the AIDS pandemic. By 2010, they will number 21 million in Africa alone. You’ve heard the statistics a hundred times. We become immune. It’s so staggering and so distant.

So don’t think about this huge number. Instead, think about your daughter at 12. Alone. Her only hope for security is a man twice her age who tells her he will care for her. What she wants is love and safe haven. He wants sex.

They have sexual intercourse and she becomes infected with HIV/AIDS. He disappears into the night. She will become a mother with AIDS, alone.

Think of your son, let’s say at age 10. Also alone, with no way to pay for school, no skills to find a job. He discovers others like himself on a city street. They sleep in an underground sewer. They test him, and eventually he is allowed a sleeping place in the sewer.

They’re fighting wars
for hundreds of
billions of dollars
and what they’ve
done for Africa
is start one
program for AIDS.
The Millennium
Challenge Account
hasn’t disbursed
a penny yet.
–Dr. Jeffrey Sachs
The Millenium
Challenge Fund

When he gets hungry he emerges to beg, steal or scavenge for food. Then he returns underground.

He will find other pursuits, of course, as he becomes more experienced in the ways of the street. He will learn to steal, use drugs, sniff glue, sell himself for sex, or get snatched up by recruiters for some militia group that trains children to kill.

When Jesus told his followers to aid children such as this, along with others left bereft by the majority society, he said it’s as if they were responding directly to him. In the faces of these children, we see the reflection of the the face of God.

The United States lags behind every European country in providing development assistance to Africa. Seriously behind. When asked to step up support for Prime Minister Tony Blair’s challenge to increase aid to Africa, President Bush said, “It doesn’t fit our budgetary process.”

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Head of the Millenium Challenge Fund, told the New York Times, “They’re fighting wars for hundreds of billions of dollars and what they’ve done for Africa is start one program for AIDS. The Millennium Challenge Account hasn’t disbursed a penny yet.”

Some in this secular society claim they can’t see God. There is no God, they say. But God is as close as the front page of the newspaper. In the image of the young girls of Mozambique. In the face of the little boy climbing out of the sewer.

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