What Matters Most

By Alice Brokopp, serving in Burkina Faso

I had made it a point to relax last 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 from phone calls, 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 irritation and desperation. His visits were becoming a regular occurrence, often lasting over an hour. “We certainly can’t handle him today,” I thought. “There is so much to 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 spoke, I noticed that the child’s arms ended above her elbows. The woman had heard of the handicapped trike giveaways that we had spearheaded, thanks to support from a group in the States, and had travelled around looking for the pastor, hoping that we could do something for her and her child. She had no work and no way to support her daughter. As he spoke, the woman pulled the girl out of the cloth to show me that the handicap didn’t end with her arms-she 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 personally 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 to care for the handicapped long-term and take care of their needs; 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 Handicapped International, so perhaps I could 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 into the house, stomped off to see Pete, and yelled quietly under my breath, 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 with me.

Then I went back out with a new 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 Pete out and went peaceably back into work. Suddenly, Pete rushed in, broken and emotional, and said, “Alice, bring your camera, you’ve got to see this!” “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-and-a-half-year-old child who clung on to it with her two stubs. She looked happily up at her mother. The lump that was now forming in my throat was getting dangerously larger. I managed to hold it at bay until I arrived with the three of them to the Handicapped International offices.

When I walked into the neat, air-conditioned “Westernized” room, I couldn’t speak for a while. When I finally did, my voice was shaky. They gave us a phone number, and the pastor got a rendezvous the next day in another part of town. He took them and made sure they had a place to stay for the night. When I apologized for not being able to do it ourselves, he said, “Its all part of ministry isn’t it?”

That same day, I was asked to choose a group of friends that would be honoring me at a birthday dinner. I was so 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; 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, I will be 80 years old and look over my life. By then, the fact that I tried to keep our in-box to under 50 messages, that I found the perfect wording for our prayer letter, that my office was organized, and that my piles were kept at a minimum will be basically unimportant and perhaps forgotten. I believe that what will become important will be the relationships in my life.

Will I think back with satisfaction upon my interactions with the people who 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. I try!!” 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 so weary of people with needs, looking to me for answers. Instead of visiting with my friends, Burkinabe 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. 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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