Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
The End Of Suffering
A few years ago, my wife, Phileena, and I lived for several months in Lima, Peru. While we were there, we made a dear friend named Elicia. When we first met her, she said she was sixteen years old and three months pregnant. She actually looked more like twelve, so young, tender, and innocent. Unfortunately, Elicia had gotten mixed up with the wrong kids and her desire for love and acceptance had led to a life of prostitution.
Our paths first crossed Elicia’s very late one night, actually around 2:00 in the morning. Phileena and I were on the streets of a red-light district with friends from the Word Made Flesh community. We were visiting a population of 150-200 children, bringing them something to eat and offering simple companionship. Elicia’s tender face gave away her childhood, but the makeup she wore betrayed what she was trying to be. Her clothes were tight and her face was sad, testifying to the future she surely never imagined even in her worst nightmares. As she sat with us on the sidewalk and began to tell us about her life and hopes, Elicia was snatched up by the woman who pimped her — forcing her back to “work.”
Before we parted ways that first night, Phileena kindly reminded Elicia that the glue she was sniffing was bad for her unborn baby. She didn’t seem to care. The glue helped her forget the life she she once dreamed she could have. She was hungry and cold, and the glue seemed to be the only thing that curbed the hunger pangs and loneliness.
Over the years we’ve kept in touch with Elicia, visiting her every time we traveled to Lima. In time, she told us her real name. She also grew up. The scared child became a jaded and worn-out young woman. She had three children — probably by three different men who could never be traced as the fathers — but eventually she met a good man who cared for her and her children.
A couple of years ago during a visit to Lima, we took the bus two hours out of the city to go to the shantytown where Elicia lives. Her neighborhood consists of hundreds of slums built from scraps of wood wrapped with sheets of plastic bags and covered with corrugated tin roofs. Each little home intrudes on the others built right next to it. Climbing the hill to Elicia’s home was as dangerous as the slum she lives in.
We met her children that day. They were beautiful, but undernourished and sick. They loved the attention and promptly displayed everything they owned: a couple of old toy trucks that looked as if they had been pulled off the nearby dump. We also met Elicia’s boyfriend, or commonlaw husband. He was probably still in his teens, shy and embarrassed that his “wife” had to prostitute while he looked for day jobs and watched the children when Elicia was gone overnight.
Before saying goodbye that afternoon, Elicia and her children wanted to visit their neighborhood park to play. It was shocking. The park was located at the base of the hill. There was no grass, not even sand — the small 30-by-30 foot patch of land given for their playground was covered with jagged gravel stones. The only playground equipment was a 12-foot slide that had been vandalized. The middle of the slide had been cut out, probably to be used as building materials for another slum house, leaving razor sharp pieces of metal exposed. Elicia’s children were so happy to just climb up and down the steps of the slide over and over.
These children broke our hearts. Their mother’s sexuality was exploited so they could eat. Their safety was nonexistent in the dangerous place they called home. Their future education was unaffordable and unattainable in their reality. Even the one space they were given as a playground had become a hazard.
When I meet people like Elicia, I can’t help but ask seemingly absurd questions. Will there ever be an end to such suffering? What does the end of suffering look like for Elicia and her family? How do we begin to think about an end to such pain and sorrow and hopelessness? Is doing so simply a utopian ideal? Or should we, as Christians, really care about these issues?
Honestly, I don’t think most Christians in a nation like America care about the end of suffering, because I’m not sure we really
care. We have been socially and culturally conditioned to wrap our sense of entitlement up with misperceptions of God’s blessings and provision. In other words, we mistake God’s provision
as a personal blessing
We work hard to get ahead, but forget that most of the world’s poorest people work harder and longer days than we do and somehow stay further behind. Do we really think that God is rewarding us and punishing them?
Moreover, we live in a nation with so-called Judeo-Christian values, but gloss over our history of genocide, slavery, gender repression, and child exploitation. Democracy and the free market have made us feel we are politically and economically superior to what we perceive are lesser forms of governance. In fact, we in the West have come to believe that our freedoms are what are most hated by those we call terrorists. But we’ve never stopped to ask whether we ourselves have exported forms of cultural, social, economic, and political terrorism to others. The bottom line is that for us to live the way we do — with an excessive, albeit subtle air of superiority and arrogance — means that we honestly
care about the pervasive suffering in the rest of the world.
Before you stop reading, let me offer a few cases in point. We are currently more concerned about rising gas prices in America than rising hunger, malnutrition, and death rates in other countries. And then, rather than look at our own over-consumption to find partial causes to rising oil prices, we try to blame the Chinese. Sure, as a nation, they are the second largest oil consumer in the world, but are their consumption rates really out of control? America has roughly a fifth of their population and as a whole still consumes four times the amount of oil. Are rising oil prices
the fault of the Chinese?
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