My friend!” Little Girl ran down the hallway reaching out for me. I call her Little Girl because her siSwati name clicked and bounced right off of my brain. It would not stick, no matter how hard I tried. “My friend!”
She reached out for me, the white one, to pick her up. Joy filled my heart. Brown eyes looked into mine, revealing a deep soul, yet she was only two. But I figured, “and a half.” God had placed this one on my path, but why? when I would leave southern Africa, not knowing if or when I’d ever return.
I held her tight in my arms as I carried her through a sea of children who waited to go home from school. They clamored for my attention as Little Girl looked into my eyes and grinned. I smiled back, seeing something light up inside through this simple act.
“Don’t forget her,” said a man from the crowd. He knew I would leave for America the following day.
“I won’t,” I assured him. And I don’t think I could.
I’d met Little Girl one day after voices called out, “Can we run with you,” from behind a chain-linked fence. Five black faces with widened dark eyes waved at me. The whites of their teeth shined as they smiled. I thought, why not and said, “Yes!” And I’m glad I did.
That day, little boys chased me from behind, laughing and gaining more speed than I ever had. Three soon blazed by me, kicking up the red dirt road. The only girl began to cry. Her tiny legs pushed hard, but the whence on her face said, I can’t keep up. I knew how she felt after falling behind on hikes with long-legged friends in the past. I stopped and walked back, even though this act battled my desire to get much-needed exercise. The oldest boy who was six had already gone to comfort her. What a kind heart, I thought. But he said, “She wants you!”
I looked at her. She pursed her lips together. Her soulful eyes pleaded for a bit more from the white one who passed by her playground from time to time. A twinge of conviction hit me. How many times had I walked or jogged by her while focused on my own goals? I thought of the occasional “drive-by hellos” I’d offered to the children without a thought to a sweet soul who may need more. A little piece of me—my time.
My thoughts turned to God. No cry from a hungry, wounded child has passed his ear. [Psalm 34:15] As his sovereign hand holds the world, he holds my heart, my burdens, my world, and yours, not missing a hair on our heads. [Luke 12:7] Not one tear has rushed past Him, as he’s collected an ocean of mine in bottles, too numerous to count. [Psalm 56:8] God is never so selfish, or so driven as to miss a single moment in our lives.
On that final day, I set Little Girl onto her feet. We began to run together down the street. She looked up to the white one. We smiled and ran some more as I realized that God fulfilled a need in me too. He brought us together to care without a future in sight. He brought love with no bridges to cross, because He crossed the great divide no apartheid could ever withstand. And as I said good-bye to this little girl, I knew God’s hand was on her. She represented every wanting, needing face whose heart yearns for His embrace. His favor. His grace.
Little Girl, it’s yours to take hold of. Yours to run with a purpose that’s eternal. Grab a hold and run! You matter, no matter who may pass you by. You are loved by the King Most High!
Notes: The siSwati language has many click sounds that are challenging for Americans to make. Before I met her mom, Little Girl said she “exercised with the white one.” They call it like it is in Africa! I am clearly the white one!