It may be hard to tell from this picture, but this little girl probably hasn’t been bathed in several weeks. Her name is Angjila, and God has been placing a heavy conviction upon my heart for her. I first met Angjila on my way to a local café. While on my bike I simply said hello to her in passing. That’s all it seemed to take for her to realize that someone actually acknowledged her. Her eyes lit up, and with a big smile on her face she hopped over to a nearby garden (kopesht) and picked a flower to give to me. I thanked her and said Mirupafshim (goodbye)! Over the next few weeks I periodically saw Angjila around our neighborhood, all dirtied up with matted hair, tattered clothing, and with a big smile on her face she would always say hello to me. Inevitably she would find another flower at a nearby garden to give to me. When we moved into our new home, every day she would bang on our front door with a few more flowers to hand off to me. I would place them in a small vase on our patio table and she nodded with approval. She loves to play in our courtyard, ride the bikes, play ball, and have meaningful conversation. But, over time she began to be more demanding and always insisted we let her in. Many times, she let herself in without our permission or knowledge. On several occasions we caught her fiddling with the door jack in the back of our courtyard and she let herself in. On another occasion we caught her on Drayton’s bike riding around in our courtyard unaware to us. Finally, we had to firmly but lovingly tell her to go away. We told her she is only welcome back if she knocks, and we answer the door to allow her to come in; a basic value and principle. One day, she came by banging on the door and I had to turn her away due to another engagement at the time. She went away with a very sad countenance upon her face. I peered my head out the door and watched her walk away with her shoulders slumped down. Sadly, I watched as an older girl passed by and flicked her on the head. Before I could get myself to the two girls, the older girl and Angjila had gone their separate ways. Time and time again Angjila bangs on our door insisting to get in. She would beg and plead. Finally, I asked her why she wants in so badly. Ride bikes? No. Play with our cat? No. Play ball? No. Then why? I just want to be here.
It finally dawned on me that maybe she wants in so badly because our house is a safe place for her. Here she is treated well. She is talked to, played with, given something to drink, a snack, and a place to just sit and talk. It is obvious to me she is neglected and possibly abused, physically or sexually. One day I found her wandering the neighborhood only in her underwear, with dirt on her face, and hair matted up. She still looked happy, but I wondered how much abuse this little girl goes through. I hope I’m wrong. I hope she is not abused and only neglected. I know that sounds odd. The thought of this little precious girl being abused just kills me inside. Angers me. Not having a bath or something to eat… well we can deal with that much easier. But, abuse! How do we best deal with this situation if in fact she is abused? We don’t want to falsely incriminate her parents. For now, the best thing we can do is to let her in as many times as possible. Talk to her, get to know her, play with her, and love upon her just as Jesus would. She is seven years old and has never stepped foot into a school. Today, I helped her count to twenty in Albanian. I showed her the Albanian alphabet. And, I told her about Zoti (God) and His son, Jesuzi and how much He loves her and cares for her. Then, I gave her some free time to simply draw whatever she wants. And, guess what she spent thirty minutes meticulously drawing? Flowers in a kopesht.
Please pray for Angjila. Please pray for wisdom and discernment. Please pray that we die to our selfish ways and remain available to her… always. Please pray that she is delivered from any and all neglect and abuse. Please pray that somehow, someway, through all the darkness, that she will see the Light of Jesus Christ.
This is the drawing that Angjila finished tonight. Flowers in a garden.
For all of my life I have lived in middle to upper class white suburbia America. Most of my friends were white with a few African-American, Asian, and Hispanic buddies along the way. Rarely, did I ever encounter any discrimination or hostility because of the color of my skin or my nationality. I heard many stories growing up about how black people were treated poorly throughout American history. And, sadly I have observed this same dislike towards Hispanics even today. I can’t say that I have ever been discriminated against. Nor have I intentionally discriminated against others. But, I know there were likely some instances when I may have thought to myself that I was better than someone because they were a different color than me, or lived in a different socio-economic status than I. But, I was never vocal about these thoughts and kept them to myself.
Being in Albania has given me a small glimpse of what many minorities face in America. When I walk past a group of Albanians I can feel the stares behind my back. Their whispers to one another speak volumes. Sometimes young Albanians will gawk at us and loudly jeer, “Hey Americano!” On several occasions we were charged more for an item simply because we’re American. Even though the color of our skin is very similar to Albanians, our family sticks out by the way we look. It is obvious we are either American or Northern European. We are truly minorities here. Everywhere we go, we barely understand what is said. Some Albanians get discouraged with us when we try to understand what they are saying. Traffic signs look foreign and if we make a wrong turn or unintentionally get in the way, we are scoffed at as crazy foreigners. Don’t get me wrong. In general, Albanians are very warm and friendly people. And, it’s not everyday we experience these unfriendly encounters. But, these encounters give me a reminder of what many people face in America. Whether it be the young Hispanic family just arriving in America for the first time; or, whether it be the 70-year old African-American who has faced discrimination his entire life. I am thankful that I have been spared the humiliation of derision and discrimination all of my life. And, although I don’t always enjoy it, I am thankful for God’s gentle reminders that discrimination still exists and nobody is immune to it. It’s real, it’s here, and many injustices are bred from it. There is nothing more I can say to this, except that we must emulate Jesus and take up the cause of those who are treated less than us: the poor, the weak, orphans, widows, and social outcasts. Jesus was there for them and so should we.