The Cry of Rosy

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." --Shakespeare.

But not this one. Suddenly from the dark alley, she jumped in front of me and caught my hands. "Please, sir, make love to me," she begged. In her form there was no comeliness; in her voice there was tragedy. She was probably 11 or perhaps 12. Even against the shadows of darkness I could see the tenderness of innocence, written all over her face.

I knew the city well. I knew its concrete jungles and its inhumanity. I knew its poverty and its arrogance. But I was not prepared for this tryst in the darkness. Self-righteous that I was, I immediately began my sermon. "Little girl, do you know what you're saying. Haven't you heard of AIDS? Don't you know you're going to die if you live like this?"

But Rosy was more concerned about my health. "You needn't worry, sir," she said. "I've got a condom."

Ah, the wretchedness of life. "You're too young to die," I continued. "Go home to your parents."

I was walking away, literally sick to my stomach, and for a moment I was numb. But my numbness was shattered by Rosy's cry. "This is my home," she said, pointing to the street, "and my mother and baby sister are just around the corner. We haven't eaten for three days, and we're going to die anyway. Please, mister..."

Her cry shattered my smugness, and within myself I could feel the pangs of her cry. Why? Why this child? What would you do, Lord?

Pictures of a timeless finger writing on the Palestinian sand passed before me. No, this child is not up for sale or condemnation. And who am I to forgive her?

"Come on, Rosy," I said, "let's get something to eat." We got some roast chicken, fries, and milk. I sat on the street with Rosy, her mother, and the little baby. As they ate their first decent meal in days, they told their story--of poverty, of being pawns in the hands of arrogant power and injustice.

Rosy was the first child of a young family. Her father was a subsistence farmer. Life was hard. Despite his sweat and toil, the tiny parcel of land could not sustain the family. Nearby a large multinational company had established a food production and processing plant. They needed more land, and began buying up small land holdings in return for a job. Rosy's father sold the land and joined the factory. But soon the workers learned that the company was paying substandard wages. The workers petitioned the management for proper pay. They were fired. Hundreds were waiting at the gate each day to work at any pay.

Rosy's parents had only one option: the city where somehow one could survive. For a home, they rented a cardboard shack in a squatter tenement outside the city. The three joined 85,000 others packed like sardines on three acres of swampy ground. Rosy's father found a job delivering groceries from the market to private homes. The work was hard. The hours were unending. Before long, the father started to cough up blood. Within months, tuberculosis extracted its toll. Rosy and her mother were out on the streets. With no work skills, the mother resorted to the world's oldest profession while Rosy watched over the small plastic sack with all their earthly possessions.

Rosy's baby sister was a child of the street, conceived and born on the street. Late in her mother's pregnancy, Rosy, then 10, had to make her supreme sacrifice for the sake of survival. She became the breadwinner. "Please, sir..." began her cry night after night.

My emotions were in turmoil as I listened to the endless echoes of that cry. I was angry and in shock. How could such injustice be permitted? I advised Rosy and her mother where to find help and left them with money enough for a few weeks.

That was the last I saw of Rosy. I have gone back to that city several times since. Each time, I tried to locate Rosy, but without success.

But Rosy's cry still rings in my ears. And it raises some hard questions for me, and I hope for you, as a Christian. There are hundreds of Rosys caught in the vice of injustice--hurting, hungry, and hopeless. What should we do? There are no simple answers. But one thing we know for sure: Our God constantly affirms His interest in the poor and pronounces His judgement against greed and injustice. He is the God who demands of His followers, "Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked" (Psalm 82:3, 4 KJV).

Jesus defined His mission in similar terms. At the beginning of His ministry, He positioned Himself as the Redeemer, "to preach Good News to the poor;... to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released, ... that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him" (Luke 4:18, 19 LB).

At the end of time, Jesus will position Himself as the universal Judge, and His evaluation of humanity will revolve around two issues: Do we know God in the person of His Son? Have we ministered to Him by meeting the needs of the poor and the marginalized?

Within this biblical framework, I, as a Christian, am called upon to respond to human needs. To so respond may be hard and risky. It may be costly and bear no fruit. But it has no escape clause.

The ultimate question in terms of my own salvation is not how many lives I have changed or how much injustice I have prevented, but how much of myself I have given to another human being in need. Right now I don't know where Rosy, her mother and baby sister are. I don't know if what I did made any difference in their lives. But I do know this: the peace that comes when in the coolness of a tragic night the God of the poor overrode my instinctive prejudice and judgment, and helped me to listen to a haunting cry. The cry of Rosy.

Born in England, David R. Syme is director for development of Adventist Global Mission. He has served as a nurse and a minister in Africa.