So here’s the thing that I’m a little bit embarrassed to tell you: for the longest time – for most of my life, really – I would see pictures and videos of people living in extreme poverty in this country and in other parts of the world, and my first reaction would be to fight my inclination to care. Honestly, I was scared to care. I was scared of how caring would change me, of how it would wreck my priorities, of how it would take everything that I’d always thought I’d wanted and render that stuff absolutely meaningless. So I would look at the pictures and watch the videos and nod my head and occasionally feel a tug at my heart, but that was as far as it went with me. It wasn’t that I was callous, but on some level I was pretty dadgum obstinate about not wanting to get pulled outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay insulated in our shiny happy suburbias, you know?
In the spring of 2006 our pastor invited a group of men from the Sudan to speak at our church. And that Sunday, as I listened to the stories of how the people in their village had been persecuted for their faith, how they’d risked their lives so that they could worship together, how they’d suffered in ways that I could not fathom, some of my resistance and reluctance started to give way. In fact, as a result of that particular Sunday, my prayers eventually started to change. And by the beginning of 2007, I had stopped saying “God, am I supposed to go?” – and started saying “God, show me where to go. Show me how to go.”
And get a load of this craziness: in August of 2007 I got an email from someone at Compassion International who wanted to know if I’d be interested in going on a blogging trip (OF ALL THINGS) to Uganda. It was an invitation that seemed to come straight out of nowhere – probably one of the most surprising things that’s ever happened to me in my life – but at the same time I instantly knew that it was something I was supposed to do. Sometimes God whispers, and sometimes He screams – and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was pretty much screaming, “HEY! YOU! REMEMBER THOSE PRAYERS? WELL, HERE’S YOUR ANSWER.”
And yes, in case you’re wondering, I do believe that God occasionally enjoys the use of ALL CAPS for emphasis.
The trip to Uganda was life-changing for hundreds of different reasons. It was every bit as difficult as I expected that it would be, mainly because the depth of poverty was shocking to me. It was profound. But I have to tell you: in the midst of those heart-breaking circumstances, I saw so much hope. I saw the beauty that happens when Light shines on dark places. And I was reminded that Joy – deep, lasting, eternal Joy – doesn’t necessarily shine brighter in poverty-stricken areas, but it’s definitely more noticeable when it’s not surrounded by all the junk and the stuff and the things that I tend to cling to in my safe little day-to-day life.
I believe that’s what you call a lasting life lesson, my friends.
On our last day in Uganda the people in our group shared communion on the banks of the Nile River. And as we stood in a circle and prayed together, a guy named Shaun Groves – the guy who dreamed up the whole crazy notion of taking a bunch of bloggers to Uganda and then setting them free to blog about what they saw and experienced – began to sing a song called “Kingdom Coming.” Well, “Kingdom Coming” is one of the songs on Shaun’s new CD, Third World Symphony, and I asked him if he’d do me a big ole favor and sing it for y’all. It never fails to encourage me and remind me of the grace of the Gospel. I hope it does the same for you.
It’s overwhelming sometimes to look around the world and see the extent of people’s spiritual and physical needs. In fact, it’s easy to feel discouraged and think that there’s absolutely no way that we can make a difference. I know that most of us are trying our best to serve our families as much as we can and as well as we can, so it’s not always possible to spend big chunks of time serving people outside of our homes, whether those people are in our own cities or across the ocean in a third-world country.
But what we can do – what is oh-so-possible and oh-so-practical – is to support people like Shaun. His CD sales make it possible for him to continue to get in front of large groups of people and tell them about the work Compassion is doing. And when he tells an audience about Compassion, many of those people will respond by sponsoring a child who’s living in poverty. That sponsorship ensures that the child will have all the medicine they need, all the clothing they need, all the school fees they need. And most importantly, that sponsorship ensures that the child will be involved with a local church where they’ll hear the truth and the hope of the Gospel over and over again. It’s life-changing. It’s life-giving.
And if you ask me, that’s a mighty good return on a a $9.90 investment. Oh yes ma’am it is.
If you’d like more information about Shaun and his ministry, be sure to check out his blog. And if you’d like to buy your very own copy of the (most excellent) Third World Symphony, you can do that on iTunes or on Shaun’s website.
Thanks, Shaun, for doing what you do.
And thanks, bloggy people, for being so willing to help him.