We all have emotions and parts of us that are stirred when we see the faces of underprivileged children from majority world countries. Actually laying eyes on something or someone tends to make it more real. These children’s faces are often dirty or streaked with tears, clothes tattered and worn. They’re usually barefoot. This all really speaks to us, right? I know for me, it stirs a sense of guilt within me. A guilt that is birthed from helplessness. It’s not that we can’t help. But most of us know that we can’t help enough. There is nothing we can do directly to reach these children and truly change their circumstances.
But, what if we could? What if you could reach out and touch that child, hug that child, tuck him into bed at night? What if that WAS YOUR CHILD? The plight of the mother, the parent, the caregiver. This is what really stirs me now when I see those faces. You see, I am a mother. I have children who I would move mountains for, even die for. They are my everything. And guess what. Those children who we reduce to sad guilt-stirring figures on tv or in pamphlets — they have a parent, or a sibling, aunt, grandparent, or caregiver who likely feels that strongly for them too.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of these parents and caregivers. I’ve sat, humbled in their homes. I’ve listened to them pour out their fears and worries to a perfect stranger. What I learned is that, while they long for every opportunity to be available for their children, just like I do, most days, there isn’t room to hope for a future for their child. Their minds and hearts are too consumed with the present. When your child’s very being depends on having food, water, shelter, and safety TODAY, how can spare a thought about tomorrow? In their world, every opportunity to better their child’s life seems just out of reach, just past where their grasp can obtain. This is injustice in its most raw form. This is where Children’s HopeChest is changing the narrative of mothers and caregivers all over the world. When you help to provide the very basic needs of a child, you open a mother’s capability to hope for a future. Now she can think of tomorrow, next week, maybe even years to come. Her child is fed, clothed, educated, and safe. This truly opens up a whole new realm of possibility.
On my most recent visit to Ethiopia, I had the opportunity to participate in “Community Time,” with the parents and caregivers who are directly affected by the support of Children’s HopeChest. In the past, we’ve focused so much of our time and energy on the children in the program. While this is amazing and important, Community Time was a unique, new experience to allow us to connect with the backbone of the entire program. Just like these communities we partner with, our approach is always evolving and transforming for the better. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It was the first time we had done something like this on a partner visit so I had no experience to lean on or take from. I was told that I would be expected to address the community as a whole. The thought made me sweat profusely and provoked a large pit in my stomach. I immediately began running through all the differences we had. I was blinded by how inadequate I was to address them, to shed any type of profound wisdom. I don’t even know what I had planned to say in my mind, because as our group walked into the gathering area in the church basement, it was filled with an immediate warmth and sense of love. I truly cannot explain it. So many eyes met mine, so many smiles. COMMUNITY. This is what community feels like. As I looked around, all I saw was mothers, fathers, grandparents, and caregivers. All the differences melted away. I was stripped down to my core, the most valued and important part of me, motherhood. While our worlds and daily lives look and seem drastically different, we all want and long for the same things-safety, health, happiness, and success for our children. Speaking to them became less about questioning whether or not I was adequate to relate, and more about connection and relationship. It felt like a bridge was being built before my eyes.
Some of the local women roasted corn for us and prepared buna and dabo (coffee and bread). Rather than sitting together in our comfortable English speaking group, I decided to push my travelers outside of their comfort zones and asked that they infiltrate the community and seat themselves throughout the room. I got some very wide panicky eyes at first, but was ultimately met with willingness. I think God swooped in, in that moment and laid his hand on each person, as if saying, these are all my people, your people, go be with them and know them. It was just the coolest thing to witness each person walk out into the crowded room. Men and women from the community quickly jumped up and offered their seats. Some grabbed extra chairs and placed them directly next to them. Travelers’ hands were taken and they were pulled into circles of friends and neighbors. We were no longer foreigners from the U.S. All the expectations were gone. COMMUNITY. This is what community feels like.
Standing up in front of them and looking out, I realized I was standing in front of my peers. I was surrounded by some of the strongest people I have ever met. The adversity that they face daily while raising their children would leave most of us on our knees feeling defeated. And guess what. This community is on their knees, praying. The faith they possess is like no other. What we cannot do alone, we can only do with God. God has provided them with the gift of community. They welcome each other into their homes, feed each other, care for each other, just as they did for us that day. I still get goosebumps as I think about cutting bread into pieces and sharing it throughout the room. We passed food and coffee around until everyone had what they wanted. We connected through fellowship that transcended words. I will never forget how much I felt a part of the community that day. It was truly an amazing experience that I will never forget.
In our HopeChest circles, we often speak of how relationships are the currency in the kingdom of heaven. This was tangible proof that those relationships are being built. HopeChest is bridging the gap between two communities and providing hope and futures for so many of God’s children — young and old.