The cool thing about reading Oliver Twist with a class in a developing world country is that just outside the gates of the school are all of the things you are reading about. There are boys in this town who are raised to steal. The truth is, once they are adults there is little hope for reversing them psychologically. They have a proverb here: “when a tree is green it can still be bent, when it dries and you bend it, it will break.”
If you read Oliver Twist, it throws you straight into issues like: can you blame poor people for resorting to unethical behavior to survive, especially if like Oliver they don’t have family; what is it in the ruling class that creates a lack in the lower classes -who is to blame? ; lack of responsibility vs. unfair economic opportunities; are we subject to social forces only or are we in charge of our moral compass: does it matter that we are from a family or not from a family and how does that effect our psychologies? It shows you how Dickens was predicting socialism in europe.
Throughout the book, Oliver is bounced back and forth between a band of thieves who force him to steal and warm homes where the master is just and his servants nurse him back to health, giving him the care he never received as a child. It reminds me to fight for the street kids we see out in the city and to know that my care is a force that does have a hand in influencing them. It’s not a fight we should be hopeless about. Often it’s tempting to write off the poor and assume they are ruined for life, but that’s not true. So many stories here of kids on the street getting a second chance in life. However, buying them bread won’t be enough.
The church of christ holds these night outreaches every two weeks. We turn on the spotlight outside, bring out chai tea, donuts and popcorn and invite anyone in the street up to hang out with us. Free food, a safe place to sit and hang out. We get traffic from all sorts of places, some people going or coming from clubs, some boda drivers, some security guards, some university students, and also street kids. Recently the word is out to the street kids of the free food, so they came in a swarm of twenty last night. They are nearly all glue sniffers at the moment, and one even brought a knife which we confiscated.
There was a major battle last night with us and the street kids. It’s easy to tell who they are listening to in the world, thinking there is nothing dangerous about sniffing some serious wood glue all day. They all have different situations with parents; some still have mothers, some don’t. But they are coming to us for a reason beyond the food. Just to give them a hug or wash their face or listen to them or rap with them and give them a high five and make them smile. It’s not meaningless. It’s part of the battle. I’ve never felt such a connection with a book I’m teaching since I’ve been given the chance to go out and live the part of one of the characters at the same time. We have a chance to get these kids off the street and back into real life, but it will drain us.
“Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness … is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness”
It’s not easy work and we will likely get compassion fatigue. I’ve been through enough experiences with the homeless to know they will frustrate you relentlessly. But the church’s hope (the point of the fundraising for the 5k) is to begin a discipleship program for these street kids. It will look something like applications for a small number of them to be kept off the street in a program where they have food and a place to sleep, bible and discipleship, responsibilities and jobs to complete, then transitioning into vocational skills like metalwork, repairing bikes and cars, or carpentry. This won’t be an orphanage: it will be a social program with spiritual influence that allows them to choose to repair their life for free.
Your prayers would be appreciated.