It was the best time of day, the trees casting long shadows as the sun went down. Legs propped up as I sat on the two tires stacked to be the best seat to watch the soccer game in front of me, I talked with Janine as 3-year-old Kiki kept dancing around us. Our neighbor’s home, unlike ours, is directly on the dirt road. A perfect location not only to watch the neighborhood ‘jwe boul’ in the evening but also to sell cookies, matches, sodas and special for this season – little toys and ‘dinomit’ to throw on the ground for December.
A prime seating area as people walk from the main road where they just jumped off a tap-tap, or walk from the opposite direction where the fields are tucked away in the back of Bercy and come looking for a Prestige after a long day of work in the unforgiving sun.
Ti Kris walks by and starts talking to me, then Gabriel and Simon walk by after leaving a house where our neighbor Olgie charges 5 gourde to watch soccer on television. Simon is thrilled because Madrid won 4-to-1. Being teenagers, they ask for my phone and start taking pictures with Ti Kris, showing me their favorites and borrowing my sunglasses as a prop.
Janine prepares food to sell for after the sun sets and I see a familiar face turning out of her home hear Route Nationale #1 and walking towards the soccer field that her little brothers are glued to like a television. I wave with a big grin, happy to see Bo as the day comes to an end. She always has a smile to share with me and she’s become one of the newest regular attenders at Eglise de Grace (the church in Bercy), singing so loudly that I know she’s at church from my window at home.
She sits next to me on the tire and I ask about her day, she’s smiling as usual and says it’s been typical. We watch her cousin (Ti Kris) play photobooth with the boys and as it gets darker she turns to me to let me know she’s going to get water before it’s too late. (She was walking to a well about ten minutes away from her house to fetch clean bath water). I smile and tell her I’m glad she walked by, and she smiles with a “mwen menm too”. This gets us talking again about how we’ve missed each other, typical girls, and then she tells me again she’s going to go get water. She also says a passing “mwen grangou” – I’m hungry. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard this just today. And there are many ways it’s said – a little kid who’s repeating what he hears from everyone else, a jeer from an overly confident moto driver who is saying one of the half-dozen typical phrases you yell to mess with a ‘blanc’, sad eyes of a mother who isn’t sure what she’s going to do for herself as she fixes the little that she has for the ones coming home from school. And there are plenty of times that it’s said “in passing” as a heavy hint for me to do something about it. And Bo said it in a way that comes only from those I have a close relationship with – just stating the fact. Not to test me (although it always puts it out there, the option for me to respond), not as a blatant ask, not as a response to how are you….just a passing fact. The way Ohioans find a way to mention the weather in every conversation, or plans for the night are communicated. It just is. “Tonight, I’m hungry. That’s just how it is tonight.”
While this phrase and all that it holds, all the ways that it can be told, may hold more significance to me as someone who hears it all day – here’s the point: God perked my ears to be sensitive to the statement before she even said it.
Like I said, everyone tells me that they’re hungry. This is just one of the reasons why I am constantly in prayer asking for wisdom. In fact, I have a bag of food to give that has been sitting in the freezer for a few days, and I have been praying daily for more wisdom in how to give gifts like this – and to who.
As Bo stood up to leave I touched her arm, getting her attention to look her in the eyes and said, “On your way back, find me. I’m going to give you chicken bones” It had been a while since I had brought a bag to her house, but this was not something new. We buy chicken in market, usually boiling it instead of frying it and making shredded chicken from the meat that we like. We don’t use the bones, marrow, fatty meat, or most of the dark meat. I always put it in the freezer until I know who should get it – because bones and all, no part of the chicken gets wasted here. She laughed and said okay.
I had an internal “uh-oh”. This is part of why I don’t just give it out! I could be offensive to the families that DO have food, it could come off as ‘leftovers’, it could be a joke of food because I said ‘bones’. I don’t know! Oh no, I just took ten steps back and grabbed some of Bojouna’s dignity in the process.
I asked her why she laughed and she shook her head, and this only increased my mental dialogue. Crap. She wasn’t even ASKING me, she just said a statement, why did I just say I’d give it to her like that? She’s going to think I just see her as a charity case. Dang it. I asked again, three times, then four. I asked the blatant questions: “Is it the bones?” “Are they not okay to offer?” “Are you offended?” (I wouldn’t interrogate everyone, but Bo is one of my close friends who helps me understand and answer cultural questions)
But she just kept shaking her head, a smile on her face.
She turned to leave without answering why she laughed, then said a statement to herself loud enough that I could hear:
“I don’t have to pray anymore.”
And I got it. Relief, joy, and more than anything THANKFULNESS washed over me. It was my turn to laugh in the same way that she had as I yelled to her while she walked away, “Don’t stop praying, just use it now to praise Him for answering!”
She turned and said “Thank you God, and thank you Steph!” –she knew I’d say that it’s not me but never lets me have my way, instead insisting to thank me as well.
He is so good.
She laughed – the funny way she laughed, I now understand – the same way I do when I realize where God has totally taken care of me. Sometimes in prayers I didn’t really imagine coming true, and I see the answer to them in front of me. Me telling her that I’d hand her a bag of chicken for her family, before she could react to me she was laughing from surprise and joy as she saw God’s answer in front of her. God, you DO hear. God, you MORE than took care of me. God, I had already given up on it! And when you are young in your faith, it’s so fun to see this new dynamic as a child of Christ – you can’t help but laugh!
We cannot imagine praying all day, words exchanged with our Father being the only possible source of food. There is no money to buy it, no pantry to open. We can’t burden our families who are just as hungry, and we have tried every avenue (and as Americans, we can’t imagine the avenues that have been tried in the creativity of this beautiful country). And when He answers, so lovingly, and not as we imagined? Not answered as a friend graciously splitting some rice, but with real meat for the entire family who had resolved to going to sleep feeling empty again?*
And I could not imagine as I asked for wisdom, so completely unaware that God would give it to me while answering my friend’s own prayer. Bewildered and thrown back as I see that I get to be used for a girl growing in her faith. Reminded again that I never know what the prayers of those around me are, reminded that I am here for God to use me – that I must never stop listening to His Spirit. I have tears as I type this, so humbled that I get to be used.
He loves hearing us laugh.
[*Please, please, PLEASE never hear me boasting in myself or what has been done. The only reason I have food is because of where he placed me in life, the only reason I responded was his Holy Spirit nudging me. I did not feed a girl or her family, God did. I did not overly bless her, God did. I have nothing to boast in except for Him.]