Friday, 19 December 2014

Zimbabwe and Mozambique

It had been a long stretch of Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm office time for both Byron and I. For me, it had been months and months since I last visited one of our communities or did a home visit. We always say how important it is for us ‘office rats’ to stay connected to the work we do by going out into the community, doing home visits and spending time with the children and Care Workers at our community based organizations (CBOs). But, if we’re not careful or intentional, it can be easy to go months without stepping foot in the community. Perhaps this would make a great New Years’ Resolution for Byron and I ….

When we were asked to be part of a team that would travel to Zimbabwe and Mozambique to support our Service Centre in Mutare, we were stoked, to say the least! Finally, an opportunity to spend an entire week out of the office, building into relationships with our Service Centre staff, and to visit our Care Workers and children in the CBOs. The purpose of our trip: to support the Service Centre in finishing off 2014 well – helping them set plans and priorities for the remainder of the year and to begin budgeting and planning for 2015.

The whole gang!
As with most trips we take with Hands, our time was short. We drove three days, there and back, to spend six days on the ground. In Zimbabwe, we spent a couple of days having meetings with the local team in the Service Centre office and one day in Pimai, where one of our CBOs is located. Pimai is in a region called Honde Valley – a secluded, rural, farming area about two hours’ drive from Mutare. How amazing it was to take in the beautiful, picturesque scenery, to do a home visit with one of our local African leaders, Jackie, and to play with the kids at the Care Point. My heart felt so glad to be there with Byron and, again, I was reassured of the exact reason why Byron and I were in Africa – to help care for and provide hope to children. Here are some photos of our time in Pimai.

Beautiful views as we drove from Mutare to Pimai
The Care Point 
Jackie, a Kenyan who serves with us in South Africa
Tyler, Farai, John and Byron. Farai and John are part of the Mutare SC. Tyler is a fellow Canadian volunteering with us in South Africa
Walking to do home visits
Kids at the Care Point
The kids are SO adorable when they eat!
Byron and I always like befriending the kids who are in the corner by themselves!
We arrived in Macadeira, Mozambique, on a blistering hot day. A few of the children were finding shade under a large tree in the middle of the courtyard, playing in the dirt with sticks and stones (literally). A few Care Workers were busy cooking, preparing the daily meal that would feed 50. Little free-run community pigs were also having their meal in the large garbage pit in the middle of the Care Point, beside where the children play and the Care Workers cook.

As we got out of the car, we braced ourselves for the swarming of children that was inevitable. Macadeira, unlike many of the communities we have visited in the past, is relatively ‘untouched’. It really hasn’t been exposed to or visited by many ‘mzungus’ (white people, or yellow, in our case). As expected, we were immediately greeted by little hands grasping to touch our skin and smiling, curious faces trying to make sense of this different type of mzungu they were seeing for the first time. Some of the littlest ones were so terrified of us they would start crying as soon as we looked at them!

The Care Point in Macadeira, Mozambique. The Care Workers cook in the hut on the right and kids find shade under the big tree
Two of the little ones, Maria and Rosario (they're twins!), that we are caring for in Mozambique
Byron and Papaito! Possibly one of the cutest kids we've ever met!
That night, Byron and I did a community stay in the home of a lady named Rosalita and her two sons, Antonio and Juan. As I think back on that night we spent at Rosalita’s home, I can honestly say that it was one of the most difficult and challenging experiences that Byron and I have gone through in our time here. It was challenging not only in the physical sense, which was to be expected, but the experience stretched us much more emotionally and mentally than we were expecting.

There were massive language barriers – the family spoke not a word of English, only Shona and Portuguese; we had no running water, electricity, or toilet; the shower was made from branches and vines attached to a wooden stick structure; the hut we were to sleep in was made of mud and had a spider-infested, grass-thatched roof; there were no mats to sleep on. On several occasions, I remember both Byron and I saying that it was going to be a struggle to get through the night. The realization that, there we were, standing in the one of the most vulnerable homes, in one of the poorest communities, in one of the poorest countries in the world just kept smacking us in the face.

The sun was setting quickly as we arrived and I was acutely aware that we had little time left to spend with the family. It’s typical that people go to sleep shortly after sunset because it becomes too dark to do much else. In an attempt to help get dinner started, through sign language and simplified English, I tried to communicate that I wanted to help cook. Well … that didn’t work out quite as I hoped. Without even realizing it, I became the head chef of the night and was left to embark on a two hour cooking adventure (I use ‘adventure’ as a massive euphemism here). I had to cook all by myself … in the dark … using the dirt floor as my kitchen counter … over firewood (which is a lot harder than you think) … all while Byron was outside singing and dancing with the kids. As my eyes stung and my throat burned from all the firewood smoke I was inhaling, I couldn’t help but feel so grumpy, so cheated out of my opportunity to be with the family, all because I offered to help. And why wasn’t Rosalita helping? Couldn’t she see that I obviously had no idea what I was doing? It’s a terrible way to feel – I should have been more than happy to suck it up and make the meal, right? Yes. But in that moment, I didn’t feel happy. I was grumpy.

When I finished cooking, I called Rosalita over, pointed to the food, then pointed to her, her sons and Byron and I. Rosalita looked at me, then looked at the food and said, “Nada”. I replied, “Antonio, Juan?”. She said, “Nada”. Crap. I immediately felt sick when I realized that she thought I was cooking for just Byron and I. I felt even more awful thinking that because I ended up cooking that night, I actually prevented her from making her own meal and the family would go to bed hungry. What a disaster! So, there I was, standing in the dark with all this rice and cabbage that Byron and I couldn’t possibly finish ourselves (because I thought I was cooking for five, not two). After a bit of back and forth, I think we managed to work out that the family doesn’t actually eat rice for dinner. They like eating sadza, which is the African staple that resembles a thick, dense mashed potato like dish made of ground-up corn, because it keeps them feeling fuller, longer. In the end, after much insisting, Rosalita allowed me to dish up five servings, one for each of us. Later on that night, as I aired my frustrations to Byron, he astutely pointed out that even though I was trying to communicate that I wanted to help cook, the concept of ‘help’ wasn’t actually being communicated by my hand motions and so Rosalita just thought I was motioning that I wanted to cook my own food. Lesson learned for sure.

The time we spent with Rosalita and her sons was tough because we couldn’t help but feel so out of our element. We were frustrated that we weren’t able to communicate with the family, stressed about how we were going to sleep and whether we would get Malaria, and grumpy about the whole dinner fiasco. Worst of all though, as we caught ourselves feeling frustrated and stressed, we felt ashamed. This was the every-day reality for Rosalita, Antonio and Juan. It surprised us how easily frustrated we became and how insensitive we were to how this family lives day-in, day-out. Our night with Rosalita exposed us and revealed how easily we create barriers between us and those who we say we are called to care for and love. We long so much for our creature comforts that we find it difficult to stand in solidarity or even empathize with those who have so much less than us. It was definitely a tough pill to swallow.

Although our time in Mozambique was short, Macadeira left such a deep impression on us and captured such a huge part of our hearts. We came away with our tails tucked between our legs, so to speak, humbled by the night we spent sleeping in Rosalita’s home and the many children we met. We loved our time in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and always feel grateful for the experiences that help us mature and grow in enabling us to see beyond ourselves.

Arriving at Rosalita's house with our entourage of community kids!
Cooking in the dark
Byron with Rosalita, Antonio (in red) and one of their neighbours in the morning

Sunday, 12 October 2014

My Time in Malawi

Two months ago, immediately upon our return to Africa from Canada, I had the privilege of going to Malawi for 6 days.  While I wish Diane could have been there with me (she went back to the Hub in South Africa), I was blessed to travel with George, the founder and CEO of Hands at Work.  I knew it would be a unique opportunity for me to be in an intimate environment with George and to be able to spend some quality time with him.  The man pours out wisdom and discernment and I was eager for some of that to flow down to me in our time together.

Visiting Malawi was very much an exposure trip for me but one of the other reasons I was sent by Hands was to meet with a lawyer we were hoping could assist us with our legal registration, among other things.  Unfortunately, I left the meeting with the lawyer utterly convinced that he knew as much about the law as I did and, in some cases, perhaps even less (which is a scary thought!). Though it was discouraging, it was yet another reminder of the challenges we face here on the ground and how, by virtue of my background, I am in a unique position to help serve Hands at Work and guide it through this process (as unqualified as I may feel to do so!).

Although the visit with the lawyer was a huge disappointment, the rest of my time in Malawi definitely was not.  Though my time there was short, I managed to visit 3 of the 4 communities (Maonde, Mngwere and Mcheneka) that Hands currently supports.  Being able to step foot in each of those communities, to see the unique environment that each offers, allows me to better understand the situations and challenges on the ground.  The privilege of meeting the Care Workers, of holding the tiny little hands of our children, gives me something to carry in my heart back with me to the Hub.  All of this, in some intangible way, provides me with an ability to serve all that is happening in Malawi much more effectively in my role as project support.  It also does wonders in helping me reconnect with what I am here for.

My time in Malawi was eye-opening.  It is extremely underdeveloped, as you would expect one of the poorest countries in the world to be, and extremely rural, particularly in Dedza (the region where our communities are located).  In spite of this or, perhaps, because of this, there was something about being there that was so peaceful. There is a certain serenity in the environment that I can’t quite describe.  I don’t know whether it was the cool weather (which is always a blessing in Africa!), the small mountains that separated the vast expanse of open fields, or the smiling faces of people we’d pass on the road, but there was just something so beautiful about Malawi.

This is the beauty I'm talking about!
Us on our two-hour hike to church in Mngwere

On our visit into the community of Maonde, we visited the home of a single mother of 3 children.  She barely spoke any English but, through members of our Service Centre staff translating, we heard her story – her story of daily struggle to fend for herself, her children and her siblings; her story of feeling alone, unvalued and unloved.  In many ways, no translation was needed.  The expression of hopelessness and rejection on her face and in her voice did more than any collection of words could.

I’ve written it here many times before but home visits are the foundation of what we do.  They often present a window, however small, into the reality of an individual’s life.  There’s something about a home visit that is so raw and intense.  On this visit, I listened to the story of a woman who has endured so much pain in her life and, in my inability to relate to her world of brokenness, words failed me.  How do I respond?  How can I genuinely communicate any message of hope when I’ve never walked a mile in her shoes?  How can I pretend that I empathize with her when I know I will return home to a vastly different life?  I sat there silent, struggling through the internal conflict.

George, however, was anything but conflicted in how to respond.  He sat beside the woman, speaking in a tone so soft that I could barely hear the words coming from his mouth.  “He loves you and He knows you by name,” was repeated over and over as George stared straight into her eyes.  We only had time to visit one home in the entire community of Maonde and God brought us to that home.  I looked around at the people surrounding me – a white South African, a Canadian, an American, an Australian and several Malawians.  A rag-tag collection of individuals from all over the world brought together at that specific moment in time for no other reason than to be with this woman and to visit her in her home.  George made sure she understood that.  George made sure she recognized that this was Her Father letting her know that she was not alone. 

We could have brought her food.  We could have helped sweep her floor.  We could have tried to fix her roof.  Would it have mattered, though?  Perhaps for that day or the next.  Perhaps even longer.  Perhaps not.  I can’t say with absolute certainty that the message brought by George, by all who were there, made a difference in her life at that moment.  Some of you may read this and simply answer, “Probably not.”  But I refuse to undermine the power of hope and of the power in the message that ‘you are known, that you matter and that you are loved’. 

George sitting next to the woman we visited

Even if the message had not been delivered to her clearly that day, or if she had not accepted it as truth in her life, I know that it hit home with the Care Workers we were with.  And, ultimately, it will be their responsibility to make that message real and tangible for her.  This is why we say everything we do is on the back of our Care Workers and why we choose to invest so heavily in them.  We believe that they are the only ones who can truly effect change in their community.

The challenge in this was not lost on me during our visit to Mcheneka.  On that visit, we were accompanied by a church team from San Francisco.  We began our time by playing games with the children that were introduced and taught by the Care Workers.  The kids all participated and had fun but it was remarkable to see the way not only the children, but the Care Workers, responded to the games that were then introduced and taught by the American team.

(Side note … It was incredible to observe the differences in the African games versus the American games.  All of the African games were inclusive, i.e., participation by everyone was encouraged all throughout the game and there were no winners or losers.  All of the American games, on the other hand, promoted competition and involved some form of elimination process to determine a winner.  Insert social commentary here!)

Playing games with the Care Workers and children in Mcheneka

In each game we played, it seemed the Care Workers were actually having more fun than the children themselves. No longer were they there to facilitate games for the children and encourage their participation.  They were in it to win it!  And, in that, they reverted almost to a child-like state, doing anything to remain in the game even if it meant the exclusion or the rough handling of the children they are meant to serve.  While it was endearing to see the innocence and child-like nature of these grown men and women come out, it also spoke to something deeper.

In the poor, broken communities we work in, entire generations of people grow up without ever knowing what it is like to be a child.  Instead of playing with friends and doing homework, their days are filled with collecting water and firewood.  Instead of growing up under the love and care of a mother and father, they are forced into a parent-like role for their younger siblings at a very young age.  There was never any time for them to be “just a kid”.  Their circumstances would not allow for it.  Instead, their entire life had been about survival.  Fast forward 20-40 years and we have individuals that carry with them deep wounds.  They have a heart to care for children and for their communities but often don’t know how to do it.

As I watched the Care Workers in Mcheneka, my heart was filled with joy as they laughed and played like children.  At the same time, my heart sank when I imagined the brokenness of their own childhood and how it has shaped them today.  Through all of this, I hold on to hope.  Hope that relationship groups will create a forum for Care Workers to find unity amongst each other and peace within themselves.  Hope that Care Workers would come to understand God’s love for them in a real and meaningful way, like it did (hopefully) for the woman we visited.  Hope that this love will flow naturally from these Care Workers to our children.  And finally, hope that this living out of God’s love has the power to transform an entire generation of children from feeling rejected, alone and unloved by this world.

- Byron

Little ones appearing out of the trees!
Melissa and Sara with some of the kids in Maonde
Mngwere, the Life Centre with the best view!
Mngwere Life Centre
Bicycle taxis!
Irish potato fries off the side of the road
Me with Royie, our Service Centre Coordinator, and his wife, Violet

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Long Overdue!

Byron and I have been back in Africa for about a month and a half now after having spent four glorious weeks at home in Canada. I’ll state the obvious and say that it was awesome being home, spending time with our families – especially our nephews and our niece – and hanging out with our friends over delicious food, satisfying bubble teas and late night games of mahjong. Because we are so far away from our families most of the year, we feel so thankful for the times that we do get to spend together. We are happy to report that our nephews and our niece don’t seem to hate us anymore (well, for the most part)! While we would never wish for them to grow up any faster, we do love the bond that has formed now that they are growing out of stranger danger mode and actually recognize that we are family. Love it!

The Chan clan all together in Vancouver
Quality cousin time!

We had a few friends ask us if we were home because I was expecting (I’m not, just to clarify!). The real reason we were home was to celebrate our friends, Peter and Leah’s, wedding. As one of Peter’s groomsmen, Byron definitely pulled his weight in getting the dance party started by being his usual, sweaty, shameless self! Congratulations again Peter and Leah!

One of the biggest highlights for us while we were back home was the opportunity to speak at a Hands at Work Canada event in Saskatoon. We were asked to provide an update on Africa – what’s been happening on the ground and highlights in each of the eight countries Hands works in, and to share about our own personal journey with Hands. It always feels a bit awkward to talk about yourself. Byron and I often feel nervous when we have to share our story, fearing that it will bore people to tears or that somehow we might come across like we’re patting ourselves on the back for the choices we’ve made. It is definitely a bit of an art to be able to genuinely convey your heart in front of an audience. Byron is awesome at it, I am terrible at it – so we make a good team! As awkward as we feel about it though, time and time again, God shows us that He uses opportunities like these and ordinary people like us to speak to and to touch those who may be needing to hear just the thing that we have to share. We were blown away by the feedback and the response we got from our talk. We shared about what led us to Hands at Work, the struggles and indecision we felt about committing beyond our initial one year commitment, and the uncertainty that we still have about our future. We shared that through all of our anxiety and our incessant over-analyzing, God was never interested in just giving us all the answers. He waited for us to take steps in faith, steps that declared our willingness to give up control of ourselves, even when we didn’t know what we were stepping in to. Each and every time we took a step, He would meet us there and always reassured us of the decisions we were making. This seemed to really resonate with people. We are still amazed at how God used our journey and our opportunity to speak in Saskatoon to challenge the people we were with that day!

For Byron and I, we can attest to how our faith has grown tremendously over the past two years.  That’s not to say that we have everything figured out or that we never worry about what we’ll be doing next year or five years down the road. I guess the amazing thing that we’ve experienced is freedom from feeling paralyzed. We still doubt and we still over-analyze everything – that’s just how we process things – but we now have a level of faith that allows us to move forward and to dare to be bold in the way we choose to live our lives.

If you would like to hear our talk, click HERE and then click on “Byron and Diane – Story”. 

Byron and I sharing at the Hands at Work event in Saskatoon
Group pic of the Hands Canada family who were able to make it
Our weekend in Saskatoon was extra special because of the time we got to spend with Lynn and Jayme. Byron and I often speak of Lynn and Jayme and the influence they have had in our lives. They are long standing leaders of Hands at Work and lived in South Africa for over 7 years until recently, when they made the decision to move back to Saskatoon to pursue adoption. Lynn and Jayme have mentored us through a lot and, by the way they live their lives and serve their community, continue to show us what it means to live selflessly and to walk blindly in faith. While in Saskatoon, we stayed with Jayme’s sister and brother-in-law, Crystal and Richard. Crystal and Richard have two daughters, Georgia and Charlotte, who have both been diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA is a genetic disease that affects the motor neurons of the spinal cord and brain stem. Without the proper input from the motor neurons, muscle cells cannot function properly. Muscle cells will, therefore, become much smaller (atrophy) and will produce symptoms of muscle weakness. In Georgia, this has meant a deterioration of her physical condition to the point where she can no longer walk. Her muscles have atrophied so much that her legs can no longer support her little body. She is carried around most of the time, or uses a specialized wheelchair to move around on her own. Her little sister, Charlotte, will likely experience the same type of regression in her physical development. Ever since we heard of the girls’ diagnosis over a year ago, Byron and I have had Georgia and Charlotte burning in our hearts. We felt so humbled and blessed to spend time with Crystal, Richard, Georgia and Charlotte and to witness the joy and hope that they carry, despite the battles they face. Thank you for sharing your home and a piece of your family with us!

Jayme, Georgia and I
Now that we are back in Africa, one of the things that has struck me quite strongly recently is just how unique and special our community is. When Byron and I mention “the Hub” or “the community” that we live in, I think it’s lost on people just how communal this place is. Yes, we all work and live together. In our work, we are unified in a mission to serve orphaned and vulnerable children in Africa. In our personal lives, we are unified by a genuine desire to serve each other and build deep and meaningful relationships with one another. It has been an incredibly humbling and surprising journey for us so far, living in a place like this. People take care of each other, looking beyond their own families or close friends, and truly serve one another. They invest deep into relationships, walking with each other through everything.

I have learned just how transformative it can be to let down your guard and open up your life and your heart to others. To me, this isn’t always easy. I often convince myself that I can handle things on my own, that I can handle my own crap. I often discount how healthy it is to let people in, to allow people to share in the struggles I may be having in my family, in my marriage, in my relationships. We’ve truly come to love and embrace this about Hands and the community that we live in. I am constantly challenged to grow in my willingness to be completely open and completely selfless, even when it’s costly or doesn’t make sense to do so. I’m still learning. I feel reassured, though, in knowing that there is so much grace for me. I am so grateful for the many examples that I have in my life to keep me grounded and that challenge me to be better.

To end my rather scattered blog post, I’ll just update you on where we are at the moment and what we’ve been up to the past several weeks. Byron and I are now back in South Africa after having spent the last 3.5 weeks in Zambia. As we near the end of 2014 and look towards 2015, there is a mountain of work ahead, especially in Zambia where over half the communities we support and projects we currently have going on are located. Two weeks ago, I helped lead and facilitate a bookkeepers workshop where we brought our local African bookkeepers from the DR Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia together at Kachele (our Hub in Zambia). It was a time for our bookkeepers to connect with each other again, to share the challenges they face in their respective countries and Service Centres and to re-engage with the bigger picture and vision behind the work they do. Being back in Zambia was both amazing and tough at the same time. We love spending time with our fellow international volunteers who live in Zambia and treasured being able to see our Kitwe family again. Our evenings were all about fellowship and socializing – eating together, playing board games and just hanging out. But we definitely experienced all of the hard things about being in Zambia too. The massive amount of work spread over so few people and the feeling of having little support to do the job well. In that sense, it was tough, especially for Byron, but we know that is exactly the reason why we went there. Here are some pictures of our time in Zambia!

All us bookkeepers in the field
Reunited with our Kitwe Service Centre family!
Our two favourite boys in a community called Mulenga, Philip and Johnny
Byron and I with care workers during a day spent in Kitwe
Towela making us dinner at her house

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Living Sacrificially

May 24th marked our two-year anniversary!  To celebrate, we traveled to the quaint little town of Dullstroom, which is 2.5 hours away from where we are in White River, and spent the weekend there.  It was a lovely couple of days filled with a walk through the town, a short hike near the dam and lots of eating (as I’m sure you could guess)!  It’s incredible that 2 years has passed since we exchanged vows and committed our lives to each other!

A picture from our hike in Dullstroom
Something else happened on that weekend, however, that took a little bit of shine off our little getaway.  As we settled in for the night in our cozy little lodge, we received an email from George, the founder of Hands at Work.  His email was in response to another email that we had all received from the day before where one of our Service Centre Coordinators informed the Hands family that a child they were caring for had passed away.  The details were few.  All we were told was that her name was Melissa.  At the time, I remember reading the email, feeling sad, but then getting on with my day.  After all, I had never known or met Melissa.  George’s email the following day shed a little more light on Melissa and the fact that she had suffered much sexual abuse throughout her life and that she died as a result of this abuse.  He followed by challenging us on what we are doing as a community to prevent these types of tragedies from happing to the children in our care.

Though George’s email was only a paragraph long, it hit me hard.  I felt helpless in knowing how to respond but knew we needed to turn to prayer.  Diane started by thanking God for our weekend and for our marriage.  She followed up by saying that we don’t take the things we have been blessed with for granted.  As she spoke the words, I felt the sharp pierce of conviction in my heart.  They are words that we speak frequently but, too often, flippantly and this time I could not let it go.  As we laid in our beautifully decorated guest room, having just a few hours earlier indulged in a fantastic, 3-course dinner, I could not help but acknowledge that we do, in fact, take everything – who we are, what we do, what we have – for granted.

There is a danger in being too comfortable.  And I recognize that we have allowed ourselves to fall into that rut.  As missionaries in Africa, it is far too easy for us to feel that we are immune from such danger.  We get showered with praise from others back home who tell us that what we are doing is so admirable, that we are such good people for sacrificing so much, and that they could never do what we are doing.  It’s uncomfortable for us to hear those words and we cringe at the thought of being looked upon in that light.  The brutal and ugly truth, however, is that we allow ourselves to revel in the praise from time to time.

The logic, you see, is simple.  We left our family and friends and our comfortable lives back home.  We gave up well-paying jobs and sacrificed years of income earning.  All of this was done in the name of serving orphaned and vulnerable children in Africa.  Surely, we have sacrificed more than our fair share; enough, at least, to deflect any guilt or conviction that could arise from how we respond to situations like Melissa’s.

The reality is that it couldn’t be any further from the truth.  Yes, we have sacrificed.  Yes, we continue to serve.  But it hasn’t prevented us from holding on tightly to what we have and seeking a comfortable life for ourselves.  This is not to say that we should feel guilty for the things we have or that it is wrong for us take a vacation or treat ourselves to a nice dinner from time to time.  We fully recognize that we grew up in a different world than the children we serve in Africa and that, no matter how hard we try to align our lives with theirs, the disparity will always be vast.  In the same vein, there needs to be a recognition that the way we live our lives and the things we allow ourselves to indulge in is so far removed from the lives of those that we serve.  And it should make us uncomfortable.

As we prayed for a teenage girl who we never met, whose name we could not even put a face to, I felt the shame of allowing myself to become desensitized to the plight of so many children’s stories and the tragedy of loss we too often deal with in our line of work.  It’s stories like Melissa’s that should be ripping my heart to shreds.  Instead, I allow myself to be too far removed from having any understanding of her life despite committing myself to serving children like her.  I hear the news, say a quick prayer, and get back to enjoying the comforts of my life.  I am happy to serve and give my life on the mission field, so long as I can continue to live comfortably.  True, my gauge of what I need to be comfortable has changed drastically from two years ago, which is definitely a good thing.  But I have far to go before I truly understand what it means to live sacrificially.

The truth is, I should understand sacrifice well.  The Bible speaks in no uncertain terms of what Christ asks of His followers. 

The Poor Widow

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
-  (Luke 21:1-4)

I’ve heard the Parable of the Poor Widow a hundred times before, yet, I refuse to allow it to take hold of my life.  When I used to earn income, I tithed my 10% towards the church, towards sponsoring children and missionaries, and various other charitable causes.  I felt like I more than did my part, especially when I compared myself to others who gave less.  But I only ever gave out of my wealth.  I treated the 10% as the requirement rather than the starting point.  The issue runs deeper than just money.  It also applies to what I give of myself – to God and to others.  The Bible’s greatest commandment: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.  And love others as you would yourself.  (Matthew 22:37-39)  I can’t help but wonder how different my life would look – the things I would devote my time, my resources, and my heart to – if I actually lived those words out.

Early on in our time with Hands, we were told by some very wise people that we only experience true life when we learn to live sacrificially.  At the time, I pretended to agree and fully embrace the depth of what that really meant.  I now realize that I’m only beginning to scratch the surface.

Another parable in the Bible speaks loud and clear to this very subject – the Parable of the Rich Ruler – and it makes me squirm every time.  If you don’t know it, the story goes like this: A rich man asks Jesus what he must do to experience true life.  He has steadfastly kept to all the commandments ever since he was a boy and, yet, he knew there was something missing.  Jesus’ reply: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.  When the man heard this, he became very sad because he was a man of great wealth. (Luke 18:18-24)

Surely, Jesus is not really asking that I give everything that I have.  How would I survive?  It’s more of a metaphor, a nice and tidy principle to live by, that shouldn’t be taken so black and white.  In my heart, however, I know I’m hiding from the truth.  Over and over again, I water down the words of the Bible to make them fit conveniently into how I want to live.  I’m not saying that the passage literally means that I must sell everything I have today and live in absolute poverty.  I don’t think God wants that of us at all.  Rather, I believe there is an underlying message at the heart of the parable that I choose to ignore.  If it really came down to it, if God really asked me to give everything, would I have the faith to follow through?  At the end of the day, do I really put my trust in Him or am I too preoccupied with my own needs?

Jesus doesn’t ask for part of me or even for most of me.  He asks for all of me – everything I have and everything I am.  I know this to be true – I’ve known it for a long time – but now I want it to be true in my life.  I want to give of myself completely, not just when it’s convenient or comfortable for me.  I want to hurt when others hurt, not just when it affects me.  I want to give out of my poverty, not just out of the excess that I have.  I want to love others even when there is no benefit to me.

I know I will, from time to time, indulge in life’s pleasures and luxuries.  I’ll take nice vacations, eat much more than my share of delicious food, and purchase items that cost more money than entire families see in their lifetime.  Again, I’m not necessarily saying that any of these things are wrong or that I should feel guilty for what I have been given.  The challenge lies in what I am doing to bring myself closer and closer to stories like Melissa’s each day and the reality that billions of people face in their lives.

So what, then, am I to do with this conviction in my heart?  Will I be content in examining what I have already sacrificed and given or will I instead ask myself how much more I can give?  Do I see the things I have as mine or do I view them through the lens of how I can bless others through them?  Will I devote myself – my time, my resources and my heart – to further my own interests or will I learn what it means to lay down my life and everything I have for the sake of others?  I know how I should answer these questions but I also know that I am my own worst enemy in finding ways to mask my hypocrisy.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever find the perfect balance or feel 100% comfortable about the consistency in which I strive to live in.  I do know, however, that the conviction I feel is a good thing and that it will, and should, endure.

I am slowly learning that, in order to have any hope in this, my motivation must not be rooted in any sense of obligation, fear or guilt.  It must be borne out of love.  I don’t expect to ever fully resolve this tension in my heart and to think that I can will myself there through sheer effort and determination is a fool’s errand.  Rather, I know it will be a process that can take place only out of a transformed heart.  If I freely allow God to change my heart, the things that were once so difficult for me to give up will no longer be so.  Instead, my heart will begin to naturally let go of the things that do not matter and embrace the things that bring me true life.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  
-  (Matthew 6:19-21)

I want to understand deeper and deeper that my life is not my own; that I was not put here on earth solely to indulge in life’s pleasures and further my self interests.  Instead, I am called to be the salt and the light in a world in desperate need of love, compassion and grace.  Through it all, I pray for my heart to be fixed heavenward and for the faith to live it out in my actions.  For where my treasure is, there my heart will be also.

- Byron