Part of our orientation with the organization we are working with (Hands at Work) is the chance to sit with George Snyman, the man who founded the organization, and hear how Hands came to be and where he gets his guidance for the work that Hands is doing throughout Africa. Having met George on several occasions and been around him for some amount of time, I am always excited/nervous to sit near him and hear him talk. The first time Jason and I had coffee with him, we were thinking in terms of a youth group trip, George told me casually as we parted ways, “See you in Africa!” and I said, “Well, you’ll see Jason in Africa.” He looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll see you in Africa.” It was then I was convinced that this guy was nuts. He obviously read me all wrong. I never had any desire to go to Africa, or really on any type of overseas mission that didn’t involve flush toilets and a bug free atmosphere. Seriously, after the aforementioned Shasta trip, I wasn’t really even excited about camping anymore!
Fast forward four years, and here I am, my third trip to Africa and my family in tow. As the great philosopher, Justin Bieber, would say, “Never say never!”. So this week, I find myself and Jason and Aidan, along with the three other girls who are in our orientation group, sitting around a table with George. Just an aside, all three of the girls are Canadian prairie girls. How lucky are we? Carly and Carleigh (I kid you not) are from Winnipeg, while Melissa is from good old Saskatoon. Crazy. We’d never met until we arrived here and now these three girls and our little family are a pretty great team. The Carlies2 and Melissa are great to be around and thankfully, they put up with our family’s antics quite well. The Carlies2 were junior high leaders so sufficiently acquainted with junior high aged boys and the younger to dish out as much as the boys can. Melissa has a sarcastic wit that waited until day three to show itself and she’s proven herself able to shut down any whining or bickering that may erupt between the boys in a flash.
George begins to just speak earnestly about what he believes is the calling of those of us who claim to be Christians in regards to justice and righteousness. As I often do when I’m listening to George, I find myself agreeing with him wholeheartedly and simultaneously feeling like bashing my own face with a hammer for all my shortcomings in this regard. He speaks about compassion as a hallmark of life as one who follows Christ. He’s not pointing fingers but I feel the cold grip of conviction as he speaks of compassion as always taking you to an action. It’s not compassion if it flees when you change the channel or avert your eyes. It’s not even compassion if it leads to tears and heartache unless that leads to action. I’m not here to argue the definitions but to me, it hits me hard how often what I’ve thought of as compassion has actually been emotion or empathy at best. It’s been years since I’ve watched it and I may butcher the context but I remember a line in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” in which those leading the peacekeepers plead with journalists to show the world what is happening, thinking it will compel them to act. The response is that “they (the world) will watch it over their tv dinners and then promptly forget it.” The gist of it being that even though the world is shown what is going on, to those of us on “the outside”, it’s a matter of “those people” and “over there”. I admit, even sitting across the valley from Masoyi, there’s still the same concept. We’re here, they are there. How does it change us to think in terms of “part of us is here, part of us is there”. Don’t get caught up in my limited view of it all...it’s not just about vocabulary. How do we get to where we are really “we”?
I don’t know. I really don’t. What I do know is I need to change my thinking. In the midst of being here, I still feel separated from what goes on across the highway and valley. And yet, the same rains that fall on me, fall on those who live over there. And to those of you back in North America, we are over “here” which means what’s happening “over there” is happening “right here”. I think I’m starting to sound like Dr. Seuss and not in a brightly coloured, illustrated way. I’ll leave you with this, from the Lorax, according to the good Dr. (Seuss, that is...) “unless someone cares, awfully alot, it’s not going to change, not ever, it’s not.”