"We have not heard the cry of the needy." This is a phrase in the general confession of the church that we often pray as we prepare our hearts and minds to receive and grant forgiveness. "We have not heard the cry . . ." This phrase took special meaning this past Sunday. A young woman, Brittany Burrows, who had just spent most of last year as a volunteer worker in an orphanage in the Congo in the central part of Africa, spoke of her experiences there.
The orphanage itself was a rotting building of five rooms, and housed about 30 children, mostly boys. There were a few bunk beds, not nearly enough, and no mattresses. The children who had a bunk just put a blanket down over the metal wires; the rest slept on the floor. No mosquito nets, and malaria was rampant. Hardly any food--essentially one meal a day of non-nutritous corn meal. No shoes, no bedding, no medications.
At one point, Brittany asked some of the children what they were most thankful for. Each one said, "I'm thankful to be alive." Brittany was a bit frustrated at their answers--she thought they were just echoing one another and not being creative or really thoughtful about them. But it wasn't long before she discovered something: they were indeed lucky to be alive and rightfully thankful for it. In their short lives, they had seen and experienced much horror and seen a lot of death. Yes, they really found life itself, with all its deprivations, a real gift.
For the first time in her life, Brittany experienced real hunger. She told me earlier, "I lived on beans and rice the whole time I was there. I would walk down the street and try to buy food, but it is very expensive and I didn't have enough money. I was hungry the whole time I was there."
During this past year, our church here sent enough money to purchase mosquito nets, mattresses, bedding, shoes, a stove and freezer, food and a number of other things for these children. The reality, however, must be faced: a lot of what we helped purchase has probably been stolen by now, taken by those who think their own cries are most important than the cries of these needy orphans.
This is a terribly broken world. We who are privileged with full stomachs and closets bursting with clothes and who busily rent storage units to keep our unused but oh so necessary stuff must start hearing the cry of the needy and seek to fill empty stomachs. More than that, we must work with courage to fight the kind of injustice that perpetuates a system where over 1000 children die per hour somewhere in the world of starvation.
May God have mercy on us if we don't. We're going to need it when we face the Holy One and are asked, "Why did you let them suffer?"