Reflection for the Week-- June 15, 2008
The following is the second of three excerpts from When God Disappears, a new book by Shane Stanford. Release Date: August 1, 2008.
A Child Who Sleeps in Miseri
By 2010, it is estimated that there will be upward of 40 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a stunning figure-one that is almost impossible to fathom. To comprehend the worldwide effects of this pandemic is to lose the ability to stay neutral or even objective. HIV/AIDS is the global Pandora's Box that has already been opened and will eventually affect everyone on the planet in one way or another. It already impacts our national security as well as the global economy.
Recently I watched as one commentator spoke of the incredible difficulty of effectively confronting this disease. For every step forward we take in the fight against HIV/AIDS, two more hurdles appear. We provide medicines for 800,000 new patients, only to discover that 3 million new infections have been reported.
Yes, when we ponder the nature of this disease, it is overwhelming and invariably begs the question, What, if anything, can solve such a seemingly impossible problem?
Not long ago, at the invitation of Rick and Kay Warren, I spoke at the 2006 Global AIDS Summit held at Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, California. Amid the amazing array of speakers, professionals and experts, I determined that the Church, both local and global, is our most potent weapon against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Church possesses the greatest mobilization, distribution and motivation potential of any institution on earth. The idea of 1 billion-plus Christians reaching together into the abyss of this unbelievable struggle captivated my imagination.
But as I reflected further, I became convinced that it is more than the organizational possibilities of the Church that makes the Body of Christ so vital in this fight. As with confronting any impossible problem, the answer for how effectively we fight and how well we succeed lies deeper than just the sound principles that are the basis of any well-run institution. No, such answers begin in simple-and many times, overlooked-places.
A friend of mine recently traveled to Kenya to visit a day orphanage for children who have lost parents to the HIV/AIDS crisis. In Kenya, as in other nations in sub-Saharan Africa, the needs created by the pandemic have overrun the institutional services, especially those that serve children. Day orphanages exist as a means of providing basic necessities to those little ones who would otherwise have nothing-truly a last resort for these "least of these" among us.
Arriving at the orphanage, my friend met two workers carrying a small girl. Her body was frail and clearly malnourished, but her face wore the most beautiful smile. Whereas her body revealed every sign of what is most disturbing and troubling about the plight of those in her situation, her face revealed a spirit that was anything but hopeless.
As these contrasting images collided in my friend's mind, she greeted the young child with the help of an interpreter. My friend learned that the child's father had died just after she was born; her mother died when she was three. She lived with an aunt who was also sick and who could not provide much in the way of care. In fact, the child told my friend that she cared for her aunt at night, trying to provide her with as much comfort as possible. Like so many in similar circumstances, this child's was a long, lonely existence.
However, every morning, the workers arrived in a "goat cart" and took her to the day orphanage. Here she found not only food and an occasional change of clothes, but also friends and others with whom she could talk and play. Sure, the toys were few, the meals meager and the clothes second hand, but this place in the daylight seemed worlds away from her home at night, and it provided what previously appeared impossible: glimpses of hope.
My friend listened intently as the workers and the little girl described her daily routine. "We pick her up" they said in their broken English, "and bring her here so that she might find a little food, some clothes and some schooling. It is not much, but it is more than she has when she returns to Miseri
"Where?" my friend asked, not sure that she had heard right.
"Miseri" the worker replied. "It is the name of her settlement. The word comes from the Swahili for 'Egypt.' "
My friend realized that although she had only faintly heard our English word "misery," it certainly conveyed the right meaning. Misery was more than appropriate to describe the child's life. After all, what hope did she have? She most likely would not grow up to finish school, train for a job, have a family, or for that matter, enjoy an abundant childhood like the kids my friend knew in the States. No, the chances of her having a future were those same impossible odds the disease brings to everyone who suffers from it-but now, for my friend, these obstacles were all the more tragic because now they had a face.
Standing there, my friend was lost in thought, musing on how impossible it all seemed for this little girl. Where was God? Where was hope? What could effectively confront the wake of this disease, not only for this child but also for all children? What could possibly fill the void left by such desolation of not only a child's present but also her future? She paused a moment, lost in the realization of such sorrow. But then, as she looked up, she again saw the child's smile and the embrace of the workers, their love and care for this little one. Above all, she saw that in spite of the obvious struggles, this picture seemed full of possibilities, not because the circumstances she had encountered weren't daunting, but because there was something tangibly hopeful about the scene. Surrounded by so much sorrow and despair, my friend saw something amazing-and she found the answer to her questions.
Her answer was right in front of her, resting in what she had almost missed. My friend realized that despite the disease and the impossible circumstances intended for this child, nothing was set in stone. No. Why? Because of these people who loved like Jesus, touched like Jesus, cared like Jesus-who had become Jesus to her-misery was not all she would know.
Be Salt and Light... You Matter!