Friday, December 5, 2008
"He Without Sin, Cast The First Stone"
It was 3:30 p.m. From the north, clouds were forming that teased of a possible cool shower. The village road was cooperative, for the time, as I made my way into Msiliza, a growing village / township roughly 1/4 mile from the ABC campus. I was on my way to collect students who had been ministering for part of the afternoon in the village. As I drew closer into the village, where field gives way to cluttered shanties, huts, makeshift stores - selling who knows what, and who wants to know what- I saw hundreds of children making their way toward my vehicle on the "road." The hundreds of children suddenly swelled into thousands of children, all in tattered clothes, with dusty faces, shouting and smiling. I locked the door with my elbow, you know, casually, bracing for the worst. Sorry, but call it an impulse from living in West Jackson for some time. Like a boat cutting through a smooth flowing stream, my vehicle divided the children who I noticed carrying plastic footballs, dirt clods, and an mood of frivolity. They seemed deliberate in their journey, as though a pied piper had come to town. Was it Ronaldo (the great soccer player), or the president, maybe even Madonna? Was someone promising children shoes or food or gum? The rushing tide of children diminished into trickles of a few stragglers. I collected our students, knowing we'd have to drive back through this mass of exhilirated children. "What's the big news?" I asked one of our students. "Oh, I don't really know, but I hear they are chasing a prostitute from the village." "What?" I asked somewhat puzzled. "Prostitution is pretty common isn't it, because of poverty and such isn't it?" "Sindidziwa - I don't know," my student said. [I was glad he did not know]. Questions circled through my mind as I had never seen a public shaming. "And why is it only children?" I kept asking myself and my student. I'm still asking myself. Maybe because they were the only ones not guilty of knowing for certain their own allegations. As we made our way back through the crowd, things began to make sense. I could see the swarming crowed from the hillside branching out near two ladies carrying their belongings on their head. But what really grabbed my attention were the waves of stones, bricks, and clods of dirt being hurled from the crowd. From a distance, the stones being thrown almost looked orchestrated, like the opening scene of Gladiator where the men wait for their commander's word, "Loose!" I turned to my students, "Men, here is a chance to apply our Christian ethic. What do we do?" They sat silent for a moment. I was frightened that they somehow approved of this apparent custom. One of our freshman broke the silence: "We should try and drive close to her, get them in the car, and take them to police where they will be safe." In Malawi, once a crowd gets violent against someone, it stays violent until the end; yes, THE end! Onward, we moved, now honking the horn, expressing disgust with the crowd, and drawing closer to the assaulted. The vehicle I was driving was not my own, but belongs to an ABC friend on furlough. I thought maybe he'd understand the dents in scope of missions! As we drew closer, the rocks began to cease. So, no dents. Crowd leaders (if there is such a thing) began calling off the relentless bombardment. They were respecting our passage. We made it through the crowd and were relieved that our intrusion had distracted the crowd long enough for the alleged prostitute and a friend to climb onto a passing minibus. The crowd gathered its composure and began pelting the minibus with rocks, bottles, clay balls, etc. The minibus drove away. The crowd began returning home. The fun was over. My heart sank. I suppose what hurt the worst was thinking about all those dear little ones, ranging in age from 3 - 12, who will be in Sunday school Sunday in churches scattered all over the village. They will sing, recite catechism, rehearse skits about Jesus, and get ready for the Christmas programs they'll be hosting in a few weeks. I think I'm going to be sick.