Richard Stearns writes in his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, that we in the West with our affluence and wealth must fight something known as compassion fatigue. Where we see so much pain and poverty and desperation that it feels completely overwhelming and so we do nothing. These people are on the other side of the world, they are not in front of us, it’s not personal enough. They can be someone else’s children, someone else’s sin, and someone else’s problem.
That’s how I felt just a year ago. But then Steve and Kay and their team returned from Africa and on Sundays I began to learn aboutMalawi and it’s people and began to realize how much there was to do there. From a suggestion in one of his sermons, I read The Hole in our Gospel. And then one Sunday, in my seat was an invitation to take the PERSPECTIVES course. This course was amazing and showed me things happening all around the world that I had never imagined. Now it was getting a little personal. My ignorance, or lack of awareness, could no longer be an excuse. God was showing me His world. And the places that were breaking his heart were now starting to break mine.
But it was about to get even more personal. God and you were gracious enough to give me the opportunity to see up close a country and a people he loves so much inMalawi,Africa. He showed me in the most loving way what our giving can do in a place that lacks so many basic human needs. I could talk for hours about the children whose only toy was a ball made of compacted trash bags bound with rope, or the ones who lined up at the daycare for their bowl of reinforced porridge which I later found out was their only meal of the day. Or the men who travel for miles up hill on their bicycles only to load them with pounds and pounds of fire wood for cooking and walk them back down to their villages, fighting the weight of the now heavy bicycle with their bare feet. But I want to share with you the moment that meant the most to me on this trip.
We were told that we would be driving to see the sites of some of the broken wells that our church would be fixing. Some of these wells had been broken for more than 6 years and the only water these villagers had to drink was 3 miles away and in a dirty river. They walk with buckets on their heads each day to bring back water they know will make them sick and give them cholera and diarrhea. But there is no choice. I assumed this would be a momentary stop at these wells just so that we could visualize what was to be repaired. As we drove up we noticed people, villagers standing around the well. And as we exited our van they began to sing and dance and celebrate. I mean hands in the air rejoicing and celebrating. But for what? For Us? Yes…us, thechurchofSt. Andrew’s Covenant. The chief of the village spoke and Silas translated. He said, “We praise God that you have come. Others came and said they would help, but then they never came back. But you, you are here and you are going to help us have clean water that we have prayed for all these many years. God has certainly answered our prayers.” Talk about a moment…it took my breath away. It was God, telling me that He had given me blessings so that I could go and bless others. And then through my tears I had to ask God for forgiveness. Because I realized at that well how many times I must have denied these people. Children were dying and people were sick because I hadn’t answered the call. David Platt, author of Radical says that the gospel doesn’t ask us to give, it demands it. I have so much I can just rely on myself and let someone else answer God. But in God’s infinite grace, despite my selfish disregard, he gave me a moment in a village inAfrica. A really big moment to see, through the work of this church, how good it feels to give and give according to His will. It’s was almost like he whispered, “This is how you show my love to other people.”
Not just at the wells, but all overMalawiit was the same story. Their lavish appreciation for what our church was doing and our excitement and joy to be a part of the giving. We see hope for clean water, new day care centers, Saturday feeding programs, new desks, 180 children going to school who have never ever been given that opportunity. That’s what we are doing there! It’s amazing! I could wanted to stay longer…But now I’m back home. Surrounded by my stuff and my comfort and I don’t have to pray like they do, “Lord, Give us this day our daily bread” because I have 15 choices of bread in the grocery store isle. And some days my spiritual mountain crumbles under to do lists, school projects, laundry, and managing all my blessings. I watch my children agonize over our ridiculous amount of choices which movie to watch, which cereal to choose, which shirt to wear. But then I remember that day by the well and how I was able to see what this church can do when we obey God’s call to help our needy brothers and sisters. How it is truly better to give than to receive.
They need so many basic human necessities and we need to rid ourselves of the stuff that numbs us to God’s presence. Their line of vision to God seems clear and immediate. Mine can still be foggy because I keep having to move stuff out of the way just to get a glimpse. But God has brought us together in partnership because we need each other and God is asking us to take care of our brothers and sisters in need. Not just for their sake, but for ours. So, remember them and when you give to 2 cents a meal. That money goes straight from your pocket to the mouths of those children. Remember them when you tithe because there are still 14 new wells that need financing and many more children waiting and wanting to have a chance at an education, and the preschool still turns children away because there is a lack of porridge. And when you give, know that you are part of a church that is doing great things for God’s kingdom.
I give thanks today for the opportunity you gave me to meet the beautiful people of Malawi, for Kay and Steve who have so generously shared their love of them with us, and especially for St. Andrew’s Covenant Presbyterian Church. And I urge you to go and see for yourself. Go stand by the well and let God show you how good it feels to give.