I hope you’re ready for a baring of the heart, and for questions without easy answers. It’s late at night, which is usually when I start to ask those questions, and I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading books about corruption and harmful international economic policies in Africa and about abandoned children. I’ve been reading newspaper articles as quickly as I can before they are used to wrap my purchases in the market. I’ve been reading statistics in books about economics and poverty. I’ve been reading the Bible. I’ve been reading faces – happy ones, sad ones, thin ones, ones framed by orange-tinted hair (a sure sign of malnutrition.)
I love reading. I don’t love what I’m reading.
This world is broken. It is filled with hurting, broken, and lost people. And I have read – in my books, in my Bible, in those faces - that they are not far off on a distant continent. They are not far away right now, while I am in Zambia, and they won’t be far away six months from now when I’m back at school.
I can teach six kindergarteners the alphabet during school time. I can read Curious George to eight children before bed. I can play Simon Says with ten scrappy village kids before its time for dinner. I can change diapers, give bottles, take inventories, scrub rugs, tickle two dozen or so tiny bellies, and answer a thousand precocious, nonsensical and endless questions with as much patience as I can muster.
But outside these walls are 16 million more bellies, 16 million more faces, 16 million more gap-toothed smiles and snotty noses and giggles. 16 million more orphaned by AIDS alone, let alone malnutrition, starvation, malaria, pneumonia, TB, war, and all the countless other dangers to one’s life that exist in such a hard place as Africa. There are children out there to whom no one is reading Bible stories. No one is giving them raisins after naptime, even though they didn’t really sleep and instead made silly noises the entire time. No one is putting them on the naughty chair to teach them not to hit. No one is picking them up, swinging them around, and telling them they are loved. No one is caring for them; does no one care about them?
I don’t know what to do about this. Is there anything I can do? Is there anything the church can do? For every orphan clothed and fed, there are millions more in line behind him, in a line that stretches farther than the eye can see. I don’t have enough kwacha (Zambian money) to buy enough fritters (fried dough sold in the village) to feed all of the hungry, malnourished children I pass on the half-mile walk between the orphanage and the market, let alone all of the orphans in Africa, or even a single country. And that doesn’t even include the millions scattered across the rest of the world – in every single community in every single country – children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia; children separated from their parents by Maoist rebels in Nepal; children left homeless by earthquakes in Haiti; children threatened by drug cartels in Latin America; children begging for food on the streets of Hungary; children working as sex slaves down the street from my high school; children living below the poverty level in Abilene. There are just too many. I cannot save them all. I’m not sure that I can save any – that I ever have, or I ever will. It is overwhelming, it is heartbreaking, and it is discouraging.
I know that He is in control. I know that He weeps for and with every orphan on the planet, and that He loves them. I know that this is the way the world is because of sin. But I certainly don’t have to like it. I don’t have to accept that there is nothing I can do about it.
I will work, and pray, and do all that I can.
I want to do more. I will always want to do more. I don’t know what I can do. I don’t know what anybody can do. If you know the answer, please share. I’m not the only one asking these questions.
I am not the only one who reads.