A year or two ago, I had the privilege of meeting Rich and Robin Smyth, an amazing couple involved in a ministry called Tentmakers of Rwanda. One aspect of their ministry is their African Bagel Company ( check out this fascinating blog post with great pictures!) where women learn much more than how to make bagels. The Smyths are passionate about giving women a hand up, not a hand out, as they provide opportunities to understand financial planning, health/nutrition, HIV/AIDS education, principles for godly living, career training, and so much more. Recently Robin wrote the following story, and I was immediately convicted of the often glib way I mention "the obvious" blessings of my "typical N. American lifestyle" when I am giving thanks. How often to I even remember to be grateful for...you know, food. Here's what Robin wrote:
"Two weeks ago, I interviewed some more women to come into the training center but could only accept two. Fridays and Saturdays have been especially busy at the Training Center. It was Thursday and I was mentioning to the ladies that we had some huge orders to fill of several hundred doughnuts and bagels on Friday and again on Saturday.... One of the new trainees heard me and pleaded with me to accept one of her former classmates to come to the Training Center. I explained that we didn’t have an opening at this time but she could just come for this Friday and Saturday to do dishes to free up the current dish washer to work the kitchen. Friday and Saturday we were so busy that I really didn’t have much time to talk to her (Rachel).
The following Tuesday, the women were all busy working; I got busy too and half way through the day I noticed Rachel was there doing dishes, I asked one of the managers to get her so we could talk. Thinking maybe there was a miscommunication, I began to explain that she hadn’t been accepted into the center and that she was only needed for those two days last week. She said she clearly understood and that she thought if she came and worked (even if she didn’t get paid) that there might be a small possibility of getting to speak to me. She said, “ I know I was wrong in coming without being asked but I don’t regret it because now I am sitting with you and you are listening to me.” I admired her initiative and said go on and tell me a little about yourself.
She began by saying she had eight siblings living with her. I said wow, your mother had eight children and she said no my mother had fifteen children. During the genocide she watched her father and the ten oldest children die, the five younger ones survived. One of her sisters that had died had three children and her mom cares for those three children and her five that remained. I had a manager sitting together with us as we were talking. As I began to inquire about how the mother and eight children manage to get food both Rachel and the manager began to hide their faces as they were crying. I asked Joyce (one of the managers) to explain. She said, mom I know this particular family and trust me when I say this is a sad and difficult family situation. The manager said that she is part of a group on the church that comes together once a month to collect various items to help the family to survive. This group is comprised of many other poor people but at least if someone can bring a bar of soap or a cup of sugar or rice then it helps. They were both sobbing because they were trying to explain how painful and difficult the last eighteen years (did she really say eighteen years?!!?)have been. Rachel explained that even though her and her siblings had the privilege of getting sponsored and going to school, it still has been hard. She said they have all struggled because they have had to repeat many grades over and over because they are malnourished. Rachel said not every night, but most nights we go to bed hungry because we have no food. It’s difficult to have energy, to focus and think when you are hungry she explained. We have nine people and no income!
O.K. so my heart is melting and I am thinking maybe we can take just one more. We accepted Rachel part time into the training center and she has been a sweet blessing. As I was telling her about the training center, I mentioned that we provide health insurance and a hot healthy lunch daily. I wish you could have seen her eyes and heard her voice when she said, " If I get accepted to the center would that mean I could eat every day?" She was amazed.
The things we take for granted…"
Oh God, forgive me. I have been selfish, even in my gratitude. I have taken much for granted, and have judged without knowing from experience the debilitation of true poverty, deep hunger of both body and soul. I know so little of true physical need, and so little of true gratitude. May I learn from those who know much more.
The world grows ever smaller through global connections as the internet, facebook, twitter and all the rest bring the world into my living room. God, bring your perspective of "the world" into my heart. Soften my heart, don't let me become calloused and cynical about one more need. For surely this is how You are changing the world, one woman, one needy soul at a time.
What would the hand of Jesus offer to the needy that I "meet"? A touch of love, a loaf of bread, shelter and refuge for mind and body. Oh God, use me to bring gratitude to the hearts and lives of others. May the Body Christ grow larger as the world shrinks. The time is now.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.
Psalm 9:18 ESV