Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The Poverty of My Heart
Guess what? I finally found someone who writes blog posts just as long as mine! And you'll be shocked to know it's my sweet husband, Ben. :) He wrote some of his thoughts down from our trip to Uganda the other night and I thought you all might enjoy them. He is such a blessing to me and there is no one else I would rather be on this journey with. So...enjoy!
How do you begin to make sense of events that brought you sorrow revisited upon sorrow, bonds of friendship that are deep and true, laughter and hope? How do you put those emotionally charged thoughts to paper? Amy and I traveled to Uganda with two of our best friends and a team of other folks to work among orphans. The plan was to visit villages to help create supportive relationships between people here in the States and communities in Uganda. After countless shots and a short anxiety attack we arrived in Uganda.
So as we departed from the airport towards the hotel I was taking in the sights of Entebbe. It was evening and the darkness had set in. It was dark in a way I was not used to. I could smell the spicy sweetness coming from the roadside stands and noticed the men gathered in the dim light at the open markets. For each stand and market that we passed I found myself wondering about the stories behind the people who work and shop there; each story a novel in itself. We arrived at our hotel weary (not to mention what I smelled like) from too many hours of travel. The morning would come soon. This was my first night in Africa. I determined that I would soak in every moment.
I started on this journey for many reasons. I felt that God had brought me to Uganda through many different conversations, relationships, thoughts, prayers and some slight coercion. I knew that I couldn’t escape this trip, and once God had made that part clear to me, I had to decide what I wanted out of it. Simple. I wanted my church to get involved in helping communities of broken and hurting people in Africa. There were three reasons for this.
1) God says clearly to care for the widows, the lonely, the poor and the orphans. In my mind, there was (and is) no disputing that fact. I could spend countless hours talking about why this is, or the theological justifications for it, and the ramifications for not doing that. But that’s not the point…I simply knew that God said to do it and that I wasn’t really caring for the “least of these” in any meaningful way. I knew I had to change that. So that’s reason one… God said to do it.
2) I had some level of awareness of the crisis that much of Africa was currently facing. Just like any mildly disgruntled critic of our culture, I had “taken note” of how life in America is unlike most of the world. I listen to enough U2 to read through the lines and see the disparity between our life and life in other parts of the world. In all sincerity, it was the process of adopting our son from Ethiopia that really took me from a spectator of the crisis in Africa to a soldier in the war to overthrow the oppressive regime of poverty. Though we have yet to meet our son or bring him into our family, I look forward to thanking him for opening my eyes to what is going on in Africa. So reason two… I was aware that this crisis is affecting places like Uganda and if it persists unchecked will wipe out entire populations of countries.
3) I knew that if you were born in America you would have more than most people in Uganda could ever hope for, even if you are considered poor by our standards. If you could look at a map that only showed wealth of people and not land, you would see most of it pooled in North America, and Europe. It is not by chance that resources have pooled into places on the map while others are experiencing a drought of resources. In my mind it was one of two things: One possibility is that our culture (knowingly or unknowingly) in the quest for more, drained resources from other places on the map. If this is the case, it is likely the natural outgrowth of our modern times. The other scenario that seemed possible to me is that God chose in His wisdom (that I very often don’t understand) to bless certain groups of people more than others. In either of these cases, I concluded that we have a responsibility to readjust the scales a bit. Either we drained their resources, and they now do not have enough to survive, or God blessed us. If God blessed us, it was not so that I could hold onto the blessings while others suffered. The intent would have been to bless others. If we unwittingly drained the resources of these countries, then we have a responsibility to make that right as well. As I worked through this problem in my head, I kept hearing that still soft voice say “who is your neighbor?” I knew the answer. They all are. So reason three is my conclusion that we have a responsibility to care for the hurting.
The rationale was simple:
1. God said to do it.
2. There is a great need.
3. I have a responsibility to care for others in need.
It seemed like a great case. I could pitch this to our pastor and how could he not get on board? Well, that was all before I stepped on Ugandan soil. God has a way of taking our plans and shuffling them like a deck of cards. You usually end up with a full house even when in the moment it feels like you have a bad hand.
I heard the stories that confirmed my justifications, BUT I also had moments where the people I came to “help” showed me wisdom and dignity like I’ve not seen before.
I watched as a 10 year old boy protected the 3 year old he was raising. He gave up the opportunity to play with a new beach ball to ensure that the 3 year old could have many turns to kick and throw it. He knew that this was a unique opportunity to have some real fun but he set aside his play for the sake of his sibling.
I watched as children who rarely if ever received candy would return the extra sucker that they had been give to ensure that everyone got one. I listened to a widow tell the story of her own sorrow as it turned from grief to rejoicing. How she had given hope and a place of meaning to people that had been cast aside and rejected. These people didn’t need my help. I needed theirs.
I quickly began to recognize that as we had fed the starving bodies of the people in these communities they had been feeding my starving soul. They were infested with micro-organisms from polluted water. I was suffering a polluted heart from excess and ease of life. They had a lack of knowledge because of limited access to education, I had a lack of wisdom from useless and corrupting information overload. They are often gripped with fear from attack by the LRA or others, and I was ignorant in my lack of real fear of a just God.
I knew that as I participated in the redemption of the people we met, I was redeemed in the process. It was clear to me that the things threatening the people of Uganda can kill and destroy their bodies. Starvation, flood, drought, war, pestilence, rape, disease. The things that I was being freed from were destroying my soul. Matthew 10:28 says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body”.
To be clear, there are wicked and vile things that are happening in Uganda that serve as evidence that the one who can destroy both body and soul is at work. For instance, there is a real problem with child abduction for sacrifice. Witch doctors tell people that they need to cut the head of a child off and bury it in the wall of their house to protect themselves from evil spirits.
I met boys who had been forced to commit horrid acts of violence against their own families and countless others. Rape is a common tactic of warfare. And even the Ugandans on our trip acknowledge freely that it can be a brutal and unforgiving land.
So where did this leave me? I realize that I will not willingly “settle back into my culture” if I can help it. I also know that I have found a group of people in Kapelabyong Uganda that I want to continue a relationship with. I will advocate for them and attempt to educate people I know about what life is like there. I do this because I know that God is at work there.
I reflect on my “brilliant” 3 reasons for getting my church connected to a community in Uganda. I still know that God demands that we care for the hurting and the broken, the widow and the orphan. If my walk with God does not reflect my care for them than it is not full or genuine. I am more aware of the crisis that the people I met face. It is truly astounding and overwhelming. And I very much still believe that we have a responsibility to help set things right, but those three reasons now have nothing to do with my desire to see our church participate in this work.
I know that I will do this work regardless of what our church decides. I have absolute faith that the needs of Kapelabyong will be met and that I will play a part in that. But now I want the church to participate because I know that as we care for the abandoned and broken, God shows up in a way that we don’t experience anyplace else. I don’t want them to miss out on what He is doing through the very people we come alongside. God has used their poverty to serve as a mirror into my own heart to expose the poverty within me.