We just left the building, blessed and joyful. The WIN QC evangelistic concert was finally over. The post-activity meetings were done. It was time for some carnal rewards: FOOD.
It was already late in the evening. We still had to walk a couple of blocks for the nearest practical dining place. But they could only accommodate us in the sidewalk tent area. Well, I thought it was gonna be fun.
As we sat down and set our plates, a young boy passed by and casually dropped an envelope on our table. I simply dismissed it. I mean, seriously: we’re tired, we’re hungry. And we just wanted to enjoy the company of our friends. After a while, the boy surly retrieved the ignored envelope.
In the middle of the meal, I noticed the street children pestering the other table. They were insisting our companions to spare them some of the meal. I felt annoyed. And I felt alarmed at the thought that I felt annoyed.
We just came from a Christian activity, blessed and joyful. And here we were, enjoying God’s generous provision. And here they were, children who were loitering around an eatery late at night. Was I being merely prejudiced by my past experiences? Was I being judgmental with their behavior?
One of the younger children came right beside me, and in an obviously rehearsed tone, he asked me: “Kuya, pwedeng akin na lang yang tira?” (Big brother, can I please have that leftover?)
I was torn. Torn between ethics, social responsibility, and my own conviction. Torn between a utilitarian view that if I give in, I would be teaching this kid that what he’s doing is okay, therefore I will be responsible for his continued behavior of alms-begging. Torn between a social responsibility that if I truly want to help, I should do something that will have a longer-lasting impact on the child’s welfare – but since this would probably the first and last opportunity that I might meet him, how can that happen?
Lastly, I was torn with my own conviction: that Christ teaches us to give food to the hungry. To be simply generous.
Was I being a hypocrite?
I was a kuya in the group, and I could feel the burden of responsibility: how should I respond to this child? Every action I make, every word I say is an indirect example and a lesson I’m imparting to the young ones with us. I had to be careful. I had to do the right thing. But instead, I chose the practical way.
In a hushed tone, I said to the child, “Mamaya na lang; baka mapagalitan ulit kayo nung service crew.” (We’ll see later; you might get scolded again by the service crew.)
I knew. I am being a hypocrite.
It was then that Joy, another youth leader in our group, said: “We shouldn’t give them our scraps of leftovers. If you want, let’s buy them food instead.” I was a bit embarrassed that she had to be the one to actually say it with conviction. But what happened next really woke me up. It was entirely the initiative of the youth who were with us.
“Ibigay na lang natin yung otap.” (“Let’s just give them the otap.” Otap is a crunchy local snack.)
It was a very simple idea. Instead of going through the arduous process of debating what to buy, how much is enough, for how many… the simple suggestion merely focused on one important question: what do we have now that we can give to them?
With that, our temporary moral dilemma was solved.
But I do wonder: as a Christian living in a post-modern world, will this moral dilemma truly end with such simple acts of kindness and faith?
Yet, I am reminded: God never gave us the task of being the world’s troubleshooter. Just a vessel of His love. Of His hope.
I guess even a kuya like me has to relearn the basics from his younger siblings from time to time.