We walked around the corner, feet covered in red dirt. The squared off section of houses surrounded an open courtyard where two tiny little girls greeted us with wide grins. They held dry rolls in their hands and they squealed with delight at a black duck waddling around their bare, dusty feet.
They looked up at us in wonder, our white faces a stark contrast to everything they’re used to seeing. Laundry hung in long, damp lines and we waited for the girl’s mother to leave her station selling fish so she could join us.
Ducking into her home, it took a second for my eyes to adjust and my heart beat to slow. We stepped into a room that was roughly 7×7. A bed, crudely built out of long wooden planks and filled with rags, sat beneath a strip of cloth hung hammock style across the room. A bed for four.
And that was it. That was the house. Meals are cooked in a pot outside over a fire. A small pot of potatoes sat on a stoop outside the door. Fabric hung in place of window panes. This is a life I have never seen before.
It has wrecked me.
I’m struggling a bit to find the right words tonight. I saw absolute poverty today. A mother with three small children and no family nearby to help. She gets up before the sun every day and leaves her babies alone. It’s a necessity if she wants to feed them.
I didn’t know or understand how to take in everything I saw and heard. We left and walked the short distance to the local market where this mother works long, hard hours every day buying and selling fish. Enough to pay the rent and hopefully buy food for the waiting mouths.
Janet, who could not have been more than three years old, clung to my hand and lead me down the rocky path with such confidence that I found myself amused. But also sad. She’s a toddler with a wide, mischevious grin. How does she know this well worn path so well?
This sounds like a hopeless story, doesn’t it? I assure you it is not. Because there’s more. The home we visited belonged to Mwajuma, a spunky ten year old who has had a loving and faithful sponsor for five years. As soon as we all sat down, Mwajuma proudly pulled out a smooth white envelope and reached inside, pulling out the precious letters and photos.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” we asked Mwajuma.
She grinned shyly. “A doctor,” she answered, almost in a whisper. “I love science and math.” Looking through the letters, I noticed one line written by her sponsor. “I’m so glad to hear you like Science,” the letter read. One simple phrase, written by faith.
Hope for a future.
We left the small city of Mwanza today to fly across the country to Arusha. As I sat on the plane, my head pressed against the cool glass, I watched in awe as we flew past Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the hot tears fell.
Our God is a God of miracles. The very God who fashioned that snow capped mountain in all its glory, lovingly fashioned Mwajuma. He knew her frame and the way that her lips would press together when she smiled. The God of miracles hasn’t forgotten Mwajuma. He does miracles so great.
When we landed, I wiped my cheeks and followed the group to the van where I continued to watch in awe as we drove past the African countryside. We came to the Country Office, where a staff of 66 people are dedicated to serving well the 65,419 children being served by Compassion in Tanzania. Before we began, they led us in a few songs of worship. One of the choruses went like this:
For you are great
You do miracles so great
There is no one else like You
There is no one else like You
Before leaving Mwajuma’s house, we asked her mother how we could be praying for her and the children. “Please just pray that Mwajuma will continue to learn so that she can one day follow God and become a doctor.”
We prayed and asked God to specifically pave the path for Mwajuma to become a doctor. When I lifted my head, I looked into the eyes of her mother who sat still on the bed, her hands folded beneath her chin. Her eyes were bright and wet and do you know what I saw in them? Just…take a guess.
Mwajuma has hope. I know I’ve talked about hope a lot this week, but it’s alive. It is alive! I didn’t leave Mwajuma’s house feeling hopeless. I was shocked and I was sad, but I was not without hope.
I left the head Compassion Office even more buoyed by this idea of hope. The staff exudes the emotion. Praise spilled forth from their lips, not hopelessness. The hands and feet of Christ Himself in Tanzania, the staff are under the leadership and direction of Joseph Maila and they are living hope every single day.
Absolute poverty amidst absolute hope.
I confess, I’m still trying to reconcile those things. I want to do so much more now. For thirty-three years I’ve lived with the awareness of extreme poverty and I’ve prayed about it. I’ve given here and there. We’ve sponsored a child. But I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.
And now? Now I do. I’m without excuse anymore. The gap between awareness and action has to close. What does that mean? I’m not really sure. It feels a little cliche to sit here and write these things. Of course I’m going to feel a greater call to action while I’m right here in the midst of it all. I mean, I’ve been to church youth camps. I’ve seen how these things work…
But what happens when I return home to my comfortable bed, my large house, my grocery store and the steady paycheck that allows me to get whatever I want whenever I want?
Honestly, that is my challenge. Hope is slow. Even for me…
But I can tell you with confidence that I know where I’ll start. I will start by writing our sponsored child more often. I will encourage him and build him up and love him like he’s one of my own. It’s a start and though it feels so small, I promise…it’s not.
Because we have a God of miracles and He is still moving and working. There are an estimated 22,000,000 children under the age of 18 and the percentage of those children still living in extreme poverty is high. 65,419 children are already registered in the Compassion program here. Do you know what that means?!
It means God has a LOT of room to work miracles. Miracles so great.
So what about you? What is your call to action? Won’t you be a part of the miracle?
Follow along with the other bloggers here. Seriously. You want to read their stories…