Sunday, March 30, 2008

Overwhelmed by Darkness

When I first visited Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, my emotions were sent reeling. One million people living in squalor. Very few had electricity or plumbing in their homes. By the time I saw it, I had been in Kenya for two weeks and already seen much poverty. But Kibera was overwhelming. Here the poverty was not only deep, but it was wide. There were so many people living in such terrible conditions, that I left feeling powerless.

The guides that I was with were local professionals that worked for the NGO, Practical Action. I told them how I felt. I told them I didn't think anything I could ever do could make much difference to this place. I felt as though I could devote my entire life to trying to help this place, I could give all the money I ever will have, and it would barely make a ripple in this sea of trouble.

They reminded me that, if I make a difference in one person's life, I have done something significant. Just one person. If we really believe that people are made in the image of God, and that they, therefore, have a special value, then what we do for them, and how we relate to them, is cosmically significant. This is what Mother Teresa knew when she scraped the dying off the streets of Calcutta. This is what Jesus meant when he said that what we have done to the "least of these" we have really done to him.

Despite knowing this, and despite remembering that making a difference in only one person's life is significant, I recently became overwhelmed again. Last Thursday, a graduate student and I travelled to Katy, Texas, to meet with a Honduran man (Uncle H.) who has experience setting up NGO's and socially responsible rural advocacy for-profit businesses there. Did you follow that? It was an informative and eye-opening meeting. (By the way, Mom, sorry I didn't get to see you or say hello.)

But I left again feeling overwhelmed by the scope of what we are trying to do. The map shown is shows a "corruption index" of some kind. The government corruption, the bureaucracies, the under funded government programs, and the unethical business practices (like intentionally making contracts with rural farmers that are likely to default on loans, and taking their lands as collateral) - all this left me discouraged that we can really make a difference. Insert sad face emoticon.

But then, Friday night, we had yet another meeting. This one was at church and was for leaders of the small groups, or cells, and was meant to be a time of encouragement and refreshing. And it was. Our pastor shared that he too, can feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the "darkness" of the world. There are so many bad things out there, and so much personal pain and suffering. It sometimes gets him down. But recently, he has been meditating on a beautiful verse from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Chapter 60 verses 1-3 reads:

"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you. And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising."

May it be that when people look at me, they see the light of Christ reflected, that it shines in the "darkness" of the world, and that people, nations, and even kings, will be drawn to Him because of it.

Heady stuff.

1 comment:

Thistlerose said...

i totally hear you! in some of my most overwhelming moments of darkness, that's when God reminds me that i'm not here to change the whole world (or even the whole of romania, guatemala, etc.) - i'm here to give Him my will, and He'll change me in ways that will allow me to do maximum good in this messed-up world.