“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
— Fred Rodgers
These last 2 winters, my kids and I have taken to making fires in our fireplace. Though I dabbled in boy scouts when I was a child, making fires over and over has allowed me to try different ways to build the perfect fire. Which twigs go where, how many sticks and logs right away, etc. But no matter which method I try, my kids and I never cease to be amazed that the tinniest flame grows into a raging fire. We can sit and watch it for hours, putting log after log on.
Then, just when you think it’s snuffed out after going for awhile without care, I can remove some of the wood from the top, get down on my knees and breathe short bursts of air and watch embers inside help the fire rage again. I love the peace that comes from looking at a “dead” fire, only to discover that a tiny bit rejuvenates it.
When I look at our (un)civil discourse these days, we need some hope. People are tired and angry; scared for what has happened or will happen if nothing is done. Across all political spectrums, R to D, people are in need of hope.
I sometimes wonder what my friends in Africa would say about our political circus – where polls + culture + TV ratings + sensitive/complex issues that strike at the heart of our best and worst selves combine to = chaos that you can’t watch without cringing, but you also can’t look away from either. While this won’t be a political blog, I can’t help but connect this month’s theme (unEXPECTed hope) with the anger that seems to permeate our uncivil discourse in a race/brawl to the White House.
Where are the classy? Where are the gentlemen and ladies? Where are the people who sacrifice self for service, leaving ego at the door?
Are you befuddled, too? Angry? Feeling disenfranchised or unheard? Feeling your way of life is under-attack? Hopeless?
Who do I want my children to emulate? Fred Rodgers once said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
So, let’s stop. Slow down. Get on our knees and look for hope.
Is unEXPECTed hope EVERYWHERE?
After 10 years of kneeling bedside next to people no longer with us or watching economically poor widows take in children not their own, but loving them as if they are… I’ve learned that sometimes hope needs to be tenaciously unearthed because it’s not easily found. But, hope is always found in the embers of faithfulness.
This past October, I was sitting in a rural church in southern Malawi. Ravaged by a flood earlier that year and facing another round of starvation soon, I was overwhelmed by all that I saw. It was humbling to have just come from a land of milk and honey, where my kids and I regularly throw away leftovers because we are just too full, to sit here and watch people starving before my eyes.
Could hope be found here?
Sitting with pastors I had never met before, but hoped to partner with soon, I had come to say what we always say: “We know God is on the move here. What we don’t know is everything else.” For the next few hours, I asked questions and here’s a summary of what I learned.
unEXPECTed hope is EVERYWHERE.
The pastors on the left in this picture shared about their $2-3/week in tithes and offerings each week and their efforts to do what they can because God has called them to care for orphans. They told story after story of people starving from the washed out lands that wiped away all the resources people had planted. They told me stories of how they prayed over the little they had to give, then discerned who to help next. They shared how they trusted God. Because if God is calling them to help, it all belongs to Him anyway.
They shared how their hope is not found in earthly things. They shared that they needed to trust that God would provide for others who they could not reach. They shared that the lack of rain reminds them that we should not put our hopes in man.
Truth. But, here is the unEXPECTed hope to remember…
The folks on the left pointed to the folks in the middle and said,
“But as God would allow us, I pray we can also extend our reach to where these people serve. For there is real need. They collect only $1/week and the need is greater. People are dying.”
Then, those pastors remark, “Thank you pastor” and proceed to share the need and faithfulness to respond, trusting God to multiply. Then, they, like the first set of ministry leaders, point to the right and say, “But as God would allow us, I pray we can go there where an even greater need rests. They collect only $0.50 and people are dying every day.
8 out of 10 people served by the churches I met that day are eating less than 1x/day.
On an earlier trip to a similar place, I remember my father, a minister of 43 years saying, “Ryan, I don’t understand how these people cannot see that they are the ones who are poor. How can they not see they have done enough? Where does that hope come from?”
Friends, while you and I may see desperation, we can get down on our knees and thank God for the hope He has placed in these unEXPECTedly hopeful people.
There is no economic cut off where love and hope begin or the lack of it excused. There is no – suddenly, the words of God are true – because you’ve met some threshold. We, like all people before us, are living in moments that require us to get on our knees and look for hope, taking great care to encourage it; not snuff it out with our man-fueled doubt & fear.
We should be quicker to follow the lead of servants who serve the greater good. Lifting them up with our hearts and time will bring out the best in us. In doing so, maybe we will cease to entranced by the mirage of the doubting, fear-mongering circus that fuels our worse selves.
Traveling to places like Malawi remind me that we should expect hope to be found – always – because God has been, is, and will be at work. May the faithfulness of volunteer pastors in Malawi remind us to earnestly pray that we may be used to multiply hope.
Until next week,