Feature

Lost People Matter

Charity begins in the heart

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I had made it a point to relax one February weekend; I had played games with the kids, spent time with Pete and put my lengthy “to do” list on the back burner, determined to block out any feelings of guilt. So when Monday morning came, I was ready to hit it.

After a few false starts, we finally began working in earnest, wading through the mound of e-mails that had piled up. We really could have gotten somewhere, and then—“Madame, Pastor Y is at the door.” Oh my! What a feeling of desperation. “We certainly can’t handle him today,” I said. “There is so much to do”

Nothing I Can Do

Nevertheless, I obediently went out and found him sitting with a mother holding her toddler wrapped in a pagne (African cloth). While the pastor explained their visit, I noticed that the child’s arms ended above her elbows. The woman had heard of the handicapped trike giveaways that we had spearheaded with a church in the Untied States (see “Hands across the Water,”:http://www.alliancelife.org/article.php?id=341 December 2009) and had found our pastor, hoping that we could do something for her and her daughter. She had no work and no way to support the child. As Pastor Eduard spoke, the woman pulled the girl out of the cloth to show me that the handicap didn’t end with her arms—the baby had no legs either.

I should have been moved by compassion, but I was still selfishly irritated at the interruption. And I suddenly felt powerless and incompetent—I had no way to fix this problem, not an inkling of an idea as to how I could help. The strange mixture of emotions overwhelmed me.

Finally, I explained in a kind voice that there really wasn’t much we could do. We had no resources for long-term handicapped—we just supplied and fixed trikes. In addition, not much of that money was currently available. But I did know that our neighbor worked with a group called Handicap International, so I offered to go next door and link them up.

I was still frustrated at having to take the time away from my heavy “to do list” to pay a visit to the neighbor. But I did the “polite thing” and offered my guests water. As I brought it out, one of the cups fell, and I slipped. Now I was angry. I stormed (controllably) back in the house, stomped off to Pete and yelled quietly, so they couldn’t hear me, “I can’t handle being in this country any more! I can’t deal with these needs!” Pete empathized. Then I went out with another cup of water.

The neighbor wasn’t home, but I got directions to his office. I realized that the “right” thing to do would be to take them myself. But the pastor wanted to see Pete first, so I called my husband out and went peaceably back inside to work.

Suddenly, Pete rushed in, broken and emotional, and said, “Alice, bring your camera; you’ve got to see this!”

Mercy Me

“This” was my compassionate daughter, on her day off from school, sweetly holding the baby. She was beaming. My heart finally broke.

Pete suggested getting a stuffed animal, so our son pulled himself away from his movie, came out to see what was going on and then turned right back around to rummage through the stuffed animal bin. When he found the teddy bear he was looking for, he took it out to the two-year-old, who clung on to it with her stubs. She looked happily up at her mother.

The lump that was now forming in my throat was getting dangerously large. I managed to hold it at bay until we arrived at the Handicap International offices. When I walked into the neat, air-conditioned “Westernized” room, I couldn’t speak for a while, and when I finally did my voice was shaky.

The people there gave us a phone number, and the pastor arranged a meeting the next day in another part of town. He made sure the mother and child had a place to stay for the night. When I apologized for not being able to do it ourselves, he said, “It’s all part of ministry, isn’t it?” That same day, I was asked to choose a group of friends to honor me at a birthday dinner. I was touched that someone had thought of me and encouraged that people wanted to spend time with me.

Suddenly it dawned on me—not for the first time, but in a more personal way—that people matter more than my “to do” list. Someone had taken time out of her busy schedule to organize a party for me, because she cared for me. And yet I was too busy and irritated to feel compassion for and spend time with a handicapped child who mattered to God. And this is part of why I’m here!

Someday Is Now

Someday, I will be 80 years old and look over my life. By then, the fact that I tried to keep our in-box to fewer than 50 messages, I found the perfect wording for our prayer letter, my office was organized and my piles were kept at a minimum will be basically forgotten. What will become important are the relationships in my life.

Will I think back with satisfaction upon my interactions with the people God wove in and out of each period of my life or will I only feel regret? Will I be confident that I was the light of Christ that I should have been? Will I know that I was that voice of encouragement when it was needed? Will I be assured that those around me saw God’s love and compassion shining through me, even if I couldn’t help them physically? I’m not so sure.

I can’t be bothered to send out Christmas cards. I forget my friends’ birthdays, and embarrassed, I’ll explain that “that’s just the way I am.” When I’m focused on a project, I don’t have a lot of time for my kids and my husband. And after 15 years in Burkina, I’m weary of people with needs, looking to me for answers. Instead of visiting with my friends, Burkinabé and expatriate, I ferret myself away and focus on my list.

Work is important, but there has to be a balance. So I will pray for strength and show love to people with needs. I will be more intentional about visiting my friends and keeping in touch with them. I will stay my impatience to see a project finished and focus on my family instead. I will write down my friends’ birthdays and work hard to memorize them, and then be aware of them as they come up! And just maybe this year, remembering the warm fuzzies I get from opening an envelope, maybe I’ll send my friends a Christmas card!

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