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It’s a familiar sight, isn’t it, even in your own family – a small child, distraughtly sobbing over some hurt or slight, seeking the solace of a warm, cuddly, four-legged creature that lives to give its unconditional love.
To lick those tears off a beloved face, to protect and give its well of silent support is a pet’s very reason for living.
But how tragic when a love-starved child has to turn to a pet to seek the affection withheld by parents. And how infinitely sad that there are parents incapable of giving the love expected and deserved by those little humans they have created. We are not here to judge. Who knows what they have been through to be stripped of this basic human trait?
At The Salvation Army, we are dedicated to nurturing these children of God who come to us so abused. For to be denied love is a serious abuse, especially when the parents have abandoned those they’ve given birth to. There are also those who ignore their children, which is an abuse as bad as abandonment, and children whose parents physically, emotionally and often sexually abuse them. Then, of course, there are parents who dole out love as if it is a rare commodity – and attach conditions: I’ll love you provided .., you behave … you make the first team … you pass your exams … and so on. All those innocent little souls are so damaged, there is no point in trying to replace their actual, flawed parents. Instead, through God, we offer them our unconditional love and show them a life lived in His light. Being entrusted with this monumental task is a truly humbling privilege.
Unfortunately we simply cannot afford to give them individual pets – it’s difficult enough to survive – but we help fill the void by supplementing our care and love with the wonderful warmth of God’s Word and His perpetual presence. And children are blessedly imaginative: they’ll imbue a teddy bear or doll with a personality they lavish with love. I recall one little boy who created a fearless lion from a stone, which he cherished!
The Salvation Army’s crèches and homes for children across the country are filled with South Africa’s love-starved kids. Few are orphaned, although the percentage has risen since the scourge of HIV/AIDS erupted. Sometimes it seems the littlest, the babes in arms – sometimes literally just hours old – who come to us are the more fortunate since they don’t know about parents. But they learn. Oh yes, they learn.
Conversely, you may think that the older kids are able to cope better, but they never come to terms with their parents’ rejection. You see it in their eyes – wary, untrusting, rarely lit by the warmth of a love-filled smile.
The children who come to us parentless but not orphaned are often abandoned, or have been officially removed because of alcoholism, abuse, neglect or simply disinterest. The lucky ones have parents who love them but through various unfortunate circumstances just cannot cope at present. Then there are some who arrive, with their mothers, to escape an abusive father. And we extend our unconditional love to youngsters who’ve fallen prey to alcohol or drugs.
To appreciate the extent of The Salvation Army’s commitment to the youth of South Africa, regardless of sex, colour or creed, imagine having to run all these facilities across this vast land: six children’s homes, two homes for abused women and their children, a rehab centre that also caters for teenagers, and 18 crèches. Each is fully furnished, equipped with every possible necessity, and staffed by teams of trained and professional personnel. Imagine the cost of maintaining these facilities – and caring for over 1 000 children at any given time!
As the country is rapidly being strangled by strikers, our financial status teetering on the verge of ‘junk’ – and food prices becoming prohibitive, you’ll appreciate the immense pressure on our fund-raising efforts to enable us to care for all these destitute little ones – in addition to our other commitments. While our love is a bottomless well, given freely, it takes hard currency to keep all those bodies and souls together. Your support is of even greater value than ever and we trust that the Lord will enable you to continue being one of our stalwarts. May God multiply his blessings on you through His unconditional love.
Major Carin Holmes
Public Relations Secretary
Southern Africa Territory
PS: Talking of strikes, once again postal workers are threatening another stoppage, which virtually cripples The Salvation Army, so I again appeal to you to use electronic banking for your contribution. And once again I am enclosing a small gift – a little notepad, back by popular demand – as a reminder that your generosity is always in our thoughts.