By Matthew Hanks | Director of Africa Projects
Being married and a father of five helps me stay pretty aware of the selfishness in my life. Similarly, my dad often talks about the epiphany he once had: “We dads have to sacrifice our personal desires for our children.” He then chose the chicken leg out of the bucket of fried chicken, forfeiting the best white breast meat for his two small children. I can think of much bigger sacrifices this dear man made for my sister and me, but for him this one stood out as growth in the area of selfishness.
My small group is reading a great book on marriage, Timothy Keller’s Meaning of Marriage, which breaks down most all marital struggles to our selfish choices. I admit most every time I hurt my wife Amelia it’s because I am choosing selfishly. Perhaps most all of the hurts we experience in life from others are the result of them choosing selfishly. I don’t think it oversimplifies it to say that selfishness at its core is the antithesis of love.
Before beginning to work with World Orphans in Ethiopia, I knew that most of the orphans there were a product of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but it wasn’t until I was invited into the home of a victim of this disease that I saw the problem for what it was. I use the word “victim” purposely here since both of the homes we visited were of widows whose husbands contracted the disease in infidelity and then passed it on to them, and in one case onto their daughter at conception. I’m not sure that I can think of a more selfish choice these men could have made. Nor am I sure I can think of an outcome of selfishness that I’ve heard of lately that’s made me angrier. Stepping over the threshold into the dark and crammed one-room structures that these families call home (half the size of many master closets) made it personal.
Infidelity, in any context, is as damaging a choice as one can make, however, in most places the consequences aren’t directly life threatening like they are in so much of Africa where HIV/AIDS is ravaging families and leaving a trail of orphans in its wake. I think about how complex the problem is and how there’s no simple answer to “fix” it. I wonder what these orphaned children would say, or my own children for that matter, if we asked them what the answer is. I have a hunch the innocent answers from my personal dinner table would be the same as the answer from the kids in Ethiopia who have no table because the bed they share with their mom and siblings takes up the majority of their one room home: “These daddies need to stay away from those places where they get this disease.”
That’s basically it, isn’t it? That would solve it. Wouldn’t it? Maybe it’s simpler than we’ve thought.
So who’s going to tell the daddies?
We at World Orphans consider it a great privilege to partner with churches in Ethiopia who are discipling men, teaching them how to be fathers and providing accountability through community involvement and relationships. These churches are true lampposts in parts of Addis Ababa where the vast majority of their neighbors don’t know Jesus. They look at the small supplement World Orphans provides, which has allowed them to greatly multiply their already existing orphan care ministry, as a way not only to care for orphans, but as an evangelism tool within their community. Often the parents of the children in the program, many of whom are HIV/AIDS widows, don’t even attend their church. This provides the church an inroad into the homes of these children on a regular basis that allows struggling parents to know Jesus by the love of his followers. It also gives the church the ability to communicate that these provisions are coming from their Heavenly Father and that their dependence needs to be on him, not on the local church or the NGO that’s funding the program.
Keller’s answer to selfishness, to simply sum up what he eloquently says in many chapters, is to abide in the Holy Spirit. The fact is, we can’t choose to live unselfishly by our own power. On our own we might occasionally find the grace to chose the chicken leg, but unless we continuously abide in him our selfishness will win out in the end. As I’ve worshipped with our church partners in Addis I typically don’t recognize any of the songs or understand any of the words we’re singing, but one thing is always very clear – his Spirit is there.
So how do we fix this? We trust that the same Spirit will guide us and work in the hearts of more individuals around the world, so that fewer children are orphaned and more children are sustained.
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” - Gal 5:24-25