I had barely stepped into the small store when the little girl saw me and ran straight toward me. We were in the town of Bo in the interior of Sierra Leone and had traveled several hours to visit the CLC store. She had a bright expressive face and no fear of strangers. Very quickly she grabbed on to my leg and held on for dear life. Just as quickly she saw my colleague, Liz, and jumped into her lap as if she was a long lost aunt. Apparently no one had warned to “be careful of strangers” and none of the people in the store who were her relatives cautioned her at all from “bothering” these invited guests. It was almost as if she knew that Liz was safe and that Jesus would approve of their embrace.
At Liz’s recommendation, I am reading the book, “Kisses from Katie” about the teenager from Tennessee who went to Uganda for her “gap year” between high school and college and ended up staying, founding an NGO and is in the process of adopting thirteen little girls. I was particularly struck by this paragraph in the foreword,
“People who really want to make a difference in the world usually do it, in one way or another. And I have noticed something about people who make a difference in the world: They hold the unshakeable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters. They get excited over one smile. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, and treat one wound. They aren’t determined to revolutionize the world all at once; they are satisfied with small changes. Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world.”
As a type A personality living in America, I can often get frustrated at the pace of change in other parts of the world that I visit. Nothing ever seems to happen on time and progress is often measured in years, not days, weeks or months. Setbacks are common and simple thing become complex. Despite this, more often than not, I am overwhelmed at the joy of the people I meet and their lack of concern at the challenging circumstances they face. I am put to shame and weep for my own tendency to complain at the slightest inconvenience I have to deal with.
This week I was reminded once again of my tendencies to see the forest and not the trees, to focus on tasks and not people, to measure success in numbers and not changed lives. I love hosting big events, speaking to large crowds and selling lots of books. I am not so good at noticing the little girl grabbing my leg and begging for attention.
Jesus himself had lots of crowds to contend with and spoke so often that he had to intentionally make time to get away and be with His father. He had to get in a boat just so that the crowd would not overwhelm him and his disciples. The demands for miracles, healings and casting out demons were constant. Somehow, though, when a woman touched him, he felt the tug on His garment and knew that power had left him. He took time to eat with tax collectors and sinners. He mentored just twelve men and he welcomed the little children to come to him. He always had time for the one.
In our culture of multi-tasking, texting while driving, typing while talking and generally distracting ourselves to death we have regularly put programs before people and results before relationships. I am the chief of sinners in this regard and have much to repenting to do. As I ponder this challenge, it seems like we are constructing an America where community is defined by our digital status. How many “friends” do I have on Facebook, how many people have “re-tweeted” my statement and how many comments do I have on my blog post? In the face of this, I want to start to ask different questions:
• How many strangers have I talked to this week?
• How many people have I invited to dinner this month?
• Who do I really need to meet with face to face with no time constraints?
The next time a little girl tugs on my pants I will bend down, pick her up and give her a hug, even if that is all I can do for her that day.