The hardest part of the trip for me wasn’t the twenty-four hours of travel it took to arrive. It wasn’t the food or culture shock or the bone-deep exhaustion of jet lag. I traveled halfway around the globe to discover the hardest thing was the same struggle I have at home:
Believing my small offering makes any difference at all.
It was jarring. Surely, here in such an exotic locale where needs are more pressing I would sense a special importance to my work. Yet, which should have been no surprise, I found myself to be the same person in Rwanda as I am in Northern California.
Perhaps it’s the writer’s lot to feel I’m often more an observer of life than a participator, or maybe that’s just me. I’m always more comfortable on the fringe, looking in, drawing my conclusions from a distance. It’s safer there, my distance a buffer from the noise and needs. I’m able to satiate my curiosity without getting messy and later I offer my experience in tumbled-to-shining words.
Though when I sit in the glow of the screen I often question whether my words will hit their mark—if there even is a mark, who gets to place that mark, and chastise myself for being concerned with marks—this rather sterilized process works for me.
Until it doesn’t.
Until I’m walked over to a table laden with enormous Rubbermaid storage tubs of food. We’re inside an expansive new single-room brick church. Vats of steaming rice, roast potatoes and onions, scalding hot broth, pinkish peanut sauce, and what they called “meat” (which resembles no protein I recognize) weigh down the well-worn wooden table. I’m tasked with pouring piping hot broth onto already heaping plates. The tips of my fingers burn through the thin plastic.
Wide-eyed, shy kids crowd into the serving line. These kids are wearing their very best clothes, some faded and threadbare, some stretched too tight over distended bellies, most of which look much too warm for the ninety-plus degree day. I’m sweating through my shirt, hoping I don’t inadvertently melt into the soup. Most of the children don’t meet my eyes. They murmur murakoze into their plates. A few brave ones, probably students who have been sponsored longer, practice their English thank you and giggle. I smile, wipe my forehead on my shirtsleeve, and dole out more broth.
Am I hitting the mark? A full belly today, but what about tomorrow? In the face of crushing poverty, does my offering of hot broth and a smile make any difference?
After the meal we serve cake and play games. This is a celebration, after all. These kids have been sponsored and a church from across the world has offered this feast, an act of lavish love, along with their prayers and monthly support. I make my way back to my comfortable place, wandering the fringes of the duck-duck-goose rings, listening to the excited shouts and squealing laughter of the gaggle. Parents hang in the open windows beaming, clapping, and exultant with the chase.
I realize I have misread this situation. In the face of crushing poverty is feasting frivolous? Or, does it provide a necessary reminder of the here-and-not-yet kingdom to come.
I have been asking the wrong question. It’s not whether I’m making a difference, but how am I joining into the difference being made? The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast to his son. The invitations to the great banquet have been sent to all. I am not the one throwing this party, nor is it my job to elbow my way to a place of honor at the table. Today my job is to serve soup to hungry kids. Often, this is the same job I have at home, thousands of miles away.
No matter where we find ourselves today, may we not question the value of our offering. For it is an honor to be a servant in the banquet hall of our Father.
- For the One Who Questions If Your Offering Matters - March 16, 2016