Tuesday, June 19, 2007
During the 1980s I was privileged to work with World Vision. Part of my role was to take leaders to various places to meet ‘the poorest of the poor’.
I vividly remember Pedro, a day-labourer who with his wife Isabella lived in one of the 400 favellas/slums around Fortaleza, in north-east Brazil. They had five children (of nine live births) – all malnourished. Pedro could only get work about every third day; Isabella made clothes on a basic sewing-machine lent by World Vision. But sometimes they had no food at night, and to stop their starving kids crying from hunger Isabella would feed them little balls of rolled-up moistened newspaper, sprinkled with sugar. These had almost no nutritional value, but at least they wouldn’t cry so much and Pedro could get some sleep.
They’d owned a black bean farm, inherited from Pedro’s father and grandfather, and one day the police, bribed by a wealthy neighbouring landowner, drove them off their farm. They had no legal redress – the authorities were in the pockets of the rich.
We asked this couple, through an interpreter: ‘What do you need?’ Isabella replied, ‘We have only one blanket for the children, and when the roof leaks they get wet and cold and sick, and many children here have died. I would like a blanket for each child.’ And Pedro: ‘I need a job every day to feed my family.’ What else? Pedro said ‘I want my farm back, and for justice to be done in my country.’ Anything else? ‘Yes, where is God? Why are we treated like "the scum of the earth"'?
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
If your 'needs' were to be met by someone, first you must name them. Do you need someone to love and accept you - just as you are? Do you need to feel forgiven for something bad you've done? Do you need peace of mind? More self-worth? A goal for your life? Pass the end-of-year exams? A steady and interesting job? Why not stop now and make a list?
The four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - tell stories about Jesus meeting people with various 'needs'. Sometimes he asks someone 'What do you want?' Sometimes he gives them what they want, sometimes he doesn't: it wouldn't be good for them.
In John 4 we have the longest story about Jesus before he is killed by crucifixion. He's tired, and sits by a well. It's midday, and a woman comes at that unlikely time to draw water (the others from her village would carry water early in the morning or late afternoon, when it's not so hot). But she comes alone, and Jesus asks for a drink. She was surprised that he would speak to her (their cultures discouraged public conversation between men and women who were not married to each other).
As they talked she realized she'd met a very unusual man. He offered her 'living water' which would cure her deep thirst for love and acceptance. Because she'd had five husbands, and was in a de facto relationship with a sixth man, she was almost certainly shunned by respectable people. They told jokes about her. She was marginalized in her town. And she certainly had such low self-esteem that when she met someone like Jesus who accepted and loved her in the purest sense in spite of knowing her past, she was transformed...
I'm a counsellor, and I see this sort of transformation in people every week. A counsellor doesn't so much solve people's problems, but offers kindness and acceptance, partly by holding up a 'reality mirror' so that they can see themselves for who they really are. We are not simply the sum-total of all the good and bad things that have happened to us. Each person is loved by God unconditionally. That means that you have special eternal worth, in spite of all the negative feelings you might have about yourself.
Think about this today: 'God does not share his love between all of his creatures; he gives all of his love to each of his creatures' (Hugh of St. Victor).
See you next chapter!