Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is there hope?

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is, "Is there hope?" "Do you have hope that things will change?" Is there hope is a short but profound question: one question that every person of faith should try and struggle with.

I know that I have struggled with this question on many occasions. On one hand I feel there is little to no hope that lives will change from the violence of hunger, disease, malnutrition, and death. There are approximately 84,000 deaths per year of HIV/AIDS and approximately 250 new people are infected every day. This translates to Malawi being the 8 most vulnerable nation in the world for women and children.

On the other hand I also feel a deep sense of hope in God's presence and activity in places of extreme poverty, suffering, and death. We met women who were able to live through and care for their children even with the meager resources of food and shelter available. And men, and women, and children praising God and Christ for their very lives and the power of the Holy Spirit. For me this is HOPE! This is the power of the spirit to give strength to people who live in these hardest and most desperate of human situations. If God was able to work life out of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross then surely God is able to create life out of the suffering and hunger consuming the communities in Malawi. The incredible will to live of the women and children was a revelation for me of the power of God in chaos. And the power of the HOPE that fills us with the will to live and to work with God to make things new.

It was our final day being among the people. We picked up Mary and Agnes, our treasured angels, and headed out to Mtandile. This is the village of Agnes. We were excited to meet her people. This community was a hustle and bustle of activity. Many street vendors selling their wares, music playing, and people were out and about. This was very different than all the other locations we had been at and Agnes was smiling from ear-to-ear. It was a special day for her bring the azungu. She most especially wanted us to see her school, meet her teacher friends, and meet her husband Godfrey and her daughter. We pulled into the school yard - it was a locked school area and all the children were there along with the women to greet us. They sang to us and brought us into a school room. This was the first school that we saw that actually had buildings for the various subjects - reading hall, administration, etc... In the center of the small courtyard was a playground. It was run down by our standards - there weren't any swing seats on the swing set; the teeter totter was rusted and unsafe, the slide looked like it would collapse at any moment but the children were having so much fun playing and laughing it was easy to overlook the conditions and focus on the joy of the sounds of children playing. One of my most favorite sights is to watch a child soar like an eagle on the swings and watching their face scrunch right before they get the courage to jump off and land back on the ground...the look of wonder and accomplishment at themselves as they brush their knees off to go and do it again makes me feel that I've eaves dropped on a moment and I tuck it away in my heart. As I watched the children in this school play on their one tire swing I knew that I was eaves dropping on special child's play and I have tucked it into my heart. Children inspire me to be more than I think I can be; children, no matter what, hold hope in their hearts.

Some of our group stayed at the school while the rest of us went into the village to visit some who were not feeling well. We had one of the Doctors with us and he was going to pay a few house calls. We visited a critically ill man. While Dr. Skelton was examining him we waited in the outter area of the house... many children had heard the azungu where there and they came to see us. They smiled and shook our hands. I felt in the middle of beauty and heartbreak and I wasn't sure how the two could coexist.
As we traversed the village we added new friends to our journey along the way. We prayed for the sick. We chatted with families. We got so much more than we received - openness, graciousness, kindhearted, loving, joyful all of it unconditionally. Every where we went the owner pulled out the sand colored carpet for us to sit on while they sat in the dirt. Do you do that for your guests, do you give your guests the best you have? really? OH, and strangers at that. I want to say I do but I don't think I really do. What is it that causes a person who has nothing (by our standards) to give everything and yet a person with everything (by our standards) gives nothing? Matthew 18:4 says, "The greatest person in the kingdom of heaven is the one who makes himself humble like this child."
Alas our time in Agnes' village came to an end. We had to get back to Somebody Cares headquarters to pick up a gentleman that was going to take us out to a youth program in Nadzuluwa. My ears perked when I heard that. Youth? I hadn't see any teens other than at the soccer tournament and I was excited to have the opportunity to chat with them. We drove for miles and miles through villages and markets and desolation on a dusty bumpy road to reach our destination. It was worth it!
The youth were just arriving when we got there. They had a structure about the size of a 1 1/2 car garage. There were cement rows on the ground for us to sit. The youth pastor immediately appologized that some of the girls would have babies with them because they are the primary caretakers and had to bring them. Why was he appologizing for that? Having babies on the backs of young girls had been common place for us and we didn't question this. There are so many orphans and vulnerable children and teens that have had to step up to be the head of households it was not uncommon to see this and I felt bad that he felt the need to explain. And then it happened.... they started singing; what an amazing array of musical notes strung together in perfect harmony reverberating in surround sound over the very core of my being. I was awe struck. I looked at Cheryl and she was smiling ear to ear. Finding my place in the back I taught a young man how to video and I sat and watched and I could have stayed there the entire day and night listening to this amazing group of youth worship and praise God with all they had. They all had bibles and I could see that each bible was loved - with crumpled pages and floping binding - these bibles were treasured for sure. I don't know how to describe the feeling of watching youth praise God with babies on their backs, with no shoes on their feet, with no jackets to keep warm, and with one meal a day. They praised God for what they have; they descibed ways they had seen God in their lives; they have hope in God and they know He is the way. WoW!

After the service we went outside and Bree organized games to play. The youth pastors are working really hard to break barriers that have been in the culture for generations and generations and so when we played something that was girl and boy it was very awkward at first because they don't do this in their culture. But it didn't take long for them to get engrossed in the game and the gender roles dropped and we were teens just playing a game and it was amazing! Edward, who works for Somebody Cares but works with the youth in the communities, explained that this was the first time that the girls and boys played together. That the youth pastors were really excited and that he felt it helped bridge the gap and they would continue to play these games and little by little he had HOPE that the teens of Malawi would day by day make strides with God's help in transforming their world.
Hope in the dictionary is defined as a promise; a trust. I always answer the question, "Is there hope?" with a firm, emotional, faith-filled - YES! Indeed there is hope. God created all things new in Christ.
"But the needy will not always be forgotten,
nor the HOPE of the afflicted ever perish." psalm 9:18

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