By Matthew Hanks | Projects Manager – Africa Every time I’m in a developing country, such as Ethiopia, I consider how radically altered my life would be by simply being born on a different plot of dirt on this earth. Most of the privilege I’ve experienced has nothing to do with my efforts, abilities, or upbringing, but is primarily related to geography. I am also reminded of this reality as I watch my Ethiopian born son grown up in the US. At almost four years of age, in rural Ethiopia, would he be tending to the family goat? Maybe he’d be hauling water from a near by stream? Would he even be alive if he were never adopted, or would the seizures he was having as a baby have left him among the statistics of children who don’t make it to their 5th birthday? My thoughts also arise as I watch the news: would the Syrian born boy have grown up to be an ISIS terrorist if he thought he had an opportunity to go to college and become a doctor? Would there be nine more church members at the Emanuel AME church if Dylan Roof’s father had been transferred to Seattle when he was young, decreasing the fuel of his anger and prejudice?
I think about “my lot in life” and am incredibly thankful; however, it’s hard to reconcile the blessings I’ve received when people I’ve come to care about, who are every bit as deserving of good things in life as I am, seem stuck in hopeless situations. I’d like to tell you about two of those people: two boys who have equally invaded my heart, soul, and comfort seeking lifestyle since I’ve been back from my latest trip to Africa.
The first boy I’ll call Stephen. Not only was his “lot” to start out life as a double orphan, but as a reminder of his biological parents’ shortcomings, he was also born into this world with HIV/AIDS. Last month, when we arrived at the church compound where the children’s home is located, Stephen was one of the first faces for whom I was looking. Based on previous trips, I knew about his fight with HIV/AIDS, but I hadn’t heard how close he’d come to loosing the battle until just a few weeks earlier. It’s heartbreaking to witness a 90-pound child losing 18-pounds. The dagger drives even deeper when you wrap your arms around the 11 year old and feel nothing but bones under the baggy clothing. Feelings of helplessness, anger, and guilt left me completely speechless as we laid hands on and prayed for Stephen. Despite my best efforts to keep it together, tears spilled over the dammed reservoir of emotions. Though I couldn’t pray aloud, my heart was silently screaming for help on this child’s behalf. Without parents in this world who is going to fight for him? WHO!?
The story of the second child, whom we’ll call Gabriel, is even more complex. Our Ethiopian Program Manager, Belgi, attempted to explain, in broken English, a situation at one of the churches where one of our children has “two sexes”. Upon examining the child, my doctor buddy used the term ‘ambiguous genitalia’. Hermaphrodite is the technical term; a term and condition hardly known by the “highly educated” in the US, and one certainly not known by the midwives of the child’s rural village. The condition requires delicate, specialized care and surgery, but where Gabriel comes from, those in authority decided that the most fitting solution to this “curse” was to end his life. That was the fate of his little brother when he was born with the same condition. Out of fear for the older brother’s life, the father brought him eight hours away to a church on the edge of Addis Ababa. The “what if’s” surrounding this child’s future hover over the situation like giant African vultures waiting expectantly for a meal. Without parents in this world who will ensure his heart, soul, and body get the specialized, delicate care that he needs? WHO?!
There Is Hope
I am thankful to say that, at least for these two boys, the answer to the question of “Who will be there for them?” is the Church. Primarily, the ones sharing the responsibility of providing love, attention, and the meeting of physical needs is the local church in their community, partnered with a US church family. Knowing this helps; yet, I still wrestle inside with the ‘why’ for these two.
Luke 9:1-3 gives us a clear answer:
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him...”
I am overwhelmed with the feelings of helplessness when I put myself in the shoes of the desperate father of Gabriel, who had no known resources to turn to for help - no government assistance, no known grants to apply for, no hospital to set up a payment plan, no daytime TV program like Oprah on which to share his story. Rather, his only possible hope was for God to intervene through His people. All the details that have fallen into place are nothing short of miraculous - that the father heard of a church eight hours away, with people who have a heart for children like his, for the church to accept him, adopt him into a family in their congregation, carry the burden as their own, and for a US church partner to come into the picture and offer resources to help. Amazing! These are the “works of God” on display in both Stephen and Gabriel’s lives. It’s why the Lord allows broken pieces in the world and why the Church is the vehicle by which He plans to restore the brokenness.
Look at what Jesus tells us “we must do”, as we continue reading in verses 4-5 of that same passage in Luke:
“…we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
What a privilege to be included in the “We”. We are how He’s chosen to remain in the world. Because of Jesus in us, we too are the light of the world.