Is there anyone else out there who can hardly bear to read the international news these days? Something about the plight of homelessness in winter strikes me as unbearable hardship. Add to that the loss of loved ones, the gouging of life savings by unprincipled men taking advantage of desperate people, the mud and the trekking in the cold and the uncertainty of when life will ever get better and it is just more than I can stand. I look at the photos of refugees huddled around small fires built out of bits of scrounged trash, the chapped lips, the bloodshot eyes with a film of hopelessness and I can’t stand it, but I can’t look away. Because it could be me. By some accident of grace (is there such a thing?) it isn’t me, but it could be.
All last week Gabe and I were fighting off a cold/cough that kept sitting hard on our chests every morning with that ugly feeling that it was settling in to stay for a while. We fought it with all the stuff in our cupboard: the Vicks rub, the eucylyptus oil, the Emergen-C, the echinacea by the handful, the Immunotea with raw honey, the elderberry syrup, the grapefruit seed crush to gargle for sore throat. And we won. It never did get a chance to settle in. Every time I fixed another cup of soothing tea, I thought of those refugees shuffling miserably through the mud, wiping a runny nose on a coat sleeve, hoping for asylum only to come up against a barbed wire fence. No comfort and no hope. I can’t stand it , but I can’t look away.
I keep reading opinion bits here and there on the interweb about short term missions and how ineffective they are. “It should have been sold and given to the poor,” Judas said about the priceless ointment Mary used to bathe Jesus’ feet. That is what some folks say about youth group missions trips. All that money spent on tickets for 6 weeks in a foreign country. It’s a waste. You could feed hundreds of people with that money. It’s not a good use of funds. They go, take a bunch of pictures of themselves being the angel of mercy to post on their social media, and they go home again and feel good about having done their bit, and then they buy the next generation phone. I suppose there is some truth to that, and the funds may be wasted sometimes.
But. What if that youth can never be the same? What if she is impacted profoundly by the dignity of a lady singing as she bends to her twig broom, sweeping her packed-dirt courtyard outside of her mud hut.. what if she thinks about this countless times when she wants to grouse about the state of her kitchen floor? What about the pastor who is spending his entire life in evangelism, living by faith, cheerfully serving the youth team cooked spaghetti noodles and fruit compote and they bless the food and are truly grateful… what if she remembers this when she serves bread and soup to her visitors and she doesn’t apologize because hospitality is not just food and she learned this in a village in Ukraine? What if she thinks about the mile walk to the well for water and the small amounts allocated to washing and general cleanliness because it is just really far to that well… and she cannot find judgement in her heart for the dirty begger standing by the intersection because without easy access to water, who can be clean? What if she met someone who literally never had a chance and she learned to care about the family that is all across the world? What if she learned an entirely new and perfectly acceptable way to peel a banana and got thoroughly embarrassed by her own condescending ideas of how things ought to be done? What if that short term missions trip changed the way she lived her whole life, made her see how much she has been freely given? What if she could never just not look because the people are all God’s people?
I don’t even know what this post is about. You are allowed to do that on a blog, I have heard. Maybe it’s about investing in a plane ticket, or exposure to the miseries and inequities in the world, about stripping away the insulation that keeps us self-centered and absorbed in our entitlement to more and better stuff. Maybe it is just plumb stream of consciousness. But we have to look. We have to see around us. What can we even do about it? As much as I would like to be there at the barbed wire, handing out hot coffee to the refugees, I am here and my children want popcorn.
Still. What if we all look at the brokenness and let it settle on us and know that there is only one solution, so we lift it up with groaning and pleading. What if all our collective whispers and petitions rise and God moves to change the affairs of nations? What if we don’t look away and we see what is coming with eyes of faith, so that we start investing in a better place “where righteousness dwells” instead of busily attempting to make heaven on earth?
As hard as it is, I really think we have to look.