Friday, March 11, 2011

Out From Under The Umbrella

I’ve been reading and talking about vulnerability a lot lately. It doesn’t seem at first glance that vulnerability would be related to orphan care or poverty and justice issues. But, after listening to Tom Davis’ talk at Idea Camp this month on this topic, I’m starting to understand the strong connection between vulnerability and our love and care for the marginalized.

Unfortunately, vulnerability is usually associated with weakness, fear and shame. But as Tom says, vulnerability also (and more importantly) encompasses how we feel joy, belonging and connectedness. Vulnerability to me means stepping out from under the umbrella of safety and putting myself and my heart out there, come what may. Sometimes, it hurts like crazy, but it almost always leads to joy.

If you’ve been around my blog (or my life!), you know that I have adopted my son from Ethiopia and while there, was WRECKED by a leper colony called Korah. 75,000 people living in a kind of poverty and pain I hadn’t really known existed. My friend, Melanie described her experience in Korah this week so well...

We followed Yemamu and Sisay into the dump. My first thought was that it looked like a post-apocalyptic world, like a movie set for the next big summer blockbuster. But it was real. We stepped through broken glass and plastic bags, large bones of animals, dirty diapers, bottles, cans, batteries leaking acid, rotting food. Layers and layers. Someone had dug a deep hole looking for metal to scavange and the layers of trash went as far as I could see, down down down, smoke pouring through the fissures in the strata.

And there were people. Hundreds of them. People like Busana, who received treatment at e hospital and now lives in Korah, foraging for metals in the dump that she can sell, her 1 1/2-year-old child on her back and her husband nearby searching in the dump.

As we were walking, the smoke filled our lungs, and the smell of rotting diapers, food, and animals filled my nose and lungs. I dry heaved over and over and prayed for the strength to keep walking, to keep asking questions, to keep shaking hands and hearing stories. We saw homes made of plastic tarp where 25 men squeeze in at night to sleep as the hyenas prowl outside. We saw litters of puppies, dogs with matted fur, pigs, and goats. One man was roasting a pig and it looked like he was using the smoke from the dump itself to cook it. A group of young men found a carryout container of raw chicken wings and said, “Let’s eat!” They huddled around it and everyone dug in hungrily. Yemamu showed us what people eat – coffee creamer packets discarded from Ethiopian Airlines, packets of cooking oil, leftover water in plastic bottles. He explained that many people die by drinking the wrong thing or eating something bad. The food at the dump could come from a restaurant…or it could come from the hospital and be mixed with infected blood. The water could be clean water, or it could be chemicals. They take that chance every time they eat. Their clothes come from the dump, and they could be clothes from a patient who died at the hospital, covered in blood.

Each day is a battle to stay alive, and the resilience of the human spirit is remarkable in this place. The older boys take care of the younger ones who have been orphaned. We saw women collecting plastic bags to turn in for money. Garbage trucks came in and out, pouring more and more refuse onto the smoking heap. Hundreds of people gathered around the new piles in search of food and metals. The smoke was so thick that we couldn’t see very far in front of us.

All I can say is walking through Korah (or anywhere where people is suffer) is choosing to be vulnerable. It is intentionally allowing your heart to be ripped out of your chest. Meeting the suffering face to face in all their beauty will take your breath away (as will the stench of the garbage dump they live on). Seeing a family of 12 living in 10x10 room of filth will jolt you. Watching women with leprosy whose fingers are gone trying to eek out a living by embroidering will fill your eyes with tears. Walking away from that place to go back to your comfy bed will cause you to question everything you know.

Opening my heart up to people who suffer has been for me, the ultimate form of vulnerability. It messes with me. It doesn’t allow me to ever be the same again. It is a choice that I either make or I don’t.  I either expose myself to things that hurt and in doing so, become fully alive or I put my walls up and stay safely hidden. 

I have to say, this week has been one of those weeks where I just wish I didn’t know. I wish I could go back to ignorance because it has hurt SO badly these past few days. Since I actually know some of these people and their stories, they are ever on my mind. When I open my fridge to get food, I think about the food they scavenge from the dump every day. When I grab my Advil I am reminded of their open sores, their diseases. Their faces are everywhere I look. People like my friend, Yemamu, who work tirelessly to make a difference in their lives are always on my heart.

And you know what?  That is just a GIFT.  The fact I see them at all and care about them is a gift to me from God.  I cried every day this week, real, wracking sobs over people I have only visited once.  I cried because I was frustrated and angry at God for allowing me to see them in their pain and then for sending me back to my comfortable home.  I cried because I don't know how to reconcile my life here much of the time.  Some days it feels like I will explode for wanting to be in Korah, among the people there and yet here I am on the other side of the world.  I wept over the reality these beautiful people face every day. Yet, I'm reminded that this vulnerability that threatens to tear me open some days, is the very thing that brings me the deepest joy and a sense of connectedness.  Vulnerability breeds compassion.  Putting ourselves in a place to SEE and FEEL the pain is vulnerability.  Once we SEE, we become compassionate. Compassion literally means "to suffer with".  Once we suffer with someone, we love them.  And love...well, that is what ultimately transforms us and the world. 

Jesus left heaven for the confines of earth, experiencing fully the pain and mess of this world - suffering with us.  He gave Himself up for those He loved - the ultimate vulnerability - so that we might have abundant life.  And it is as we follow His example of becoming vulnerable that we find our fullest, richest and abundant life.  My tears this week have felt painful at times, but they have ultimately helped me connect to the heart of God that pounds furiously for the hurting, the lonely, the outcast.  How beautiful and humbling. 

I'd encourage you if you have 20 minutes to watch Tom's talk on vulnerability...

IC ORPHAN - Children's HopeChest from The Idea Camp on Vimeo.


  1. Amy, I can't thank you enough for this. It really feels like you took everything in my head and heart and put it into words here. Some days the weight of all I feel for Ethiopia seems too much to bear. Then I remember Jesus wants to carry it.

    I'm thankful for the opportunity to have seen the things I have and to feel that kind of compassion. It really is a gift from Him. This blog post feels like a gift as well-- a beautiful and much-needed reminder that I do not stand alone with these thoughts and emotions.

  2. I love your heart! We have not yet travelled to ET, but it has already captured our heart. My heart breaks as I read the description of Korah. Thank you for being real. For posting this post. And for your willingness to be vulnerable...........

  3. Amy, Im crying with you. My heart is SO SO heavy lately. IT HURTS!! I can only believe that the creator of my heart is turning up the passion. I pray he uses this to better the lives of my loved ones in a far away land.

  4. Hello, I come to you with another heartfelt prayer request on behalf of my friends:
    They run an orphanage in Ethiopia, and things have been getting tough, considering all the commotion there lately (regarding the orphans).
    Please say a prayer or two on their behalf. Thank you. Love =)

  5. I just LOVE your heart and your mind and your beautiful way with words! You're amazing dear friend!!!

  6. Amy this is beautiful and powerful. Wow! Thanks for your vulnerability to us and boldness and willingness to "suffer with" some of the most neglected people on earth. So excited you get to share this with our group tonight.

  7. Priscilla BorlanJuly 13, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Sooo, I almost didn't read this, knowing it would cause me to take time reply...and feel...

    GEEEESH! I hardly want to know this kind of suffering exists, let alone FEEL it! And I know it is nothing compared to being there. When my daughter was about 10, we spend a Valentine's Day at the Tijuana Dump. It changed us, we hardly spoke for a couple days, in a numb shock by the experienced. And I now sit here, reminded...again...and feeling somewhat resentful that I have been reminded. I can hardly thank you, Amy, but thank you I do. It is extremely important, a necessity really, that we Western Christians be reminded again and again about this kind of to the core suffering. To say the least.