So, we’re in Kenya right now, waiting on the birth of our little boy – Hezekiah. Although we’re still in Africa, the differences are incredible from where we call home. Here we can enjoy things that we don’t normally have access to – movies in the theater, good food in restaurants, etc. Even more, it’s nice to be able to take a break from learning language and conforming to culture.
Yet, as I walk down the streets to get groceries or fax information to our insurance, my heart is heavy with the same problems which weigh it down on the islands.
Poverty can be found anywhere in the world. It was painful to see in Omaha, yet the amount of help available there is substantial, which lent some measure of comfort in the back of my mind when I was confronted with it in my day to day going about.
Here, whether Kenya or the Islands, bone grinding poverty is everywhere to see. I see it literally every. single. day. of. my. life. here… Today, as I was walking I saw a man who looked as if he was still clinging tight to his dignity, dressed in a run down suit. He walked up to me, “Would you buy me milk and bread? I am a father of 5“… A boy, about 10 years old looks at me with a look which seemed like I was a likely target (dressed as a westerner, groceries in hand) and held his hand out, mumbling something which I didn’t catch, but I could guess… Finally, an exhausted looking middle age pregnant woman wearing worn clothing sitting in the dirt on the side of the road playing with her 3 or 4 year old girl, “Please sir, just 10 shillings.”
10 shillings. That is about 11 cents. My heart breaks.
In my goings in life, I have found that we middle class white foreigners have a range of reactions when confronted with poverty and apparent need. Here is what goes through my mind:
Giving creates dependency. It’s a band-aid and won’t help long term, and will actually only make the problem worse in the long run… There is help available for them in other places… I can’t help everyone, there are too many. I could not even make a dent… The money will probably be used for cell phone credit, cigarettes, or booze… I give my life, I give my money in other areas, I don’t have to give here…
and, echoing in counter point each time:
That’s easy to say when you’re the one who’s eating enough food every day… The help is bad and insufficient, and a meal today is better than nothing… Dependency is nice to talk about, but not as nice as food in your stomach…They are going to go home, struggling, and I’m going to go home and watch movies and eat well… “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”.. ouch.. “Give generously to them… without a grudging heart… There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land”…ouch… “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” sigh.
This rages in my mind literally every day of my life here.
I’ve been accused of having a bleeding heart before. Maybe it’s true… and yet, in every discussion, the rationalizations provided of why not to give ring loudly and clearly as excuses, and bad ones at that.
In the words of CS Lewis:
“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”
I’ve read the books, and had endless discussions about it… And yet, I believe that the only thing to do is what feels so impossible: to continue to love and sacrifice in every circumstance. And yet, I am confronted with my own brokenness and frailty. I cannot love all the time. I try, and fail. Sometimes, I put headphones on and walk with my head down, inadvertently avoiding the scenes around me. A lot of the time, I say sorry and continue on… Sometimes I show love.
I know that I must do things that I cannot do, and so there is tension…
With every circumstance and every thought, I am driven back to the one God who can change my heart and show me how to love others. In the meantime, this dissonance keeps me from becoming comfortable with the brokenness around me… And maybe that’s a good thing.