The deaf ministry brings us into contact with many interesting people. This is a story about a guy named David, whom I met on my walk along the harbor in Fiji after work one day.
David sits on the same bench everyday in front of the Holiday Inn, in downtown Suva. I would often pass by him on my walks. Sometimes he’d be asleep on the bench. One day, I stopped and said hello, and asked his name. He told me his name was David, and we began to have simple conversations each time I walked. The bench is David’s home. I asked if he had any family, and he said that he had, but he never sees them. He’s been on his own, living on the streets, since he was a very young boy. If I were to guess, I’d say he’s probably in his mid-fifties now. David was friendly and polite. Unlike most of the homeless in Suva, he never once asked for money. Maybe that’s what I liked about him. I told him he had a good Biblical name, and he said that he knew the story of David in the Bible.
David keeps his belongings next to him on his bench, covered with clear plastic--- a couple of newspapers, a change or two of clothes, some salt and pepper shakers, a few empty containers, and a bottle of orange Fanta could be seen through the clear plastic. He also had a larger piece of plastic that he put over his body when it was raining----and it had been raining heavily, almost daily, for the 6 weeks we were in Fiji! David wore a stocking cap and a light, somewhat soiled jacket. He also had an umbrella that protected him from both the rain and the hot tropical sun of Fiji.
One Sunday after church, Jim and I had lunch at the Holiday Inn, so I bought David a club sandwich, and delivered it to his bench. He thanked me, but told me he really didn’t need anything-- but when I left the sandwich with him and walked away, I turned to see him eating hungrily. After that, I made small lunches and carried them on my walks. David always accepted the food, adding a grateful “God Bless You” as I left.For quite a few days I didn’t walk, because of the heavy rain. I thought of David, as I climbed into my warm bed at night, listening to the rain outside. The next morning there was no school because of election day in Fiji. Jim and I went out to do some errands and have lunch. It was raining heavily again that day, so I ordered another meal for David. When I delivered it, he was asleep under his plastic in the rain. I woke him, and again he said he needed nothing, but thanked me. We had just finished printing some pamphlets for the Fiji Deaf Ministry, telling of God’s love and desire for relationship with all people. I slipped one in with his lunch. I’m not usually a fan of most Christian tracts--- but I wanted David to know that he was loved and cared about by his Creator. I still don’t know David’s story, but I think about him often, and pray for him.
David is a reminder to me of how blessed I am, and how much I take for granted. The Davids of this world teach us to be grateful for all that we have----especially the little things we so easily take for granted! In his poverty, David expressed gratitude for his bench and his piece of plastic. He told me that he chose the bench by the Holiday Inn because the employees spray for mosquitoes there each night; something for which he was especially thankful! And as I was leaving, he even asked God to bless me— a stranger who brought him an occasional sandwich. I felt that I was the one on the receiving end in this story, and was blessed by David.
Later, on another walk one day, I heard running footsteps close behind me. I clutched my purse a bit tighter, having been robbed twice while walking in Fiji. Then I felt a tap on the shoulder, and was frightened, until I turned around and saw Ilitai--- one of our former students, with a big smile on his face. He had run quite a distance to catch up to me, and was out of breath.
Not all of the stories here are success stories. Ilitai, now 24, came to us at age 7, to live in the hostel. He was a bright boy, with a very sad home life. His mom was on drugs, and had lived with several different partners over the years. Ilitai was the oldest of two brothers, both born deaf. They both grew up in our hostels, having been pretty much abandoned by their mother.
Viliame, the younger brother, used to run away from the hostel from time to time, trying to find his mother. But when he arrived at his house one day, he discovered that his mother had moved, and he never saw her again.
Both boys were well loved in the hostels, but as I look back, they also experienced losses there. Volunteers would come, to whom the boys became attached and grew to love ---- but they always left.
Eventually, both boys came of age, and left both hostel and school. They were not particularly close as brothers, and seldom saw one another. Both lived on the streets, stealing to survive. Ilitai even broke into our home one day, taking money and a computer. He was seen and reported by another student. Both boys would show up at an occasional deaf camp, or come around school once in awhile, but they would always leave again, and go back to the streets. I was reminded of a line in a Brooks Williams song--- “Even a bad life, is still a life that you know”. Both boys kept returning to life on the streets.
As we talked that day, Ilitai. wanted to know all about our family. He had developed a strong connection with all of our adult children over the years, when they visited Fiji. I told him that we all still loved and cared about him. I gave him some money for a meal, and invited him to come to church with us on Sunday, where he would see some deaf friends. He agreed to come, and we chose a meeting place, where we could pick him up. But on Sunday it was again raining heavily, and he was a no show. I still think of him often. That same week in November was his 24th birthday. I’m not sure he even knew it. We celebrated birthdays in the hostel monthly, but not on the actual date. In our meeting on the street, there was a lot lot of warmth, and I know Ilitai felt loved. He gave me a hug as we parted. My prayer is that one day he will know the love of God that he learned about in school. God’s love transforms. I trust that in time, Ilitai will experience that transforming love. Please pray for both David and Ilitai if you think of them.
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