We’ve been back for a few months now. I’ve shared so little of Africa in my writing. This is a talk I shared with Antioch church before Christmas. I’m working on getting the rest of my thoughts on paper but thought I’d share this first.
As a mom, I feel like I came home and jumped right back into life. Back into the routines of taking care of kids and homeschooling and the every dayness of it all. But at the same time I’m carrying with me the experiences of Africa, the memories and the emotions.
It’s made me restless. Truth be told, I’ve always been a bit that way. I’ve always wrestled with the tension of giving my life away in some grand adventure and learning to be content to allow God to use me right here in Bend, Oregon. Finding the adventure God has for me, right here in the midst of school lessons and mother/daughter Christmas tea parties and bills.
When my 8th grader complained about the length of one of his assignments, I launched into a 20 minute impassioned lecture on the privilege and responsibilities of a quality education. And although that wouldn’t be the first time my kids have been subjected to you don’t know how good you’ve got it speeches, this time he knew I was right.
Because a few weeks ago I visited schools with 80 or 90 kids in a classroom, sweltering in the heat of the day, daylight squeezing through one window, dim enough that it took a minute for my eyes to adjust and take in all the children crammed shoulder to shoulder on rickety wooden benches, their notebooks balanced on their laps. And of those children, every obstacle is stacked against them.
Diga district has no potable water. This means the task of fetching water from the river often falls on the women and children. The huts have no electricity or lighting so kids that want to study have limited daylight after water and firewood are gathered. Because the water is unclean, waterborne disease and poor sanitation are constant oppressors.
Girls that get a chance to attend school at all, are often pulled out as they approach puberty because of the risks of sexual assault and rape when traveling by foot the 5-8 km through dense mango forests to the secondary school. Without education they are often married by 13 or 14, often to men much older, and the cycle of poverty continues.
Yadette is our family’s sponsored daughter. She’s 12 and wants to be a teacher when she grows up. For $35/month she gets a chance.
When we met her, she led us down a narrow path deep into the trees where her family lived. Her mother hugged me with a strength that I wouldn’t have thought possible for her tiny frame. And as we talked to them, I found out that she has one older brother but her other four siblings had all passed away. This mother has buried four of her children.
Poverty is a cruel master.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about what masters me as I’ve come home. I’ve been preparing my heart in the season of advent. It’s hard to come home during this season and not feel a little overwhelmed with all the packaging and rampant consumerism of our culture. I went to Target and Costco yesterday and felt like I was going to have a seizure. I think that was the only time I’ve managed to get out of there with only three things in my cart.
It’s easy to want to divide what seems secular and what seems sacred and pick a side. I keep seeing Instagrams of everyone’s homes all decorated and sparkly and part of me thinks it’s beautiful and part of me groans and feels like we’ve missed the point.
It’s easy to want to spiritualize everything and try to live above the fray of it all. I’ve found myself struggling with wanting to pull away from things here because it all seems so fluffy and unimportant.
But God doesn’t do it that way. He never has. Every beautiful thing our eyes see and the fact that we can see them at all has everything to do with who He is as a creator. I am reminded of this as I read through the gospel of Luke.
He came in both flesh and holiness in the most extraordinary of ways. The wisemen brought extravagant and beautiful gifts and offered them as worship. The shepherds came stunned at His glory. And God used both to usher in the Good news of Jesus’s birth and foretell his majesty.
Jesus always taught that He- himself- was present not only with the poor but also present in the poor.
In Matthew 25 Jesus taught us that when we fail to see Him in the poverty and oppression of others, when we ignore their plight, we fail to grasp our Master. We fail to understand the heart of our savior. He made no qualifications of those who deserved grace and mercy. He didn’t mention their choices, their gender, their religion, their political affiliations, or the color of their skin.
That restlessness I feel? It’s living in the tension of abundance knowing that God is among us. He says to us, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 42ff)
It made me realize that to meet Jesus in that place of poverty, I would have to have food, I would have to have drink , a home to open, clothes to spread across another’s shoulders, freedom to visit the prison. I am blessed with these things in abundance for the very purpose of meeting Jesus. He has equipped me with everything I need. So I’m anticipating advent with loose hands asking God to be present.
Child sponsorship is one of the ways I meet Jesus.
I you would like to find our more about sponsorship in Diga district, where we visited please visit our Food for the Hungry Sponsorship page. We’ll be visiting this project for years to come and would love to partner with you in transforming a community.