"I felt like a profiteer, ashamed and useless. By geographical chance, the piece of the map where I was born, I could walk away. I had the great unfair advantage of choice. I think I learned the last lesson of those educational years unconsciously. I had witnessed every kind of bravery in lives condemned by poverty and condemned by war; I had seen how others died. I got a measure for my own life; whatever its trials and tribulations, they would always be petty insignificant stuff by comparison."– Martha Gellhorn, Granta.(#23, ‘Home’)
Last week, in a profoundly heartrending way, I encountered the pain of this journalist’s reflection.
A single mother arrived with her two young boys, tired, dirty and thin. They traveled for three days to arrive in Lexington from Sierra Leone. In an instant, they appeared before us, offering a face to the thousands of victims of conflict, atrocity and suffering in West Africa. They stood worlds apart from me. They belonged to Lexington now. She had nothing but one bag, which was lost somewhere between New York and Charlotte. Her piercing vulnerability was most palpable at that moment. In an unfamiliar place, she relied completely on the love and care of strangers.
When we arrived at her new home, an apartment near other Liberian refugees, I helped her feed the boys and prepare them for some much needed rest. I told her to shower and sleep and do nothing more. She seemed grateful yet confused as she looked around and asked me for clothes she could put on once clean. The thought of such a trivial detail had escaped me completely. I was almost breathless with a sense of conviction and shock.
I went home to get her something to wear and I called our friends, the Samson’s. Within an hour, they produced clothing for her and her boys from their own children’s clothing. Next, I went to the office to rummage through our random donations for additional clothes. As I searched, God’s Spirit reminded me of our community’s discussion a few weeks ago of the loaves and fishes, the feeding of the 5,000.
Clearly in this passage with Jesus and his disciples there was a need present – the people needed to be fed and there was little available to eat. The disciples offered up the world’s way of managing scarcity – “let them fend for themselves.” Jesus, in turn, said to his disciples, “No, you do something about it. What is it that you have to give?” It is a well-known story and in it there is so much about abundance, provision, miracle and grace. As a Sunday school story, I missed out on a lot. I always concluded simply that the outcome was rather far-fetched and unaccountable, Jesus doing his one-off miracle of making food magically appear – an act of the divine.
Suddenly last Saturday, in a real experience of facing a tangible shortage, the truth of the story materialized for me. That clothing for this family would appear in a brief period of time wasn’t necessarily so unbelievable at that moment. Rather, I discovered the deeper reality that couldn’t be dismissed as some unattainable, supernatural event. It was most fully a matter of the Kingdom come – which as I held to be the provision of God meeting the labor and faithfulness of God’s people. Something came from nothing. It was not a strange or inexplicable act at all. By God’s grace and the easy efforts and generosity of believers, there was abundance.