Like the statue in the park of this war-torn town, and its protest of the darkness and this chaos all around. With its beauty, how it matters, how it matters. – Sara Groves
Seven years after moving to Kenya to work in Naomi’s Village, I am handling the questions with some degree of confidence now. They seem cynical- the pithy pushbacks to our hope-filled efforts to help orphans, those burdened by poverty, disease, hunger, or injustice. “Are you making a difference?”, one might ask. Or in another form, “Is your approach going to work in changing the overall equation, the big picture, one day?” In one way or another, the questions carry a “Does it matter?” tone, which can discourage.
The queries can take on a more positive flavor at times, and to be fair, may not always reflect a jaded mindset, but instead the motive may simply be rational thinking. The Son of Compassion, Jesus himself, said, “The poor you will always have with you….” (Mark 14:7), reflecting that serving the less fortunate has a certain degree of inherent futility involved. Even he didn’t predict a win one day.
Yet some see 2.4 million Kenyan orphans, or 1 in 8 Kenyan girls pregnant by age 14 as numbers beyond solutions, and because they are problem solvers, want nothing to do with losing propositions. Others imagine reasons must exist that assign blame somewhere, to someone – a government, a race, a mindset, anything, and they take a side door out of truly engaging. I’m only mentioning a few statistics, a few arguments I read and hear, a few versions of “the question”. Lately it has almost become the intellectual thing to write an editorial or blog telling others how naive they are to be involved in mission efforts in Africa.
So what can be said in response? Sara Groves wrestles with it rather poetically above, likening our standing against darkness and chaos to a beautiful statue in a park in a war-torn town. Please take a moment to listen to her song, especially if music is your heart language.
But we now have a right to speak, on the basis of having lived among the poor of Africa. Because we moved here and found answers first hand, not satisfied that things had to be the way they were, yet accepting that we might also fail, there are things we can now share. We understand the concept of a cycle of poverty vividly, and can explain what approaches will and will not work to break it. And know this for sure- it can and will be broken in the Rift Valley of Kenya one day. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but the wheels are now in motion and change has begun. Thousands of children will be adults already on their way out of that cycle, never to go back, nor to raise their kids in it, by 20 years from now.
We will not be silenced or discouraged by the naysayers, the darker voices. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place, then come down and shoot the survivors.” Also Julie has commented so many times, there are many solutions to the orphan crisis, and orphan care is not a competitive venture. As we see others helping orphans differently, we try to remember that, and applaud, rather than compete. We hope for the same spirit of respect and cooperation from others.
So here are at least 3 answers to the basic question, “Why it matters?” to do redemptive work for children when the problem seems unending, without a win in sight.
1) It matters because there are too many children, with beating hearts, beautiful eyes, warm faces, crooked limbs, torn clothes, living parentless, with words to say and lives to share. They know facts you and I don’t, have singing voices that make crowds fall silent sometimes, and some can paint, draw, sculpt, act, dance, and do math in ways that we will otherwise never know. Many of them have no chance to see the inside of a school, the high side of their teen years before being a prostitute or street boy, or the joy of being truly loved.
As I write this, there are 53 million orphans whose collective gifts to humanity are slowly being squandered, due to a lack of an opportunity for them to flourish. Slow down and imagine the value of it all, the worth to our world…
I have held kids in rural church services, been arrested by the sheer beauty of a passing slum child in Lunga Lunga, seen numerous babies left like trash by desperate mothers with no hope. This has become personal to me. I cannot see statistics, only growing children that God has shown me to love. Unless you allow Him to do that for you, I have not enough words to convey this to you. Most of you reading this are already alongside us, carrying this heart burden with us in some way.
Phillip Yancey, in his excellent book Soul Survivor, noted similarly that, “The great societies of the West have been moving away from an underlying belief in the value of a single human soul. We tend to view history in terms of groups of people: classes, political parties, races, sociological groupings. We apply labels to each other, and explain behavior and ascribe worth on the basis of those labels… I realized I had been seeing large human problems in a mathematical model: percentages of G.N.P., average annual income, mortality rate, doctors- per thousand of population. Love, however, is not mathematical; we can never precisely calculate the greatest possible good to be applied equally to the world’s poor and needy. We can only seek out one person, and then another, and then another, as objects for God’s love.”
2) It matters because it was never about the end game to begin with! Who said it was about winning anyway? I’m focusing on today’s battles, because it is in the fighting, the struggling for victory, that life is truly lived. I once found satisfaction in taking on only smaller manageable challenges, then moving to the next. Smaller tasks where a solution was assured seemed satisfying, until God led me here, into the center of a lifelong war on poverty that is not mine to win.
Now, in the same arduous and joyful, soul filling work, I am constantly aware of the magnitude of the task and my weakness. Thus, God can truly be made manifest as beautiful and worthy by working through me. And so if one asks me why it matters to struggle in spite of my weakness, and in view of the magnitude of the needs to be met all around us, I will say it is so that He can be seen as worthy, as the only reason for such love.
Now please don’t think the impossibility of winning the larger war will give us an excuse for laziness or lack of a plan. If you know our ministry, and us personally, we intend to win each battle, or what would be the point of fighting? Surrendering to the enemy, the corrupt, the failed system, is not in our language.
3) It matters because life is short, and there are precious few things worth living for. We were created in love, for love, and we will be measured on how we loved one day. Your life and mine are vapors, slipping through grasping fingers, ones that cannot hold such a divine thing. So why does rational thought invade so easily when it comes to matters such as these, diverting us from what is natural and intuitive to do?
Stop. Breathe in, out. Think clearly for a moment. Get up and go find another, a weak one in need, and love them. Do so with more time and money than you did before. You don’t own either one anyway. Give up your right to knowing the results, to winning. Just love, only that.
And when that final scratchy breath leaves your lungs one day, you will know it was right. It will have been nice to feel like a fighter does, risking loss, or perhaps to know the sound and smell of Africa, to hold a helpless child before you go.
So those are my answers. Get on your feet if you have been unsure. Let’s go. We’ll meet you there with the rest of the joyful losers. At the end, when Jesus finally wipes that last tear away, we will really see why it mattered, once and for all.