I want to take you to a place, come with me. I want you to meet my friend Jhonatan, come meet him. I want you to Xperience, come be open. I want you Xamine, come learn. I want you to love, come with Christ. On July 11, 2006 in Cochabamba, Bolivia the Xtreme team visited a ministry. This ministry was begun by Mickey, the man who does the baby washing in the plaza we later visited. It is now run by a lay pastor named Thomas. The name of this ministry is Jireh. This place is a safe house for street children. Here they are feed, educated, taught about Christ, and watched over in their health. They are also taught to work. Without this work they would most likely be on the street hungry and sniffing glue. This work, this source of providing, comes in the form of shining shoes; shining strangers shoes for 1 Boliviano, 12 cents. This day Nico, the Bolivian seminary student I spent a week with, and I joined the work of Jhonatan. Jhonatan is ten years old and shines shoes for a living. He is short, has brown hair, brown eyes, brown skin, and a beautiful smile.
We walked to the center plaza of Cochabamba and it began. As Jhonatan headed out I stood back and watched. I was hesitant. I didn’t want the people to stare at me, ignore me, or treat me as a dog as they did Jhonatan. I quickly felt guilty of wanting to be anywhere but there. I was uncomfortable. I was getting angry and then weary. I watched the people ion the benches and the business men and women reject Jhonatan, ignore Jhonatan, and treat Jhonatan like a dog and I saw myself. If I was in the states and a small, dirty boy came up to me in the park or walked into my office and asked to shine my shoes I would have reacted the same way I was now seeing these people act. But this time was different, it had to be different. I was now trying to be in Jhonatan’s shoes not my own middle class white woman shoes. With each step that Jhonatan took, he pulled my heart closer and closer to him until I was sitting right next to him. I began to learn. I watched his strokes, I watched the order of brushes and rags, and I watched his pace.
We entered a court yard of one of the business buildings and I looked down and noticed something, Jhonatan’s shoes were dirty. My first thought was, ‘a shoe shiner can’t have dirty shoes’. But this brought on the question ‘well, who is going to do anything about Jhonatan’s shoes, let alone care about them?’ Then came the question, ‘what am I going to do now?’ I looked around to make sure I would not interfere with any possible business and tapped Jhonatan on the shoulder. Through sign language I asked him if I could shine his shoes ‘por favor’ (please). This immediately brought a shake of the head and I let it go fast, almost embarrassed for asking, and then I almost felt grateful. No more than five feet later he stopped, looked back up at me, and said (not in English), ‘ya, ok’.
I found a bench and had him hop on up. He handed me the box and my turn to work began. I took out his tiny bench and sat down to take out the tools and position his foot on the box. He was now the rich business man and I was the one he had the choice to treat like a dog at his feet. I looked up at him and saw him much differently than before. He was tall and had dignity.
After I had finished my job of polishing, I went to stand up and was stopped by a business man asking me to stay seated on my little bench and polish his shoes. I went on to explain in my broken Spanish that Jhonatan is ‘me professor’ (my teacher) and would do a much better job than I. As Jhonatan and I switched places for Jhonatan to shine that man’s shoes, his and my status changed once again. I was not just a fellow shoe shiner to him, we were now one step further, I was even ‘lower’, I was his student. He had even more reason to be dignified and was now at a higher ‘status’ than I.
It is now weeks later and I am still frustrated, struggling, and doing some major Xamining. I weep for Jhonatan because of the way people treated him and chose to see him. I weep for him because he is ten years old and is working. Working so hard for so little. I weep for him because he cannot go out and play. I weep for him because he does not have parents who will provide for him. I weep at the people on the benches and the intense injustice I see sitting there. I weep at my inadequacies and helplessness. I lament for Jhonatan. I lament for all the Jhonatans of the world. I Xamine my priorities, values, and commitments, and I Xercise my faith to find God.