Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feast or Famine

Over ten years ago I stood in the city dump in Quito, Ecuador baffled by the stench of garbage and completely disturbed by the fact that people lived there. My heart hurt as the dark side of life sunk in.

We were an idealistic group of Americans, and as we crawled out of our van and stood loaded down with loaves of bread, we let the children run to us, their dirty faces smiling.

Radiant smiles. Pure joy, confidence, contentment, shone from their faces like headlights angled up a bit too much, blinding with bright. I was the deer in those headlights, dumbfounded and confused, unable to move for fear I might miss something, a clue as to why this awful place held so much happiness.

That's when I began to realize I was the one there to learn something. The aching need I thought would be expressed in those faces wasn't there as I had predicted. These people were simply happy. I imagine they were truly thankful for our gifts. But the thankfulness in their faces wasn't temporary, a result of our presence or our bread. It looked like the kind of gratitude that proved consistent, a part of the countenance of the souls behind those smiles. It was the kind of thankfulness that could be trusted to remain, gifts or no gifts, feast or famine.

I looked at the cardboard boxes leaning together posing as walls and roof tops, and thought of how so many called this home. There were old blankets and stuffed animals molded into beds. I couldn't imagine spending even one night there. But for many residents of the city dump, it was all they'd ever known.

I thought we would come to these people and tell them something they didn't know. That there is a God who loves them despite their circumstances. I was going to teach them about faith. But mine is a faith clouded with things. Opinions of denominations, the inevitable task of keeping house, daily doses of commercial "freedoms" clouding my vision and confusing me. I can have the best of intentions to love my neighbor the way these people did, but my intentions often get buried under sales flyers, phone calls, emails, and the rat race of my American life.

That day in the dump I realized that one day, or even three weeks of stepping outside my comfort zone was not what I was called to do. It was a good thing to do, but I knew I couldn't leave it at a loaf of bread, wash my hands of it, and head home.

Because every one of us has a specific calling over our lives to serve the people around us, whether there is a feast or a famine in our own lives.

The fulfillment of moving forward and reaching out brings joy, feast or famine.

That day in the dump, we had shown up with the idea that we knew something about life and faith that these people needed. We went assuming that what we knew of God had not yet been revealed to the people of the city dump in Ecuador. We felt we were there to help some lost souls meet Him.

But God had shown up long before we had.

"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them."
-Bono

The light that shone in those eyes I met that day was pure, ignited by the simplest of life's pleasures. And a knowledge of a loving God that meets people in their need. The Great Comforter is a dear friend to those that live in the city dump. And He is just as close to those of us who are completely distracted. We just don't often cry out for Him like those who have set aside their pride and realized their need for His daily presence, feast or famine.

My twenty-year-old American mind could hardly grasp the lesson, but I believe it was there.

Stripped bare of all other desires and freedoms, the human soul can finally rise up to meet contentment as that desperate soul comes face to face with it's Maker.
In that contentment there is pure joy, feast or famine.

1 comment:

MidnightCafe said...

I'm sorry I missed this when you first posted it. It's amazing what faith can do for a person, no? God meets us where we're at. I think we see God better in the dump...in physical dumps and emotional dumps. There are fewer distractions and less to make us think we're doing it all on our own. It's good to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

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