I remember a time in middle school when my friend was slapped by her mom. Apparently she had turned up her nose at whatever was being offered for dinner that night. Frustrated, her mom asked her how she would like to live in Africa where kids are starving and all they get to eat is rice. My friend replied that she liked rice – earning her the slap.
What outraged my friend wasn’t so much that she’d gotten slapped. It was that she’d gotten slapped for something she meant quite sincerely. Turns out she really liked rice. At any rate, I never forgot it and vowed I would never use that tactic with my kids.
Yet, when my older two grumbled that they were hungry as we walked into the Christian Alliance for Orphans summit last week, I was quick to point out how we were at a conference to learn how we can help millions of kids around the world desperate for food and a family – so no child of mine was allowed to complain about a missed breakfast. I did find it ironic that they had never missed a meal – ever – prior to that morning. What were the odds it would happen at an orphan care conference?
The next day, while enjoying boxed Panera lunches, we struck up a conversation with a lovely woman from Uganda named Hope. Hope had come to the CAFO summit for encouragement and to network for support of her ministry in a suburb of Kampala. She told us about the seven orphaned children living under her roof and the hundreds more in her community who have lost both parents to HIV. She has witnessed increasing numbers of children turning to drugs, drinking, prostitution, and witchcraft as a means to eek out survival.
Hope started a church to minister to these kids physically and spiritually. One twelve-year-old boy is the sole caregiver for his younger siblings. He leaves the house each morning and spends all day scrounging for food. She spoke of kids as young as 6 left to care for toddlers. She shared her struggle to advocate for kids to get their school fees paid – because they have no parents to do this for them.
Hope faces deep needs each day but she is not without hope or joy. She smiled fondly as she told us about God’s provision. She shared her triumphs like how she was able to outfit the church with corrugated tin walls by selling donated dresses to businesswomen in the community. My friend and I prayed with her over the ministry and children in her community.
After we prayed she mentioned that she had been watching our kids. She noted they were beautiful, well behaved, and sweet children. She shook her head sadly and mused how difficult it must be to raise kids in our country – a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me…” Ezekiel 16:49-50
Hope asked if she could pray for our children. She prayed that we would have wisdom in raising our kids in an amoral society. She prayed that God would protect our children and drawn them unto Him amidst the distractions in this country. She prayed His hand of protection as they grew up in a land fraught with excess and greed.
I was stunned.
I couldn’t get over how Hope had prayed over my children. The ones who have never known hunger. Never known anything but love, comfort, and protection. The ones who each have an iPod, ample clothing, recreational activities, who PLAY in clean water, and have every educational advantage at their feet. The ones who had just scampered away to collect candy from the vendor booths, leaving half eaten boxed lunches on the ground to be wasted.
Believe me, her prayers were sincere. They were not condemning. My sister in Christ was genuinely worried about my children growing up in a country where people suffer from spiritual hunger. In a land of excess where it is easy to think you don’t need God. It seemed she could no more wrap her mind around what that might be like than I could about what life must be like for her kids.
And I was so grateful for her prayers.
Back home I thought about Hope’s prayer when I watched my kids drink, bathe, and play in clean water gushing out of fourteen faucets all over my little hobby farm.
I thought about Hope’s prayer when I hauled three garbage bags of discarded clothes and books to Goodwill.
I thought about Hope’s prayer when I watched commercials promising a brand new smart phone every year and DVR companies interviewing real people as they lament that they can ONLY record one show at a time.
I thought about how I wage an everyday battle against excess as she ministers to hungry, orphaned children in her corrugated tin church. Worlds apart. Sisters in Christ.
Which brings me back to my friend and the slap. I wonder how often we “slap” our kids, expecting them to understand the magnitude of disparity in resources around the world when they innocently have no frame of reference. I think we can all agree that there are better ways to teach a worldview that embraces the poor and discourages complacency than flippantly throwing around comparisons. Especially in light of the fact that we have our own spiritual poverty to address.
Here is what Hope and I have in common: a love for the Lord and a desire for our children to know Him first. Neither of us can raise our kids without His help. Neither of us can do His work without his help. Neither of us has any hope without Him.
I will continue to pray, stay in the Word, to take up the cause of the widow and orphan, and battle to protect my kids from succumbing to a culture fraught with gluttony, complacency and narcissism. And most of all I will cling to and hold out the hope of Jesus, knowing my country desperately needs Him every bit as much as the poorest corner of the world.