In a DC neighborhood, I talked with a family facing homelessness because their benefits and assets had just run out. More recently, I visited a Tribal Community in Oklahoma, and a slum community in Nairobi, Kenya. After years of working in community development, it is hard to sometimes see the faces, the smiles, the fears, the resiliency of the families and of the children. After a while, they all blend together.
I read policy reports, research studies, and media accounts about famine, disease, and gender based violence and the huge numbers mask the details behind the numbers. As I read them, it is hard to see the face - the soul - the heart.
Yet, a number references something specific, something of substance. It is an indicator of something beyond the symbol. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a number is: number, figure the property possessed by a sum or total or indefinite quantity of units or individuals. The definition is all about the digit or a figure in a system of numeration.
So when I read that there are 1 billion children living in poverty and that in the United States ,17 million children wake up daily without the promise of a hot meal; or that 13,000 children die every day because of hunger - I stare and try to peel back the layers of the numeration. A number is a convenient tool but a masking tool.
Recently, in my quiet moments, I have tried to think differently. I take 1,000,000,000 and I start stripping back the numeration and instead of thinking deductively, I try an inductive approach to the number. A single digit in the number 1 billion is a child who is an individual, who is in a family (of some type), who lives in a neighborhood or a community, and the child is a member of a nation.
How do I pray for this number - this digit - how do I reach this number - how do I feel when I see this number? All questions that haunt me in my meditation and quiet time. Numbers are infinite I tell myself and I cannot get my arms around infinite. However, when I am in a home and I see a child and I see a family and I see a community, I can figure out a way to wrap my arms around the individual - confront the need, feel the pain and empathize with the digit ONE.
Suddenly, as I walk through the slum of Ruaraka in Nairobi, I see one child playing in a stream of industrial waste and I stop, kneel, and do a magic trick and she smiles. I don't see a billion - I see ONE. Yes, she is part of a billion - but to me at that moment in the moments of my quiet time she is a ONE.
To those who claim any hope of faith she is a child to be remembered, redeemed, and given a chance to emerge or rise up from her environment. In my quest to do this for a billion, I dare not forget the one in front of me. Who is the one in front of you?