Since we arrived to Africa in October, I’ve continually been dwelling on the concept of poverty. For years now I have wanted to come to Africa to see the true condition of the world around me. I always thought of poverty as being a lack of material possessions; but I’m learning that poverty is a whole lot more than that. I expected to see poverty in young children with torn clothes and bellies distended due to malnuitrition. But poverty showed its face in a way that I never expected – a mental state of desperation and hopelessness that has broken my heart more than seeing children scantily clothed or people living out of mud huts with only cornmeal mush to eat.
I’ve seen this desperation of poverty cause small children to see me, a mzungu, then run to me from way down the street with their hands out begging for me to give them something, anything it seems.
I’ve seen poverty’s desperation in an elderly man in a small village whose eyes had cataracts and whom we had been praying for healing. After we finished praying, he said that he had no more pain…but then he whispered in my ear, “Give me money.” My heart shuddered and I questioned the healing that he professed. Was this what it was all about?
I saw poverty’s desperation the first day we arrived at the bus station in Mzuzu, Malawi. We were renting a minibus to get to the home we were staying at, and as we drove off, there was a brawl for the person that would get the job of driving us home. To our astonishment, doors on the van were kicked and fists were exchanged. I realized in that moment how desperate people are for money and how powerful the mindset of poverty can become.
In visiting Africa, I expected to go and see poverty, but what I didn’t expect was the poverty to come to me – to be so in my face, all of the time. What do you do when you see these things? It makes me want to shout and cry at the same time. Really, do anything but just sit here. But as the months went on, I began to see the brokenness and poverty not just in the world around me, but within myself. The book “When Helping Hurts” talks about how we actually are all struggling with poverty – we have a broken relationship with ourselves, God, others, and the rest of creation.
However, the book also asks readers to examine their true motives in helping the poor. it asserts that often the economically rich have a “God-complex” where our efforts to minister to the poor are not driven simply to help them but to help ourselves feel good and that we have accomplished something worthwhile with our lives. I resonated with that statement… In reality, I am just as broken and poor just as in need of Jesus as anyone else. Who am I to come and think I have all the answers?
Not only that, but today God showed me that there were more things in my heart that He needed to work out. It’s Christmas Eve and we visited a girl’s orphanage here in Lilongway…It was such a joy. We got to act out the Christmas story and play games and paint nails with the girls.
The girls have so little, and their eyes opened real wide when we talked about Christmas trees and presents…one even asked, “Where do the presents come from?” Another girl shared how excited she was to eat chicken during Christmas dinner, something they get to eat only once a year…In that moment, my heart broke. I remembered how that morning, I chose to leave my one bottle of nail polish at our hostel, rather than sharing it with the girls, justifying that I only have one bottle and didn’t want to use it up…God showed me that yes, I struggle with poverty too – choosing to prefer others over myself.
I think all of us World Racers have had a breaking point in Africa. And for me, this happened last week. I became frustrated by the fact that we have had no running water or electricity all month, I had dozens of mosquito bites all over my legs and I couldn’t stop itching them – I was sleep deprived and overworked and exhausted and tired of the poverty and desperation. I was broken
(photo of the insects I found behind my pillow one morning last week. Gotta love Africa!)
I reached out to my team and to Jesus…and heard the voice of our Father calling to me,
I’m here. Yes, I’m here with you – and I see how broken you are. But Kelly, don’t run away from the pain – let these experiences mold you and shape you. I have brought you for a reason; a greater purpose than you know. Not only are you here to help these people but they are here to help you – to help you see me. I can teach you something through the pain that you can’t learn any other way. So learn to embrace it, because as you embrace the pain and struggles, you will embrace me…
Then this morning, in my bible reading time, I came across this verse:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17)
The craziest thing is that the closer you get to Jesus, the more broken you realize you are. Like an onion, He begins to peel open the depths of your heart, revealing more than you knew existed…We are all poor, struggling with poverty in different ways. I’m discovering that a broken heart is the greatest sacrifice we can give.
On a lighter note, here is a video that my teammate Meghan made about the bugs we encountered in Malawi…