Inner City Diary
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Buying a kid for the price of a meal
February 10, 2002
The request was familiar, but I had a sense that something was different about this call.

"We need help. We're travelling with my son and have no money for food or gas. I just need a little help to keep going. We talked to someone from another church and I was told to call you."

After a brief discussion I asked where they were calling from. They said they were at a pay phone by the food court in the Polo Park mall.

We arranged a meeting, and I found it odd that they asked if I was coming alone. They also asked me to describe myself but refused to offer any description of themselves. They simply said they would find me.

Within about 10 minutes of getting to the mall, two guys walked up to me. In tow was a little boy under five years of age. The guys were unshowered and looked a mess. I bought them a burger and fries and we started talking.

Usually food courts are busy places. I can eat, have a conversation and still be aware of stuff going on around me. this time, however, everything else faded as i prodded for more information as to why they needed help. My instincts screamed that this was more than a request for gas money but rather a matter of life and death.

Eventually they levelled with me.

They were on the run. They talked about a custody dispute. The guys decided to make a late night visit to the mom's house and take the little boy. The boy sat motionless, shrouded in some awful silence, as we discussed his situation. Though obviously hungry, he munched very slowly on a few fries.

We discussed the merits of their action and wisdom of their plan. I wondered out loud what they hoped to accomplish.

They had been driving for about two weeks, hustling money for gas, sleeping in the car. They figured if they kept going west, they would eventually find a city large enough for them to be able to fade into the woodwork.

I asked, "Then what?"

The little boy's eyes haunted me. he was too quiet, in too much of a haze. I was filled with a desire to take him and run from these two guys who were so concerned about their plan they wouldn't face the harm they were bringing to the little boy. My focus had changed.

I offered to phone CFS about getting the kid back to a home where he doesn't have to run, hide or starve. I talked about him being able to go to school, make friends with other kids without fear of being discovered. I said I would give them some money for their needs if they left the child with me.

After some arguing and whispering between the two men, they shared their decision. I could call CFS from the pay phone while they listened to what I was saying about them. They would take my money and leave the boy with me.

They would blend into the crowd and watch to make sure the boy was OK and was picked up. There was one more condition - that I not turn them in. They wanted enough time to make their getaway before I gave information to the police.

Uncomfortable, but desperate, I agreed. The guys faded into the crowd. I once again became aware of the other people in the food court. As I sat waiting for CFS, I held the little boy close to me.

People rushed by. Some glanced oddly at us. I heard arguments about pizza or burgers. I heard people talking about haristyles, others showing off their new clothes. I wanted to shake them from their trivial pursuits to share the tragedy in their midst. I wondered how many times I had wandered through malls oblivious to the pain in plain view.

CFS arrived, took the child and thanked me. It was tough to hand him off. I never heard from them again.

That was 12 years ago. If that boy is still alive, he's probably 17 years old. Some days I wonder if I've done the right thing, asked enough questions, given the right advice.

But of one thing I'm sure: Sometimes, when people ask for help, they need more than what they're asking for.
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929