All in the Mall.
Freda froze as she stepped into her first mall in four years. The giant graphic images of half-clothed youngsters brought an involuntary shudder to her gut. What had happened?
She sank onto a waiting bench and caught her breath again. Maybe a coffee would help. Coming back alone was hard. Shopping alone was a challenge.
As she sipped the brew with two extra sugars she began to scan those passing her by. Youngsters of all nationalities. Small mobs moving like amoebas past display windows. Lost in their own worlds.
Tattered, torn, ripped, or shredded? She wasn’t sure how to describe what she was seeing. Drooping, dragging, hanging, falling? Was there a reason for this fashion statement? Flimsy, revealing, showy, fragile? Did it really have to be this way?
In the name of Jesus she had been receiving container loads of gently used brand name cast offs for years into East Africa and every one of those items were modest, untorn, clean and free. She had worked hard to ensure the street boys and girls didn’t have to wear clothing like she was seeing on display all around her.
What was possessing this generation? Didn’t they care about anything? Anything seemed to go.
She looked down at her own mid-calf skirt and realized that she probably didn’t seem that out of place. Only last night she crept off the plane in her usual walk of shame reliving the horrific memories of her childhood when she felt so humiliated by the missionary fashion which would call forth another year of taunts from her classmates.
Cousins and church friends were kind enough to donate their extras to help bridge the gap but that usually didn’t happen before the verbal labels had been attached to her. There was no question she had done her share to modify her wardrobe to fit in better but there had always been limits. Now, there seemed to be no limits for this new generation.
A young teen with chartreuse pig tails and a green nose ring plopped down beside her slurping on an ice latte. Her baggy sweat shirt drooped far off one bare shoulder leaving her bra strap exposed. Freda wanted to quickly fix the problem to keep the girl from being embarrassed. Then she noticed other girls with similar styles. The short skirt beside her rode up far too high and the knee high leather boots didn’t seem to fit the style.
The ear buds from the teen’s iPod seemed to vibrate in her ears as she rocked to the music and lip synched along. As she bobbed her head back and forth one of the ear buds fell out and dropped onto Freda’s hand.
Instead of fleeing like she wanted, the missionary gently offered the small plastic nodule back to the teen. The girl nodded her thanks and took it back.
Then she spoke. “Nice rainbow socks. Where did you find those?”
Freda kept it short. “Africa.”
“Desperately brilliant,” announced the teen. “I saw this show once about African kids who lived on the streets and they had to wear all these Value Village clothes that came in containers from Canada and the U.S. So I got everyone in my class to bring all the stuff their grandmoms had given them and then the whole school thought this was great and we collected enough to almost fill a whole container. I could hardly sleep thinking that it must be like Christmas for all those kids.”
“It was,” Freda said. “I’m the one who gets those containers in Africa and I’m the one who gives out the clothes to those African kids. It was like Christmas. And one of those girls made these socks.”
“Freakin’ no way!” The chartreuse pig tails began to sway as the teen pulled out her phone and began texting. “This place will be swarming in a minute. Don’t move.”
Sure enough. A gaggle of teens in every fashion style imaginable began to sashay up to the texter. “What’s the call, Brit?” one of the newcomers probed.
“Remember when we emptied our closets for those street kids in Africa?”
“Speak it girl.”
“This is the lady that gets the containers and gives out the clothes. One of those kids made her rainbow socks.”
Freda wasn’t sure what happened at that moment but a wave of volume washed over her as girls shrieked and questioned and even hugged her. For the first time in her life she felt home.
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