I started reading a book this morning about the story of Idi Amin, the dictator in Uganda. There is a whole bookshelf of books here and I'm enjoying reading them during the evenings. My teammates have quickly learning that I’m an avid reader as I devour their books. I've only completed the introduction of this book and already I am tired. Not tired of reading it, but tired of this world. The horrors that humanity is capable of is nauseating. The darkness in this world is often overwhelming and, at times, I get discouraged. The constant battle with evil and sin is exhausting.
A friend emailed me a quote and the words just struck a chord with me:
“This place, my work...this family has changed my life to the core. They have taught me to open my eyes to the world --- to fully see the beauty and sweetness of raw life, to embrace brokenness in order to become whole and alive. Working with the poor is not glorious --- in a sense of feeling warm fuzzies because I made someone smile today or tried to play the role of God or Santa Claus in their life --- those things are fake. Caring for the poor is easy, it's knowing the poor that ties you in knots. It forces me to wrestle with tough questions that I didn't have to before because they were hidden by my privilege, by my whiteness, by my ignorance. To be honest...it stings...this whole refining process...sometimes I wish I could just purge parts of my identity out of me. Why is it that I have grown up to reduce Christianity to judgment, morality, tradition and even habit? Yes, it is about having an authentic relationship with Christ, but why did I slap my neighbour in the face by doing nothing? When my poor brothers and sisters read the scriptures, they cling to Jesus' words when he speaks about the poor --- why am I finally waking up to them? Because I grew up in suburbia does that mean that these verses don't apply to me? That I can simply reduce them to charity if I have time? God is teaching me that engaging with these complicated, integrated issues of poverty (oppression, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, exploitation, poor housing, crime, hunger, exclusion...) is not optional for someone who claims to follow Christ --- it is a mark of a Christian. In this life I have been born into a land of plenty and my privileged skin has given me a voice --- how am I going to speak and will it be worthwhile? Repenting of this ugliness inside me is only the first step --- how am I going to live the rest of my life? Ali Jacobs October 22, 2007
Caring for the poor is easy, it's the knowing the poor that ties me up in knots inside. Knowing and experiencing how the poor live is a daily trial. It would be so easy to try to step in and give them the life I believe that they deserve when, in reality, it is God who works and moves. I am having to wrestle with questions of privilege and whiteness. Why was I born in Canada to a wealthy and white family? Why have I waited so long to do something in an effort to help? And why, when I get tired, do I just want to board the next flight home to be safe and comfortable in my family's arms?
The faith of Christians here seems so much more real than my own. Their faith has been tried and tested in the real difficulties of life. All the Biblical passages about the poor, orphan, and widow hit home for them. For me, these passages still seem to be such a distant phenomena!
These issues are truly complicated. How does a foreigner attempt to deal with the issues of oppression and unemployment and HIV/AIDS and illiteracy and exploitation of children and hundreds of other issues....? Particularly this young, white, naive, Canadian girl? How can I help?
After 90 days the doctor's strike here in Kenya is officially over. They have resolved it and doctors are to be back at work. After over a month, public university lecturers are also heading back to work. University students are now able to head back to class to resume their degrees. What could I have contributed to these issues? I am neither a doctor nor a university lecturer. And, these issues never touched me personally so I rarely even thought about, let alone prayed about, these problems! Shouldn't I as a Christian be spending all my waking hours on my knees interceding for my fellow man?
Only God can truly enact change in the lives of humanity. I am learning that, in reality, I can do absolutely nothing to help. It is only by the grace of God and God-given humility that I may ever be able to do anything of significance in my short life. All I can do is to be present in the lives of the people I build relationships with, to pray for them, and to do my best to follow God's prompting in my life.