“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” ~ Matthew 25:41-45
I just finished reading a horrifying article about the Florida State Reform School, which was closed last year due to budget cuts, after being in use since 1900.
Normally it’s sad when such a long-running state institution is shuttered. The only response I could muster from the article and subsequent reading I did was, “Why on earth didn’t the state close it sooner?!?”
The Florida State Reform School was a place where children were sent for criminal offenses (like theft or murder), and later minor offenses like truancy…or incorrigibility. Orphans, or wards of the state, were also sent there. Children as young as five were housed within the walls of the reform “school.”
The report I was reading discussed how scientists have recently uncovered an estimated 50 gravesites, along with reports of 96 student deaths (up until 1960, when privacy laws took effect). The article referenced a lengthy, but extensively redacted, report from the University of South Florida. And I didn’t have the stomach to read all that it included: beatings and abuse, that ultimately lead to the death of children.
The article also referenced a book, authored by Roger Dean Kiser, an orphan and a survivor of the horrors at this particular institution. I looked up the book online and managed to read the introduction, which broke my heart. Kiser describes how he became a ward of the state – when he was four, his mother ran off and left him, his half-sister, and a two-week old baby. The police found them four days later; the infant did not survive. Kiser’s writing is impassioned, due, I’m sure, to the loss of a childhood in a manner so terrible we can’t even begin to imagine. He describes the Florida State Reform School as a “concentration camp for children.”
But what hit me square in the face, through all of this reading, was a line on Kiser’s website. He said he often has people tell them that it’s impossible to try to save all the children in these kinds of situations. His response is simple, but heartbreaking, “All I know is that no one came to save me, and the other children, in that terrible Jacksonville, Florida orphanage. I may not be able to save all the children but I will continue to try.”
No one came. I can’t imagine being a child, desperately hoping for someone, anyone, to rescue you from a situation like that. And in his case, no one did.
We have to keep trying. We cannot turn a blind eye to the atrocities occurring all around us. Just because we may not be able to save all doesn’t mean we can’t try to save one. Imagine all the good we could do if we each did a little. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it has to be all or nothing. Offer your time, give five dollars. Whatever it is you have, share it. There are hungry, hurting, hopeless people that are crying out for someone to save them – offer whatever you have as you would to Christ.