I traipsed outside and looked around. How could this be possible? Technically it is still summer in Pennsylvania and yet my back yard is already full of leaves that have fallen. It seems like fall arrived early with cooler than normal temperatures and trees already beginning to turn various shades of red, orange and yellow. While I love the beauty that the autumn season brings, I dread the leaf raking. Our house is on a hillside in the midst of a forest and leaf raking is a never ending job for several weeks each year. As I began looking for my rakes and tarps, it struck me that so many of the things I am quick to complain about are really first world problems.
Just this past week I received an e-mail from our team leader in Sierra Leone reminding us to pray for them this weekend as the country was being shut down for three days. In a place that was still recovering from a terrible civil war, Ebola has broken out and is devastating the country. Life was not easy before this disease began to take its toll, but things were improving. In nearby Liberia where CLC has just re-established a presence in downtown Monrovia things are just as bad. As I write this blog, over 2600 people in West Africa have been confirmed dead so far and many more deaths are suspected to have been related to Ebola that have not been reported.
In the Middle East, ISIS is on the move and Christians are being targeted for persecution, torture, rape and murder. Entire regions are being “depopulated” of Christians who have lived in those areas for centuries in places like Mosul which is the site of Nineveh in the Bible. In reports that are almost too horrific to believe, some Christians are even being beheaded. While the world struggles to respond to this outrage, many of us are simply oblivious to what is going on. If I am honest, I can find myself just as unaware of the realities of the struggles that so many on this planet live with every day.
This past March, I had the joy of visiting both Liberia and Sierra Leone and experiencing a little bit of life from someone else’s vantage point. As we sat in a traffic jam for several hours one evening trying to get from one side of Freetown to the other, I couldn’t help imagining how we in the West would respond to this typical daily reality in Sierra Leone. As I sat pondering this issue in the back of the car, I noticed how patient the other drivers were in the traffic around us. Some even rolled down their windows and began chatting with people that were passing by. Nobody seemed to be getting angry and there wasn’t even a hint of road rage.
There is a lot that we can learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. Crisis can actually deepen faith rather than destroy it. In places where deprivation and disease is the norm, God is real in ways that I may never fully understand. As I worshiped with my Christian brothers and sisters in West Africa on a hot Sunday morning I could sense the depth of their sincerity and dependence on the one who suffered the agony of a death on a cross on their behalf. Belief was not just an intellectual exercise, but a daily life changing reality. Amazingly, this belief is most evident in the all surpassing joy that I observed on a regular basis. This was not an “easy believeism” that is so prevalent in America these days but a sincere trust in the one who made us for His glory.
Someone recently reminded me that the opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy. How often I am tempted not to care about those people and problems that are far away. I would rather ignore the suffering and brutality that appear on the nightly news so that I can pretend that it is not really happening. Is it possible that people are being enslaved, murdered and even crucified in 2014 simply because they are followers of Jesus Christ? As I contemplate the week ahead, I am committed to stop complaining about those things that are so small in comparison to what others suffer. More than that, I must lean into the bad news all around and pray for peace while learning to care enough to “weep with those who weep”.