When we drove into the township I knew I'd entered a different land. Poverty pictured all around me: bare feet, ripped clothing, women with pails on their heads, trash lining the dirt-cracked streets. Their shacks sat lopsided on a foundation of dirt and their safety fences leaned past protection. A dog with a rope tied around it's neck ran by me sniffing out scraps.
I situated my jacket so it covered my camera and moved my purse around to the front of my body. The pastor, looking over, said, "If someone tries to steal something people will chase and beat the thief." I grimaced because someone in this shack-filled place had been beaten before.
Three small children passed me laughing. I thought they were making fun of me by they way they laughed and pointed. I smiled at them and waved. They laughed more. I became shy. The pastor said, "some of them have never seen a white person. Most of them have never left their homes."
I looked around but not too hard because I feared my eyes looked intrusive.
I sat on a broken chair, in a shack of one of the few believers in the town eating bread, fried egg and hot tea. I looked up and saw saw flies scattered around the ceiling. My eyes moved from the flies to the holes in the roof that leaked light. I wondered what it was like in a rainstorm. I lowered my eyes back to the table. Across from me sat J* and he looked from the flies to my eyes. I scolded myself inwardly and then gave him a small smile of appreciation. "Thank you for feeding us," I said. I pretended like I wasn't looking around but I couldn't help it.
J told us all about the area, the people and the lostness. A big task sat before him and in his 22 years of life and over 11 known and spoken languages he sought to know more so that he could share more. He wasn't discouraged, though he could be. The church sat catty-corner to their home and when J took us over to see it, my heart melted. Nothing special. It was just another shack with a few wooden pews, dark, cold and simple.
I tried hard not to look sympathetic, because that's not what J sought. This place was home. These people were the people God gave him. These circumstances, though an obstacle, did not determine their eternity. I looked around humbled not by the place but by the people.
I can't seem to get Isaiah 66 out of my mind.
Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?2
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
and trembles at my word.
I came back broken. It's not about comparison, but perspective. Their congregation had been given so little and yet they give so much, because of the Word.
I can't help but fall for these people and their hope. It's contagious. Hope is contagious and brokenness is inevitable in this place.
All images by Me