Closer to the Heart

Tanzania is a beautiful country. On the STEMM compound, you can look out the back porch and see for what seems like miles and take in a beautiful sunset as it moves down the horizon. It always serves as a direct reminder that God is ever present.

This past week, I have been spending a lot of time learning more about STEMM and the staff. Specifically, my friend Abby and I got to spend a few days talking with the Director of Education, Mel, and learn more about what she does. It is really interesting to learn about school here and the challenges that kids face. Throughout their school careers, students must take standardized tests that are difficult and often cover material they likely did not learn throughout their coursework. Even worse, at certain grades levels, students are not allowed to pass on to the next grade or continue school at all if they fail the standardized tests. All of this is piled on top of the stress that poverty, poor nutrition, and bad home situations provide. The odds are stacked against them, which is very discouraging because education is a great tool for ending the cycle of poverty.

STEMM education works to take high achieving students with low income and provide them with school fees and or supplies from around middle school age (known as Form 2 here) up through university. It was great to hear about Mel’s passions specifically and where she sees the program going.

After spending a few days away from the STEMM compound, we came back and have been doing various tasks as needed. It has been nice to relax and spend a lot of time with the kids. Singing with them and playing with them leaves me full of joy and gratitude for the presence of children in the world and what examples of faith they can be to the rest of us.

There are other encounters with children in Tanzania, though, that don’t leave me full of joy.

We’ve spent a lot of time on the road here, which has been a blessing because we have gotten to see so many different ministries and meet so many people. But as we are driving down the road, I can’t help but wonder about the kids standing on the side without anyone watching them, or the girls carrying water, or the school age kids playing with sticks instead of being at school like they are supposed to. Just the other day, I saw a father take his young son into a bar with him at 10:30 PM. One ministry we went to last week told us they had taken in six-year-old who had been a victim of human trafficking.The sites and sounds of these things make my heart hurt and I yearn for God’s healing in their lives and in my own.

Many of us spend time wondering why God allows bad things to happen to his people or why there is so much hurt in the world. I’ve laid awake for multiple nights in a row thinking about these things and how impossible it seems to resolve the hurt that sin has caused. And up until recently, it still did not make sense to me why hurt had to be present in the world. I feel like in the church we spend so much time emphasizing that hard times build up our faith and make us stronger Christians if we can just hold on. There’s some truth to that, but that reasoning never fully convinced me. Then there is the reasoning that sin caused it all and we have no one to blame but ourselves, which is also true, but it doesn’t offer much hope to those who are suffering.

Recently, I read a book entitled Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis. Some brief background: Katie Davis left home just out of high school to live in Uganda for just a year, but ended up staying and establishing a ministry and an adopted family there. Her stories are amazing and her insights throughout this book based on her life made me think about God and the character of God in ways I hadn’t before. Near the end of her book, she writes these words:

“When babies starve and children die cold and alone and children are ripped from their parents-these are some of the injustices of a broken world. And I think of a Savior who spend His whole life doing nothing but good, saving and healing and feeding and helping even the most undeserving of people, dying on the cross like a thief or murder. I think of a Father, a Father who desires good things for his children, even more than I desire good things for mine, a Father who could have stopped his Son’s torture at any time but instead watched it happen. For me, For you. And while no part of me wants to be in this [hard] place…this is where I am asked to be: closer and closer to His heart…And so while I cry and beat my fists on the floor, I find comfort in that, and I ask to be closer still.”

Kisses from Katie page 257 to 258.

What an idea; feeling pain is just another way to become closer to God, to align my heart with His. Because there is no way that the pain I feel for a child on the street here even comes close to the pain God feels for that child. My desire for justice is not even a fraction of God’s desire for justice for His children.

Somehow on this Sunday morning I found myself flipping through the first two chapters of Lamentations. This book was likely written in the years following Judah’s exile to Babylon. I haven’t spent a lot of time in it before, and after I did I realized why: it is such a downer. The writer is in such an immense amount of sorrow that he compares God, Jehovah, to an enemy shooting Israel down with arrows (Lam. 2:4). How much pain does it take for one to paint God as the angry, rejecting enemy? How many dead bodies lay in the street? How many children abandoned or killed themselves? How much destruction surrounded the writer in the city of Jerusalem?

We wonder why God allows us to see and feel that much pain. And yet, how painful was it for God to watch Jerusalem, filled with His chosen people, be ravaged by people who worship another god? How hard was it for Him to watch Solomon’s temple, the sanctuary He had dwelled in for many years, be destroyed?

And we are brought back to the initial question: why did it have to happen in the first place?

Sometimes, we need a place of exile, a time of hurt and sorrow and loss, to be able to understand the hurt and love that God feels for us and for all of His children. Not only is it okay for us to feel hurt and sadness for others and ourselves, it is a requirement. Because without it, how would we ever understand what God feels for us? How would ever know the immense love He has for us that causes Him to feel our every pain?

Hurt, no matter how much it hurts, serves to bring us closer to the heart of God. So I will continue to hurt for the purpose of becoming more like my Heavenly Father.

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