One day I remember walking and seeing an elderly woman moving towards me, batted clothes, no shoes, straining under the pressure of the load she was carrying. As she passed me I recognized pain in her eyes and with the next wobbly step she practically collapsed onto the ground beside me, needing to take a rest. Just on the side of the road like that.
When we first got here, I was warned, that “Africa will break your heart”.
My heart broke in that moment as I watched that woman. And there have been too many moments like that. I’ve met more orphans than I could ever remember all of their names. I’ve seen racism and classism displayed in devastating and disturbing ways. I’ve met many families who are probably suffering from hunger or thirst even now as I write.
The realities of this world are often harsh and heartbreaking when you decide to stand with or in them; whether you are walking across Africa, or watching CNN, or serve as a volunteer in your town.
But there is also something to rejoice for; because as our hearts break, we are often moved to action. In fact I think some of the most inspiring stories in our world come out of this heartbreak; when we in hard times will step across culture, distance, language and other barriers to help those in need. Thank God for those who have let their hearts be broken, and then who have moved from compassion to action. I rejoice in those things and those people, and I hope that my life would also help to tell that kind of story.
As much as being in Africa tugs at my heart, it also reinforces my belief in sustainable development; which I know is a programmatic phrase thrown around these days; like “going green” or “Corporate Social Investment”. People have been using the phrase “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime” for years. So maybe I’m just jumping on a bandwagon, but in that case I’m fully seated with my hands and feet inside at all times. I’m throwing in all my chips and betting everything. Sustainable development is the ONLY thing I believe in when it comes to charity. The past few weeks I’ve mentioned some specific pleas to make sure we are helping others in sustainable ways. Being here, we’ve seen some people that have been helping to create a sustainable future, but others that have given “handouts” for so long that it has destroyed the very people they want to help. And I understand that when your heart jumps inside of your chest, you want to help, and respond immediately. Keep that fire going. But step back and make sure you are actually helping sustainably.
Unfortunately, sustainable development is harder. It takes longer. It’s more heartbreaking, because sometimes the faces and stories that move you to compassion will have to wait years before their situation will improve – and that is guaranteeing that they stay alive and continue to persevere through a process where THEY become the creators and owners and drivers of their communities’ future.
It won’t feed or clothe them today.
It’s an all uphill battle.
But I am thoroughly convinced it’s the only way forward.
So I also hope that my compassion and action never run ahead and leave my rational sustainable development behind.
We can be part of creating a better world. But it has to be sustainable. Let’s not let our compassion and action go to waste. Throw in all your chips; bet it all with me. I promise you’ve got a good hand.