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Freedom in the Eyes of a Child

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)

We have the opportunity to live in the greatest country because countless men and women defended our freedom. As we celebrate July 4, God bless the men, women and families who made sacrifices for us all.

Earlier this week, we received a call from a single mother (I’ll call her Eve) in need of food assistance. Eve is a single mother of five children, ages 3-14, and Eve’s mother lives with her, too. Eve recently started a new job and has not yet been paid, while her mother is between jobs. With no extra money, no access to a vehicle and hungry children, Eve called The Salvation Army of Pickens County for feeding assistance.

After the call ended, I began preparing a food box to include some diapers and wipes.

Pulling product off the shelf, I thought about what the children might like to eat. I tried to provide a variety of wholesome foods: beef stew, spaghetti, fruit, vegetables, peanut butter, jelly and more. I also found some apple sauce on the shelf.

“Yes! Apple sauce is a good snack on a hot day,” I thought.

As a kid growing up in central Florida, I loved apple sauce, and I thought Eve’s children might like it, too. Stopping by the dollar store, I picked up some fresh bread and diapers (we had wipes on hand).

Armed with Google Maps and full box of food assistance, I headed out to an unknown address in Pickens County.

Pulling off Hwy 123, I quickly began seeing poverty’s effects as homes flashed by. Houses became mobile homes. Green yards with sprinklers became the rusty brown of abandoned yard implements and broken fences.

I turned off of the main road several times. With each turn, my surroundings seemed to deteriorate more. When I pulled up to Eve’s mobile home, I almost couldn’t distinguish between abandoned and occupied homes.

Eve’s mobile home was a standard single-wide; the old front door stood open with a box fan circulating air. The skirting was twisted and missing sections. Though it was mowed, the yard was mainly a mix of grass, weeds and clay. No pretty flowers encouraged hope. The sun was hanging high, about 3 p.m. My mini-van’s thermometer read 92 degrees.

A few children ran by the open door--their wide eyes peeking at me. The first child peered for a second, then ran to announce my presence. As I stepped from the van, a 13-year-old young man exited the home. The young man approached me, and I introduced myself, extending my hand for a handshake. He shook my hand firmly, giving his name in response. As I explained I was from The Salvation Army, he lowered his eyes to the ground, responding with nothing more than “yes, sir” or “no, sir.” I asked for his mother, and he said she’d be out soon.

Eve exited the house and introduced herself. Two, young, bright-eyed girls stood close by her. The girls kept their eyes on the ground, glancing up as their mom and I spoke. Eve’s mother then exited the house with a 3-year-old girl toddling behind her. With her hands on her hips, the 3-year-old kept her distance behind her grandmother, seeming to disapprove of me. The children were healthy, with their hair brushed and their clothes a little ragged.

We had some paperwork to complete, and the young man peered over my shoulder, paying close attention to what I requested his mother sign in receiving food assistance. He then helped me unload the food box. I provided them a list of other Pickens County agencies that lend assistance (like the United Way), and I asked if they were comfortable if I prayed for them as a family. Eve’s mother said that was fine, and she and Eve lowered their heads. I noticed the kids didn’t, keeping their gaze on the stranger in their yard. I prayed loudly, asking the Holy Spirit to protect the family and keep them in His love. When I closed, Eve and her mother thanked me for the assistance.

The 3-year-old still had her hands on her hips and her bottom lip sticking out in disapproval. Clearly, she still did not trust me, but she kept her eyes fixed on mine. I bent down to her level, keeping her safe distance, and asked if she liked apple sauce. She nodded her head in agreement. I said I figured she might, so I packed plenty of apple sauce in the box. Finally, she cracked a smile at me.

As I think about freedom, I can’t help but think about these children and their experience of freedom. We talk about the poor choices adults make, which often result in poor consequences. I hear comments that those experiencing poverty should “get a job.” At a glance, I understand where many come from in response to what they see on the streets. But I don't know Eve's or her mother’s story. What weighs on me is the children who are simply there, not by choice or laziness. They were born into this situation, and I would guess Eve was born into similar circumstances, too. These children are brought into poverty from day one. Their experience of America is certainly different than mine. Their opportunities and resources are limited, and their chance at “the American dream” is much further away. I’ve heard someone describe it as some are born on first base trying to get home--while I was born on third base trying to get home. We don’t choose the circumstances of our birth.

The Salvation Army of Pickens County believes in Christ’s power to interrupt the generational cycle of poverty with a cycle of Hope. We believe this starts with relationships. We intentionally become the hands and feet of Christ for the children. It’s not about the food or other assistance; it’s about showing Christ’s love and being in relationship with our neighbors. Letting children hear the prayers, see the actions and feel the hope found in a simple food box. We want to let our neighbors know, by what they see, that they are highly valued by God. We want to show them God’s love is bigger than their current struggle.

I served in the U.S. Army, and I was proud to help maintain freedom for all of America. But the weight I see in these children’s eyes doesn’t represent the freedom I imagined for all as I served. This isn’t acceptable to me. I will not hesitate to show love, to shine a light, to fight a good fight, to pray, to smile with these children and to extend what resources we have.

It starts with a box of food in the heat of summer and continues with a little apple-sauce smile in response… to God be the glory.

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