Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Leaving The Corners

This morning, I noticed a technicolor bruise on my hip that I got from catching a corner of a desk yesterday at work. I was thinking how the corners were sharp and should be rounded off to ease my way through the store. It reminded me of something I heard in a crowded four runner en route to a border community in Zambia.While I was in Zambia, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Lynn Chotowetz and George Snyman as they arrived in Zambia from a trip to the DRC. (Democratic Republic of Congo) These two men are extraordinary in their abilities to convey the urgency of the work that they have undertaken as leaders of Hands at Work. Their stories are amazing and inspiring because they allow themselves to be put in positions of the extreme and the extraordinary as they seek ways to serve the very poorest communities. Spending a few hours in a vehicle with Lynn and George is to be privvy to the stories that pour out of them as they recount what to them have become very typical experiences. I'm always surprised though at the depth of emotion and empathy that these men feel after years of serving in these capacities. I often wonder if you could become numb or jaded to the vast needs and deep hurts that these communities continue to experience. I haven't seen a sign of numbness or jadedness in either of these men.
This morning, as I assessed my bruise with a poke, I found myself thinking about a story that George told us while we were driving to a new community on the Congo border. He spoke of a woman named Margaret in a remote community in the DRC. A group of Hands volunteers had joined with George and Lynn and travelled together to this village in an effort to assess needs and talk to people in the area about the ways that they could alleviate some of the suffering. It was a similar venture to what we were doing that very day in Zambia. The village was remote and so the group of men knew that they would need to stay in the community overnight, which can be a risky venture anywhere but particularly in the Congo. George was to stay with a woman named Margaret and as he walked with her through scrub and bush, he realized that where this woman lived left her particularly vulnerable because she wasn't close to neighbours or others. Margaret is a widow and takes care of 5 children in her home. One of the kids, at sixteen, built the shelter that they call home and it was open to the elements with a bare floor and no door to protect them from snakes, scorpions or whoever walked by on the path to the village. Margaret's 15 year old works cattle every day for about $2000 DRC which is enough to buy a small bag of mealy meal to feed the family for a meal. The 10 year old and 8 year old catch mice for meat in the dry season but in the rainy season, there are no mice and therefore, there is no meat or protein in their diets. George realized that the land that Margaret lived on was prime agricultural land. It had been in her family which is why she stayed, it was all she had. The land was fertile and ran along the riverbank and would produce great crops if it could be planted. Unfortunately, Margaret's poverty kept her from affording the few dollars it would cost per year to plan crops that would provide food and income for her family. As evening fell, George sat around the fire with this small family and a neighbour came by. He owned the hammermill in the village and therefore had an income and means to provide for his family. He walked by the fire and stopped to chat and couldn't believe that there was George, a foreigner, coming to visit their community and he was staying with the poorest of the poor in the village. He contextualized it as Jesus leaving heaven to come to earth and working and living among the poor and despised in society. As they visited, George spoke to him of how in biblical times, farmers were told to leave the corners of their land for "gleaners" to come and harvest so that they too could have some food. As he spoke, another man from the village joined them and the conversation turned to a challenge of how these men could find corners to leave for someone like Margaret. George pointed out that if they were to loan Margaret the money to plant, not only would it benefit her family, it would provide for the village and in turn, begin to show itself in their own businesses.This morning, I was thinking about a friend who told me that she "could never do" what I do, in going and working in Africa. I don't think everyone has to go to Africa. I feel like I have been given an amazing opportunity to see and learn from Africa but it also applies right here in my own city. There are many corners that we can leave for others. A friend who finds amazing deals and loves to shop...she leaves her corners by buying two for one's and donating the extra to the local Food Bank. She does this every week and has for years...imagine the corners she's left in those years for others. A coworker who is an amazing salesperson putting her skills to use to show people how simply buying Unicef Christmas cards can change the lives of others for the better...those are corners she can leave. We can leave corners by donating clothing, buy an extra flat of veggies at Costco and donating them, giving a few hours of our day off to volunteer for a local agency.If we can find a way to leave the corners for others, those corners will be rounded off and ease the way for us to walk through this world.

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