Saturday, January 11, 2014

I Go to Swaziland to Count Rocks

Whenever people find out I’ve been to Swaziland, Africa, people are very excited to talk to me about it. Their eyes light up and they ask animatedly,

“So, what was the highlight of your trip?”

It seems like a simple enough question, but I feel like my answer always comes as a disappointment. People want to hear that I taught a child to read or built a house for someone or helped give birth to baby in some remote village. Instead I have to let them down by telling them this:

“The highlight of my trip was sitting in the dirt and counting pebbles with a very sweet little girl.”

There’s always a pause, as if I am speaking foreign language that nobody can understand. I get a quizzical look, where people wait for me to laugh and scream, “Just kidding! The highlight of my trip was helping a mother birth twins on the mud floor of a hut!” But when the laugh doesn’t come, and they realize I am serious, their faces fall, their eyes break away from mine, and they look away. I can almost hear the scornful thoughts radiating out of people’s minds.

“You mean, you raised over $3000 to go sit with a kid and count rocks? What a waste of money.”

And it’s funny, because if my trip to Swaziland had absolutely anything to do with me desiring to achieve something physical, tangible, or objectively measurable with the money that allowed me to take this journey, I could almost agree. If I thought that the $3000 that was miraculously blessed to me was meant for me to go magically end poverty and transform an entire country in one go, then I might share this same point of view.  If counting rocks with a 5 year old in the dirt was the highlight of my time in Swaziland, it means I probably had a pretty epic failure of a trip to the other side of the world.

But, I firmly believe, with all of my heart, that my trip was not a failure at all. In fact, I pray I will be able to do it again in the future. That’s right. I would spend $3000 again to sit with a child in the dirt counting rocks. You see, the purpose of my trip was never to end poverty. The purpose of my trip was simply to show my brothers and sisters in Swaziland love.

In the Western world, we have become obsessed with a demon called convenience. We like things to be simple and we like them to happen right away. We want entertainment? We turn on the TV. We’re hungry? We open the fridge. We need to shoes? We get ready to go the store, then decide it would be easier to shop online so that we can keep eating our snack and watching our show on TV. And while this alone isn’t necessarily bad, we have started looking even for the most convenient ways to serve others.

It’s pretty easy to help others by dropping a few coins into the bucket that stands next to the Salvation Army people ringing their bells in front of the grocery store. What are a few extra coins? We’re spending money on groceries anyway. It’s also pretty simple to cut box tops off of cereal containers and feel good about doing something for American education, or save all of your Yoplait yogurt lids and feel good about helping people with cancer. And it’s certainly very fast and efficient to click the “donate” button on the top of a charity’s page and feel good about changing the world.
Please don’t get me wrong. Those things are good. Donating money is good. Money is important. In fact, there’s no tool more powerful than money when it comes to changing the world except your hands, your time, your devotion, and your love.

And the funny thing about things that demand our hands, our time, our devotion, and our love is that they are almost never convenient. They are almost never quick. They are almost never easy. They are almost never simple. But they are always, always, worth it.

I firmly believe that if every person on this earth who had his or her own basic needs already met, turned to a neighbor in need and devoted themselves to spending time with this person, listening to this person, sharing love and encouragement with this person, there would be no such thing as poverty.

There are so many things that people in poverty need. And I do not wish to diminish the urgency with which we should act on these needs. Yes, there are educational needs for people living in poverty, health care needs for people living in poverty, emotional needs for people living in poverty and if these needs are to be fulfilled, money is most certainly required. By all means, give your money to good causes.

But when I look at the world, I truly don’t see a planet that is suffering from a lack of money. People have so much money, too much money, and they are willing to give it if you can make a convincing enough plea. No, we are not suffering from a lack of money, but rather, a lack of personal investment. It is truly very easy to convince people to give their money to a good cause, but very difficult to convince them to give themselves.

While these children in Swaziland are very appreciative of the material needs we help meet for them with our money, I am convinced they ultimately care very little about the things we give them.

However, I know the children do care about other things. They care about being seen. They care about being heard. They care about being loved, they care about feeling worthy and they care about the time devoted to them because they know that the time a caring person gives to them is a resource more precious than anything money could ever buy.

So let us not be afraid to be inconvenienced. Let us not be afraid to use the gifts of our hands and our hearts to do the work that needs to be done in the world. Let us not be afraid to give our time to just sit and be there with someone who needs us.

I am positive that our hands were made to do more than simply cut off box tops for education, or yogurt lids for cancer. Our hands were made to do more than mindlessly sign checks that benefit people we choose not to interact with personally. Our hands were made to do more than move a mouse to click the bright yellow “donate” button at the top of a computer screen.

Our hands were made to reach out to our neighbors. Our hands were made to hold a child’s. Our hands were made to pull rocks out of the dirt and willingly count them over and over and over again, not because it is a convenient or quick process, but because that is what is needed of us, and because that is what it means to love.

Let us not be afraid to give this kind of love, the kind of love that others view as a waste of time or money or talents. Let us not be afraid to travel as far away as the other side of the world or as close as our neighbor’s front door for this very simple purpose. Let us not be afraid to sit in the dirt and count pebbles with a child who needs our love.