Across the world, we assume we are so different. Separated by geography, customs, food, governments, and economic and class status. And then the unimaginable happens, chaos encompasses the globe in a universal experience. And we realize we have so much more in common than we ever imagined. Unemployment and scarcity, vulnerability to disease, loneliness, death. But also, courage and perseverance, compassion for our neighbors, willingness to sacrifice for others, and the search for a power beyond our own.
When it comes down to it, given the right circumstances, I am just as vulnerable to unemployment as my friend in Zimbabwe. Without bias, sickness stalks both me and an HIV+ slum dweller in Nairobi. Loneliness pursues me with equal tenacity as the resident of a Vietnamese leper colony.
In times like this, I realize I am just as powerless as an emaciated, toothless old Haitian woman carrying her pot to an ancient well in the middle of nowhere. Just as vulnerable as an eight-year-old boy, orphaned and living without a caregiver in an extra room of a church in N. Vietnam. Just as prone to fear as a thirty-year-old, HIV+ single mom, dying in the corner of a Nairobi slum hovel.
But, in our shared humanity, I also realize I am powerful. Because I’ve met these people face-to-face, I already know how much we have in common. And, just like them, I can utilize resources entrusted to me to be the hands and feet of Jesus. That is their gift to me. In the absence of tangible resources, they show me how to harness an unearthly power.
I remember the smile of a Kenyan a pastor as he said, “Follow me as I follow Jesus.” Then led me into the squalor of abject poverty. And how he had more joy in that moment than many find in a lifetime. I’ll never forget the radiance of a Vietnamese mountain pastor who defied officials, informing them that if they tore down his church, he’d stand in the middle and it would fall on top of him. I long to follow the example of two top-level leaders of the Zimbabwean Presbyterian Church who chose not only to return to their desperate country, but to serve the most impoverished farm squatters.
As my illusory grasp of control slips away, I find a door open to the inspiration of my heroes around the world. Because of their example, the intangibles of courage, kindness, sacrifice, and love rush into the void. And shine with unquenchable brilliance. I only hope I will be worthy of their gifts.