So yeah, dear North American Church,
Anywhere, if you dared to look into eyes and didn’t turn away, you’d care.
Yeah, yeah, I know — another day, another cracking news flash, another crisis we’re all supposed to give a caring rip about.
But it’s a thing of glory — if you look into eyes anywhere, if you listen well enough anywhere, you can always hear it: If you knew me — you’d care.
Maybe that is the thing —
If we go through the world with our ear to the ground, with our ear pressed up against people’s words, listening for heartbeats, listening for the heartbeat of stories, it could happen — Stories are keys that release you out of yourself and into the wide freedom of caring about something beyond yourself.
Sometimes you can only read eyes. Sometimes you can only listen to faces.
Because sometimes? You just don’t know if you can bear another story?
So you reread eyes, staring long into faces and photos. You can give this — you can not rush on.
You tell your yourself: But how much hurt can I bear? Turns out — those who can bear the weight of suffering will bear the weight of glory.
Turns out if you sat right knee to knee with her, so you felt the warmth of her pounding bravery right there in front of you, if you steadied your gaze and dared to not look away, if you looked Agnes right in the eye, you’d hear it in her own quaking voice:
The killing started in April. The blood started running in spring. Don’t turn away — you tell yourself that. You can bear witness so you can bear the weight of glory.
Because, listen, this isn’t some powdered fairy dust out of Hollywood —
some fiction dreamed up for the big screen and a wide-eyed fleeing Angelina Josie and a line-up of people around the country all willing to buy tickets for it, all willing to make it a movie box office hit.
This is Agnes. I touch her arm. She is warm. She was 18. When the genocide began it’s bloody howl, she heard they were coming for her, for all of them, coming with machetes glistening brazen in broad daylight.
“So we ran to the wilderness. We escaped to the wilderness. We could not make fires to cook food or they will find us and kill us.” Agnes’ eyes hold mine. It is a thing to be in a room and look into eyes looking back at you and feel the tremor of such words reverberate your bones.Sometimes you need a soul quake to find the fault lines in your life.
“We hid in the grass. At night we scratch at the earth, to try to find roots to eat. Roots to fill our mouths. We cup swamp water to our mouths. There are 12 of us, 12 in our family. We dig at night for anything in the dirt to eat raw. But there isn’t enough food in the wilderness.”
There’s just no denying it, People of the Good Book — we know that manna is never gathered alone in the wilderness. Manna is gathered in community. Manna is distributed in community. Manna is measured out in community, so that every person gets their daily omer of manna. (Ex.16:16).
I once brought 3 boxes of cookies to Sunday School and handed them to all to the three boys in the front row. I say there is enough for the whole Sunday School — the whole waiting, blankly staring bunch of Sunday School kids. I say it again — there are enough cookies for everyone. The boys at the front will just have to share. They will just have to distribute the cookies.
And if they don’t? Well… I guess a whole lot of kids will then just go hungry?
I had felt it’s sharp edge along the skin, “God gives the world enough of what it needs. All He asks is that we distribute what He gives.”
We know it, North American Church: Unless we distribute the manna, too many of us we will eat the maggots of too much and even more will eat the gnawing weevil of too little — and all of us will die.
Yeah, you got the memo and you get it: We will all die in wildernesses of our own making, unless we’re willing to let the manna we’ve gathered individually be distributed throughout community. Unless our individual manna is distributed throughout community, we are all dying in the wilderness right now.
The maggots of too much are an insidious ugly way to lose your life.
“When the hunger got so bad,” Agnes twists this handkerchief in her hands. We both stare down at her hands, her wringing it out “— my father, he tells us that we might as well go back to the genocide — that it’d be better for us to be killed by the sword than to die by starvation.”
God Almighty, how flippant am I with food? Agnes waits until I look her in the eye.
I don’t tell her what our Father tells us to do — that He tells us that it’d be better to stop dying by the sword of stuff — so people can stop dying by starvation.
I touch Agnes’ arm but I don’t say anything. Can’t say anything.
Somethings aren’t meant to be cheaply said — they are meant to be literally lived. By any who literally believe.
* * *
After we sat with Agnes, my kid sister up and flings a bunch of pixels our way across the ocean.
Pixels of dirt and dust and fields.
The moment I opened up my sister’s unexpected note, that’s what I could taste —
the grittiness of the whole thing there in the back of my mouth.
“Harvesting here.” The kid sister tells me.
Though we’re 12,000 km from home, literally half way around the world, I can taste a North American harvest, words and photos capturing the moments of it before they slip away like renegade light through your fingers, gone forever, impossible to recreate.
“So your man’s here in the combine.” My sister sends me lines. “And your boy’s on the wagon, and my man’s on the cultivator, and mama’s brought food for all of us here in the field. And there are cousins everywhere. Dust and kids everywhere. There sure is something about all this.”
All this light — All of a family bringing in the harvest, all these omers of beans.
And across an ocean, under a Rwandan sun, a bunch of farm girls serve up plates of rice and beans and read the eyes of the hungry and I can hear the begging rattle of a thousand bean pods like an echo of God:
I want your first fruits, Church. I want the first fruits of your harvest.
Because if you end up waiting to give when you know how much you have in the bank account, in the budget, in the back pocket –you can end up giving God your left overs, not your first fruits.
When you give God your leftovers, you give God what you can afford to give and not what changes how you live.
Yeah, maybe we’re done with vanilla fill-in-the-blank questions and we’re wrestling the real ones: Are we giving to God what we can afford to give — or are we giving to God what changes how we live?
And we’re hungry to live into the questions that answer with our lives: We are only giving what we are called to give when it is changing how we live.
We’re not giving what we’re called to give, unless that giving effects how we live — effects what we put on our plate and where we make your home and hang our hat and what kind of threads we’ve got to have on our back.
Surplus Giving is the leftover you can afford to give; Sacrificial Giving is the love gift that changes how you live — because the love of Christ has changed you.
God doesn’t want your leftovers. God wants your love overtures, your first-overs, because He is your first love.
I find a kid pig farmer under a tree outside of Kigali.
John Bosco started with 3 pigs. He’s Number 2 student in the whole of the country. John Bosco tells me that he has 50 pigs now. I ask him how he feeds his pigs — and he laughs, “You know about pigs?”
Yeah, yeah — if it’s anything, I know about pigs.
The kid’s eyes looks like saucers. I have time to memorize his irises.
“I was hungry.”
“Everyday I get up, and all I think about all day is how to get food. My mother died when I was little, and my father takes care of the 7 of us kids and 6 of our cousins who were orphaned in the genocide. There are so many of us and he works every day digging in the fields and they pay him 1 dollar for a day’s work but that isn’t enough to feed the 7 of us and the 6 other orphans he takes in.”
“So when I am in grade 4, I have drop out of school and start carrying jugs of water many miles, to try to get money for food.” John Bosco touches his back. “Every night I can’t sleep for the pain in my back. But somehow we have to try to get enough to eat.”
There are children who can’t think about how to be successful because their stomach isn’t full.
There are children who can’t live well, love well, think well, because they haven’t eaten well.There are children so famished in the face of poverty, that they only see the grace of God in the shape of bread.
“All you can think all the time is what you have to do to get any food to stop the pain in the pit of you.” Hunger is like an animal caged up in you. After 72 long hours not eating a time, it feels like the violent gnawing of beast clawing its way through you. You never stop feeling it every second of ever every hour.
The whites of John Bosco’s eyes look old. His eyes make me crave: Sometimes you find yourself hungry not for more, but to be more.
John Bosco meets a man who cooks meals for the street kids. John Bosco, he says he couldn’t understand why the man would did this? It was hard to find enough food just for yourself — how could you share your food with street children? And I’m standing there nodding like a fool:
Sure — when you talk about the poor having no food, there will always be those who will call you a Debbie Downer — but none of that matters a hill of beans — because when you give food to the poor, Jesus calls you His.
The man shared more than food with John Bosco — he shares his belief in Christ with John Bosco, the belief he’s actually living and acting out and giving. He told him: Put your trust in Jesus — and your life will change.
John Bosco put his trust in Jesus — and began praying that he could go back to school.
“The pastor here, he sees me working hard and he is kind and he gives me the gift of school. But it’s been so long since my father could send me to school, I forget how to write very well, and I have to learn English and I go many, many sleepless nights studying and learning and I know this is the only way I can have a better life.”
When John Boscoe takes the national exam, and the kid with no mother and hardly any food scores Number 2 in the whole of the nation.
John Bosco ingeniously starts a little business with the only thing that he has: he starts tutoring village children in English. He saves every penny from every word he helps the children speak — till he has enough to buy 3 pigs.
You gotta know that it’s hard to hear John Bosco tell his story — it’s like the wind is screaming loud in my ears: Why didn’t you have to carry water all day for a few pennies to spend on a handful of rice?
Why didn’t you have to go to bed hungry?
Why didn’t you have to scrounge like a scrapper for enough food so you could never think about more than just how you were literally going to get your next meal?
And it comes like waves of after-quakes, right when I am standing there with Jean Bosco, waves that rolls like a letter from Africa for the North American Church:
There is nothing you have that isn’t a gift to you.
The health you have, that worked for the wealth you have, is never from the stealth of your hand, but always, solely, only a gift from His heart. There is nothing you have that isn’t a gift to you.
You don’t have your life because you worked harder than anyone can imagine — you have your life because God gave greater gifts than you could ever imagine. Let that rock your world.
The essence of the gospel is the essence of the universe:
You aren’t saved by works — and you have nothing in the universe by your work;
you are saved by His grace — and everything you have in the universe is by His grace.
It’s only by grace you weren’t born in the middle of a slum, it’s only by grace that you weren’t born in the middle of a genocide, it’s only by grace that you weren’t born in the middle of a wilderness hiding for your life under grass, that you weren’t born with your stomach burning 24 hours a day with hunger pangs.
That’s the thing, Church — When you drill it into your heart, that everything you have is a gift, that is when you become a rich gusher of generosity and you hit the rich oil of joy.
And everywhere, you can feel this fountain surging up through the centre of all of us:
If you’ve tasted His grace, if you’ve adored His face, if you’ve felt His embrace — then you can’t help but find yourself living in a giving place.
Because the North American Church, we’re on to all the materialism propaganda that we need more and we’re ready to be more, because we value a holy God above hoarded gold.
Because for such a time as now, we’re ready to be better people with less on our plate — so the hungry can have more on their plate — and we’re done with the relentless hounding to make an impression and we’re ready to show up and make a difference, because we know the stark truth of it:Wherever your money goes most effortlessly — is what your heart most effortlessly treasures.
Because for such a time as now, we can testify the blazing epiphany of it: If you’re not able to give joyfully and sacrificially, that tells you there is something awry with you and God relationally.
Because for such a time as now, we’ve seen and we are now response-able and we’re ready to be done with having bloated building budgets while African mothers have bloated babies dying in their arms.
Because for such a time as now, we’ve fed on the feast Who is Christ Himself, and we’re ready to be done with ruining our appetites for God on the cardboard calories of cheap consumerism.
We’ve held our hands high on Sunday mornings and we’ve sang it loud that our Jesus is all we need, so we’re literally done with living ditty la-la-la lives and we’re ready to live The Aslan Roar of Real Disciples:
We don’t want comfort.
We want Christ who is comfort,
we want danger that defies safe so people get saved,
we want freedom that flies in the face of fear,
and we want justice that must rise at any cost, because Jesus has risen and He paid the unfathomable price.
When the wind moves under a tree in Africa, you can feel the hunger rising in North America, a hunger for change in the wind, in the way we live —
giving like an echo of God.
Photo credits: the photos that are amazing are the work of Esther Havens
Can we do it? Small Together is the New Big — Will you be one of the #GenEsthers and contribute $25 to ensure 30 student meals?
We are only giving what we are called to give when it is changing how we live.
Surplus Giving is the leftover you can afford to give; Sacrificial Giving is the love gift that changes how you live — because the love of Christ has changed you. God doesn’t want our leftovers. God wants our love overtures, our first-overs, because He is our first love.
Click here to count yourself in with the #EstherGeneration for such at time as now with us here in Rwanda