A Child Named Mamba and the Scandal of the Particular

Poverty, drug abuse, hunger and disease are issues that capture my time and attention on most days. Data and statistics come off my tongue as if I had chiseled them into my soul and conscience. I try to impress funders and policy makers with my ease of verbal and mental dexterity that allows me to navigate through a wide range of information. I am an advocate and advocates must do that. I was trained by some of the best to do that. I often speak of the many global catastrophes that threaten our children. I chide, I beg and I plead to make them a priority.

The numbers are sometimes numbing. There are 2.2 billion children in the world and 1 billion of them live in poverty. In the United States 17 million children wake up daily without the promise of a hot meal; and globally 13,000 children die every day because of hunger. Staggering numbers! However, they seem to fade into the landscape of our competing interests and concerns.

Then yesterday I read of an individual disaster. I often work in Swaziland and support faith-based initiatives seeking to address poverty and disease. We have many partners and collaborators in this mission. Highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world, number 6 in food security in Africa and one of the many African nations facing multiple years of drought. There we go again with the numbers. The individual disaster I refer to is the story of a 7 year old boy named Mamba who was beaten and then hanged by his stepfather. He was a special child to many in the ministry to orphans and children funded by several different organizations in Swaziland. I never met Mamba but this tragic and individual death stalks me today. Maybe because I have two grandsons that are 7 years old. Knowing them somehow has made me know Mamba. I don’t know – but today I am not talking about 2.2 billion children but one child.

In Seminary we often discussed the Scandal of the Particular – how odd of God to have created the universe but cares about the fall of the sparrow. I came across this quote in a sermon from Dan Clendenin, Ph.D, “I recently heard of a wonderful theological idea: the scandal of the particular. The idea is that God, this enormous creative force that “hung the stars” and created “that great leviathan just for the sport of it” would care about one of us, a particular person. That the God of Creation—Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover or Plato’s Divine Source—would stoop to join us in the mundane details of every day human life, would care even if a single sparrow fell to the ground. This “Yahweh” was completely low-brow to the Greeks, it was a scandal: from the Greek skandalon, which means ‘snare or stumbling block.”

If God is to be found anywhere it is in the scandal of the particular. An individual child – a victim of an abusive relationship – a victim of hunger and poverty – yet loved by a mother and caregivers that welcomed his smile and his life into their lives. They were transformed by this ONE child. His loss is a reminder that the numbers we deal with in global policy analysis often hide the reality that behind those numbers is a child found in the bush, beaten and abused. Mamba had individuals that loved him and he loved them in return.

What we do is personal and what we must continue to do is translate the abstract into the particular – if for no other reason – that is exactly what God did!

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