And I Thought of Africa

Why is it when a “homeless” person starts to approach we start to feel uncomfortable? I think about that after I’ve spoken to one of them, wonder why I reacted the way I did as they came up to me…

I have this thing about expectations – and I wonder if it’s linked to that. When they make that little move that lets you know they are heading your direction, I find myself wondering what it is they want – what is it they think they need. Is it more than I want to give. It’s hard for me to think about refusing them, letting them down. Am I concerned with how I will be perceived?

I’ve been taught all my life that when someone asks for help you give it. If they ask for money, you give it. Simply asking for the help/money is enough to justify sharing what you can with them – and the question as to their motive and what they actually do with the money is between them and God.

So I try to give where I can –

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A few years ago Matt and Lynne decided to go on a mission for the Mormon church. Imagine their surprise when they were asked to go to Africa. They decided they were up for the adventure and got on a plane and left their family, their home, and the lifestyle that they knew and headed out at their own expense for two years of a grand adventure.

They were assigned to a “village of 80,000” in Matt’s terms. Dirt roads, one room huts where entire families live, no sewer system, and every day the women head into the jungle to collect wood and water so the family can live another day.

Oh, did I mention 90% unemployment? Yeah. 90%.

Matt and Lynne rented a house there, one of 15 houses in that town with indoor plumbing. One day their landlord told them he was going to start a business in their front yard and soon a truck came and dumped a huge pile of rocks in the front yard. Matt holds his hands up to indicate the rocks were about the size of his head.

Later that week two women showed up with a 5-year old, a newborn, and two hammers. They had no food or water. They sat down on that pile of rocks and started breaking them into gravel – as soon as that pile was all gravel someone would buy the gravel from the landlord to make concrete… and you thought your job was a thankless task.

Matt and Lynne were working at home that day, and as the hours moved on, the “pink, pink, pink” of the hammers striking rocks continued. The child played and tended to the newborn, the women broke rocks into gravel, and Matt and Lynn felt more and more sick with each passing hour about the working conditions of these poor women.

Finally they had to do what they could. They took some refrigerated bottled water, a couple of “biscuits” (small cookie-like wafers) and a banana out to the women. After some charades (neither group spoke the other’s language) they convinced the women to let the child and the newborn sit in the shade of the porch. Then they watched as the women enjoyed the food and the water and continued with their work.

The next day Matt and Lynne were surprised when five adults and four kids showed up. Still just two women breaking rocks, but more people hanging out. The men had taken over the porch and sat there in the shade playing card games. When Lynne took out some food and water for the women, there was a scuffle over who actually was going to eat the food and drink the water…

Then the next day Matt and Lynne were dismayed to see 20 adults and several teenagers and many children hanging out in their front yard, with only two women still breaking rocks. The teens were running around the house trying to look in the windows (if they saw anything good they would break in and steal it Lynne told me) and there were more men than could fit on the small porch.

Word had spread of the charity, and every day more people were showing up to receive their share.

At this point in our conversation Matt and Lynne both throw their hands in the air at the same time, they both sit there shaking their heads silently at the memory. Even now they feel helpless in the face of all that poverty. Mike tells me he knows they are rich in comparison to any of the people of that town, and Lynne chimes in that they would love to help all of them if they could – but just two people helping a community that grew exponentially every day was just more than they could do. The need was too great, their resources nowhere near large enough, and so they had to ask everyone to leave.

The crowd left and it returned to two women and a child and a baby working in the brutal heat. Matt and Lynne couldn’t figure a way to help them without it getting out of control again.

Lynne and Matt and I spoke for two and a half hours – I can tell there are hundreds of stories of people they encountered, the need of the people and the small things Lynne and Matt did to help. Everything they did helped, but there is always the feeling of “we just wish we could have done more”.

It’s fascinating to hear the adventures that they have had. It’s heartbreaking and humbling to hear of the poverty of the people who live there.

Since our chat I’ve been approached by a beggar. He came up to me.  He asked for money – I gave him what I had. It wasn’t much. Hardly any help at all…

And I thought of Africa…

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