Blog: March 2013
We gathered in the small rural village of Kanunga, just outside Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.
The sub-Saharan sun was beginning to share its morning heat as villagers gathered, watered, and stoked their fires to prepare for the day ahead.
Surrounding me were six children between the ages of 10 and 12. Eager to start their daily trek to school, the smallest of the children, Charity, grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the path. We took our first step.
Charity is a pint-sized girl, not even four feet tall. What she lacks in size, though, she makes up for in determination. Charity set the pace for our two-hour walk to school.
I decided to walk with the children this day because I wanted to experience their typical weekday routine. Five days a week, four hours a day, Charity and her friends walk to spend just four hours in a classroom--a room that is no more than a few cinder blocks and a tin roof. No computers. No science lab. No dry erase boards. Just wooden benches and desks. But it's a school--and it represents hope.
An hour into the trip I became thirsty. I realized that most of the children had no water--nor did they anticipate any. My legs grew tired, but my companions were energized, focused, and committed to each step. As we walked, I listened to their conversations, to their struggles, to their dreams. On the road, while "walking in the shoes" of Charity, I learned so much about hope and resilience through the experiences of these children.
When we walk in the shoes of another, we begin to see and feel things from that person's perspective. We begin to shed our biases, misperceptions, and judgments. It's in the shoes of another that we move beyond ourselves and expand our hearts and minds to understand others.
Charity and her classmates arrived at their school safely, looking forward to starting their day of studies. No complaints, no whining; just excited and hopeful about something that would make their lives better.
Whose shoes will you walk in this week?
Dr. Bruce Main
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:34
People in the Gospels seldom leave Jesus’ presence unchanged. Whether a brief encounter or a leisurely dinner, we see people coming away from these interactions affirmed, challenged, healed, restored, blessed, and loved—spiritually changed, emotionally changed, and physically changed. Eyes are opened, faith restored, sins forgiven, bleeding stopped, diseases cured, legs repaired, hands straightened, and, in a few cases, life given. Human encounters with Jesus are life changers.
As we follow Jesus, our lives can take on a similar significance. We might not possess the ability to cure diseases and repair limbs, but we can drive someone to the hospital. We might not have the capacity to breathe life back into someone who has died, but we do have the ability to listen and guide a person away from things that steal life. We may not have the powers to multiply fish and bread, but we certainly might encourage others to share their food. Don’t underestimate the significance of your encounters with other people. Jesus says to his followers, “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12). That’s quite a commission. The question for us to ponder: Will we be ready “to be to another human being what is needed at the time the need is most urgent and most acutely felt”? (The Promise Effect, p. 44)
This practice takes a certain level of sensitivity. How often I miss these opportunities to be an agent of redemption and healing. It means opening our eyes, heart, and senses to what is taking place around us.
Is there someone in your neighborhood, church, or family whose story you need to hear—a veteran perhaps, or an elderly shut-in, or a lonely soul who needs to talk? How will you begin this conversation?
Lord, make me ready. Help me to sense the needs I encounter daily. Give me the courage and creativity to respond to those needs when they are “most acutely felt.”
“Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” Mark 8:17
“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” Mark 8:25
See someone you might normally overlook—someone who rides the bus, a store clerk, a neighbor, a kid rolling by on a skateboard, a senior citizen out for a stroll. Really see this person and think about how God sees them. Then do what God tells you—pray, say hi, introduce yourself, help out, whatever God leads you to do. (The Promise Effect, p. 17)
Do your eyes allow you to see beyond the immediate, the physical, and the stereotype? Do you look at another and recognize the face of Jesus? These questions can be difficult to read, and even harder to put into practice. But in the name of Jesus, we need to strive each day to remember we are all children of God. Share with us one way that you will open your heart today to another.
Lord, give me fullness of vision. Let me see people the way you see them: beautifully created in your image, flawed and hurting, needing your love. Open my eyes and my heart.
“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’ Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barely loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’” - John 6:5-8
John is the only Gospel writer to mention this boy. Odd when you think about it. All four Gospels include this story, numbering the crowd at 5,000, but that only counts the men—since women and children were viewed as property of men. It is rather radical for John to lift up the boy as the unlikely hero.
Commentators take different angles on this story. In the more classical interpretation, Jesus takes the bread and fish and the food miraculously multiplies. Jesus does not create something from nothing; he uses real stuff. This is a pattern for Jesus’ miracles. There is usually some kind of human participation in the event. And because of that, the boy’s contribution is extremely important. In a way, Jesus needed his help to make this miracle.
There is a second interpretation that is just as compelling: Some scholars argue that these 5,000 people were accustomed to traveling long distances on foot, and it would be unlikely for them not to bring some food along. Perhaps as the disciples were going through the crowd, the people were covering up their goodies. After all, they needed to look after their families. Most of us can identify with this response. We do it all the time, protecting our resources for our closest kin. But when the boy generously volunteered his food, Jesus affirmed this act. At this, everybody pulled out their food and began to share. The boy’s act of generosity inspired the others to do the same.
Whichever angle you choose, there is a consistent denominator. At the center of this miracle is an unlikely hero who was willing to act counter-intuitively by giving all he had. How the miracle happens is not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that someone was willing to give—and this “insignificant” gift, basically a bag lunch, sparked a miracle that still inspires us today. (The Promise Effect, p. 13)
What insignificant gift are you holding that might make a difference for others? Reflect, pray, and act on it! Do your little bit and watch it inspire others.
Read about one of our StreetLeaders, Dominique, and how he shares his gifts with the Camden community. Then, go to our blog to share how you have made a difference in someone’s life.
Lord, help me to be like the young boy and give more of myself to others. Lead me as I work to become less self-centered and more "other-centered."
“You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” Luke 6:36
Jesus holds up a new vision of God—God as the compassionate one who suffers with humanity. This understanding of God unleashes a second reality: People who follow Jesus are those who develop the capacity to “feel and suffer” with other human beings. As Christ-followers, we are called to enter into the pain and suffering of others. We listen and connect to the stories of other people. We try to walk in the shoes of our brothers and sisters. We seek to understand them from the inside out.
If compassion—suffering with someone else—is so important, that brings us a whole new perspective on our own pain. Pain prepares us to show compassion to others—and that suggests a challenge for this week: First, think about the pains of your life: physical pain, emotional pain, relational pain, etc. It won’t be pleasant to relive those moments, but that’s just our starting point.
Second, ask yourself, “How has this suffering prepared me to be compassionate to others?” Do you understand, sympathize with, or connect with certain people better because of what you have been through?
Third, think about people in your world who are suffering similar pains right now. What could you do to show compassion to them? Note that you don’t need to fix their problems or provide them with answers; those efforts usually backfire anyway. Showing compassion is simply a matter of sharing yourself—your wounded, broken self—with someone who needs a friend. (The Promise Effect, p. 204)
Throughout this week, look for the moments when you show compassion. These moments will come at unexpected times. Take note and share them with us so that others may be inspired.
God of redemption, teach us to transform our pain into compassion.
Choose Gratitude: 1 Letter and 5 Dollars
A few months ago I visited a college on a recruiting trip. I stayed overnight in the home of a faculty member. One night he and I struck up a delightful conversation about life and families. "You know," he said, "my mother-in-law is incredibly self-absorbed. Everything is about her. My wife is so drained by her presence. No interest in the grandchildren. No real interest in the family. It's odd and tragic."
This was not a son-in-law simply complaining about the "in-laws"; this was a story about a woman who had never developed the capacity to look beyond herself. "My mother is completely different," he added. "Everything is about others."
"What makes her different?" I inquired, curious about the contrast between these two aging women.
The professor smiled. "She had eleven grandchildren," he began. "All eleven went to college. Do you know that every week she sent a letter and $5 to each of her grandchildren during their university years?"
I found this idea rather remarkable. Just do the math. That's a lot of letters and a lot of $5 bills. More striking, though, was her thoughtfulness and gratitude for each of her grandchildren.
Two women. Two very different ways of living.
The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr makes an interesting reflection on the life of Job. Rohr writes: "When Job's life is going to be taken from him at the age of 50, he has one of two choices. He can say to God, 'Why not 51?' or 'Thanks for 50!'" It's a fundamental choice. And the way we answer that question makes all the difference in the world. Our answer impacts our attitude, our worldview, our mood, our spirit, and the way we respond to others.
If we are truly grateful for what we have been given, we are liberated and free to look beyond our own needs and our own desires. If our choice is truly "Thanks for 50!" we now view everything as a gift of grace. And when we view our lives as gifts of grace, we are free to give more of ourselves to others--and maybe $5 a week and a letter of encouragement.
President & Founder, UrbanPromise