Even though I am sitting on my own bed under the duvet we’ve had since Pete and I got married, I don’t quite know how to find my way back home.
Stranded – in between countries – it’s where I’ve spent most of my life. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.
Soweto, Khayelitsha, District Six, and the nameless shanty towns that stretch for miles and miles alongside the hot tarmac between Pretoria and Johannesburg – these are a painful part of my South African heritage.
My parents have adopted, fostered, loved and provided for kids that crawl out of places like these. And I have seen with my own eyes how a child can metabolize love and grow back into himself from deep inside the hollow shell that looked to all extents and purposes like it was no longer inhabited.
You’d think I’d be immune by now.
But there is no immunization that will protect your heart from what it feels when you look into the swollen face of poverty. There is nothing to take to help ease the smell of homes that are little more than glorified cardboard boxes littered with yesterday’s garbage and tomorrow’s hopelessness.
Unlike the scar from the smallpox vaccination that burns white on my shoulder, on my son’s shoulder, on the shoulder of every child born in South Africa, I have no visible, physical evidence of my Guatemalan experience. My skin hasn’t been broken; but a virus incubates within nonetheless.
I have caught knowledge.
Hebrew epistemology assigns heavy weight to knowledge.
Knowledge of, requires responsibility to, and care for.
I first learned this definition when I was twenty one and studying in Washington, D.C. with all the world before me and enough gumption to think I could change it.
I spent years trying.
And after wrestling the demons of human trafficking in Ukraine and the vulnerability of orphans and children in Southern Africa I recognize now that the change we pray for must be internalized first. There are things I wish I could un-see or statistics I wish I could un-learn that have become a part of my DNA regardless.
The virus spreads and it is not benign. It is righteously contagious.
So as I walk into another garbage dump community similar to the one I visited in Egypt where mothers younger than me nursed their babes wedged on top of mounds of waste, all that old knowledge rises up in protest. I side-step rotten vegetables and smeared excrement and the familiar question heaves itself to the surface. My heart pounds out each word with each step further into a place that no one created in the image of a Holy God should have to call home.
“Are you here? Do you see this?”
And before I’m even done thinking it, I feel the powerful answer blow back into my mind,
“I am already here. Do you see this?”
The response hits me in the solar plexus and I find myself sweating for reasons that have nothing to do with the heat.
As I make breakfast, stumble over piles of laundry, and feed my boys burgers and chocolate milkshakes this question keeps unrolling itself further and further into my mind. But getting lost in a sea of hand wringing and tears will get no one anywhere. So I make myself look up to the Heavens for the only Cross worth navigating by.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3: 16-18.
He knew us. He felt responsibility to us. He cared for us. In both word and action.
So I stand before Him with open arms. I stand in my messy kitchen with the overflowing sink and the laundry that testifies to potty training and a week away. I stand barefoot on this old linoleum floor and offer back to Him what I know. I pour it all out and it is messier than my house and I know that only He can make sense of it.
I have no bold declaration; no road map for what comes next. I simply know that I need to keep following Him as the poor have been doing for centuries. And that these words need to climb off the page and into flesh and blood actions. Whether they be as simple as writing a letter to a child, sponsoring a son or daughter from Guatemala, or opening a maternity home in Kenya.
I will steer by His light and trust that the darkness – as bleak and far-reaching as it appears –
will never extinguish it.
And you? You who traveled faithfully with me. What have you caught from this trip? Might you consider sharing – because often the burden of what we have experienced is eased in the sharing. And it would bless me so to hear from you.