Sunday, March 18, 2012

Unshelving Hope

Over the past week or so, I have been watching the Kony 2012 Saga unfold.

At the onset of everything, when the Invisible Children organization posted up the Kony 2012 video on YouTube, I was intrigued.

I heard the filmmakers talk about the atrocities in Central Africa and how it came to be that they would choose to make such a brilliant piece of propaganda -- a last ditch hope to do bring about change and hope and something that all their previous work was not able to accomplish.

I caught their vision of making Kony a household name to be reviled -- and hopefully that awareness that would bring about the change they so desperately wanted for the people of those afflicted African countries.

The radical idea "that where you live shouldn't determine whether you live."

I raised my fist in solidarity. After all, I too have been affected by the stories of loved ones (namely my father) who have traveled to that part of the world and have witnessed the devastation first-hand. Those stories of peoples lives torn utterly apart -- women and children raped, fathers and brothers maimed and macheted, children stolen from their parents, it was all too much.

I was so haunted by the stories, that a friend and I created a website where we could share what was happening over there and provide a way to help ease their burden.

We were compelled to action.

And that's what happens when you feel something so deeply -- down to the very core of your being.

You have to act.

You cannot help but to move, try, hope, pray, cry...

You are never the same again.

I felt like I got it...what Invisible Children was attempting to do...and I cheered them on.

Then came all the rest....a nightmare of epic proportions.

I'm still in disbelief at how quickly it turned ugly. What began as a groundswell of support and solidarity against evil rapidly spiraled down into a vicious and relentless attack against Invisible Children and those in leadership.

I couldn't believe my eyes at some of the things I was reading....people wishing evil upon those who had worked so hard for a people that were not even "their people." Crazy allegations of cruel intentions and cries of, "who's not in America anyway."

It made me so ashamed to live in this country of hear that last argument as a defense as to why we shouldn't get involved or

Have we really become so cynical and hardened that instead of putting our collective support to make a difference in a world crying out in pain, we immediately start digging for "dirt" and things to smear and invalidate organizations whose sole mission is to bring relief?

The problem with digging for dirt is that in this day and will always find some. Whether it's true or not is another story. I'm pretty sure that somewhere out there on the Net there is some form of criticism or hate for some of history's greatest humanitarians....Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Bill Gates....and more.

Why is it so much easier for us to spend our time and energy to discredit someone rather than feel the ache and pain of the knowledge that somewhere in Central Africa right now, a young girl is being gang-raped by soldiers because they are convinced that her virginity will cure their AIDS infection? Their imprint on that young girl will be so severe that she will need an operation to surgically repair her genitals so that she can urinate, menstruate...and maybe, just maybe, carry a child someday. However, the odds that she (and her baby) will have AIDS is highly probable.

Did you know that today, there are hospitals filled with women who are waiting to have or have had this fistula repair surgery?

How can a feeling, compassionate person not burn with the sorrow and injustice of  what I just shared with you. I'll tell you how...all you have to do is dig through my life and find something that's ugly and smear it around -- true or not. Then when you believe that I'm awful and sinful and unkind, then you can disbelieve anything that comes out of my mouth. Why? Because I'm not "credible"

I sincerely believe that this is what happened to Jason Russell of Invisible Children. We'll never know the internal conflict going on in his heart and soul (and it's none of our business). But when I first heard of his "breakdown," I felt like I immediately got it.

This scripture verse found in Proverbs 13:12 came to my mind,

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."

Defer - to put off until a later time; adjourn, delay, hold off, hold up, postpone, remit, shelve, stay, suspend, table, waive.

I can easily see how Mr. Russell could end up dazed and confused wandering around the streets in disbelief at how quickly his life's mission seems to have gone up in flames.

When you've seen and heard things about the troubles and atrocities of others that are so horrendous it scars you and motivates you to change and do something to help;

when you've invested your life, heart, money and being into it,

when you've spent countless hours away from home and loved ones all for the sake of changing the circumstances and lives of a group of people tattooed on your very soul;

when you can't imagine not seeing things change in your lifetime and are convinced that if only everyone could know and understand the problem and join you in creating a solution, things could change;

when you see your video blow up the internet and bring awareness in numbers you never dreamed possible;

when you see the media monster grow bigger and bigger and then turn on you and yours with a vengeance scrabbling and scavenging for every crumb of wrong-doing;

when everything you've worked so hard for starts to seemingly crumble and when you see that spotlight of the world's attention that you've worked so hard to train upon the suffering whip around and instead, shine it's harsh and accusing glare on you;

when you see the change you so desperately seek so close but then ripped from your hands and labeled "a scam..."

when you see all of that and more, you lose what's essential to being human.

Jason Russell is not crazy. He's not deranged or certifiable. He's temporarily lost Hope.

He is simply....heart sick.

It's way too easy for those of us born and bred in America and the Western world to put on our spectacles of cynicism, crank up (or down) the thermostat in our centrally heated and air-conditioned houses, pat our perfectly groomed and overfed children on their little heads as they get lost in a sea of electronic devices serving as nannies, prop up our feet and lay back in our La-Z-Boys with a cold drink and snack food, and scoff and sneer at the humanitarian work of others.

Most of us do not live in a world where neighbors butcher neighbors because they have the "wrong religion." We will probably not see little Johnny down the street with a machine gun draped across his tiny chest covered in the blood of his own parents and family members that he just was forced to murder.

It's inconceivable.

It's inconceivable to us in our contained little world.

But it's real. And it's happening right now.

So will we choose to be cynical, to rejoice when those who have dedicated their lives for the sake of others fall? Will we beat our chest and toss our hair and say, "I told you so!"

Or will we choose to Hope.

To Believe.

To allow ourselves to feel the pain of others and then act upon it -- no matter what the personal or financial cost.

Will we make those Invisible Children seen or will we allow "scandal" to let them fade back into the shadows?

Will we pour ourselves out for others -- yes, those whom we have never met and will never meet this side of Heaven -- whether they live in Uganda, D.R. Congo, Rwanda, Iraq, Japan or New Orleans?

My soul begs for the answer to be an unwavering, YES!

I cannot get the haunting refrain of a popular John Mayer song out of my head,

"Waiting....waiting on the world to change."

I never really liked that song. Sure it's catchy and a call to social action...or is it? Why do we have to wait for the world to change? Are we waiting until we have "our chance" to be the generation in political and financial power?

The last I checked, it's the 20 and 30 somethings that rule social networking. We have the power to stop the knee-jerk reaction of immediately setting out to disbelieve and disprove everything that makes us feel a shred of compassion or kindness.

I truly believe what Jason Russell said so persuasively in the Kony 2012 video,

"We have reached a crucial time in history where what we do or don't do right now will affect every generation to come."

The world will not be changed by legislation or political campaigns.

Instead it will be changed by every day coddled, pampered people who are willing to tear the filter off of their hearts and truly feel something for someone else...and then act upon it.

I'm sick and tired of waiting for the world to change....because history proves that it won't do it unless enough people rise up and not only demand that change, they march, they sign petitions, they give money and most importantly, they GO and do something about it!

So I'm doing the only thing that I can do -- the only thing I can control.


So, my fervent prayer is that Jason Russell has Hope restored by the only One who can do it. As Invisible Children's date of April 20th to blanket the world with Kony's face and crimes gets closer and closer, I pray that Jason Russell would be healed, blessed and be ready once again to pick up his sword for battle.

Yes, it's true. The cost of caring about and allowing sorrow for others to penetrate our heart can seem high; however, in the end, sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing will cost us our very humanity.

May we throw off our heartsickness and be the tree of life that so many desperately need.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Using My Bucket

My heart was ripped out, crushed, and cut by a thousand blades on Thursday night.

What started out as a little screen time after putting the kids to bed became a cry fest of epic proportions -- leaving me hollowed out and stuffed up in my sinuses from all the tears and emotions.

I watched the program, "20/20".

I have our DVR set to record this weekly show, and I had watched about 1/3 of the program a few days earlier -- which was entitled, My Extreme Affliction, focusing on physical issues that have extreme consequences who have them.

However, it was the remaining 1/3 of the program that I sat down and watched on Thursday night that gripped my heart so tightly. The episode travels to Tanzania, Africa (a country near and dear to my heart) to one of the largest populations of Albinos in the entire world. Not only do these people have to deal with the very real issues of their genetics, but they are literally in danger of their very life and limbs.

You can watch the episode here. (Click on the 8th bar to watch the content to which I'm referring.)

For some reason, in this country, witch doctors decided that the body parts of people who have Albinism is necessary for certain potions. These body parts have since become extremely valuable and sought after. At first, people did some grave robbing to get what they wanted. But once they ran out of bodies to plunder, they started going after the living.

I heard about this first-hand when my family traveled to Tanzania in 2008 for a family reunion of sorts. My grandparents pioneered a church and Bible School in Arusha in the 1950's, and as both of them celebrated their 50th anniversary, our extended family was invited to participate in the celebration.

My sister and I (in the purple) at the church in TZ.

It was my first visit to this continent and to the country of Tanzania. However, it felt a little bit like home because I've grown up on stories, photos and videos of my grandparents and my father's life in this country. I felt an instant connection and kinship with the people of Tanzania -- a love that has grown since that visit.

During our trip, we were blessed to be able to go on safari for a few days during the trip and as we drove out of Arusha to the Ngorongoro Crater area, our driver told us about what was going on with the Albino population. My sister and I were flabbergasted and horrified.

It bothered me, but then there was a lot to be bothered about on our visit as we witnessed some of the poverty and lack that people deal with in that country.

To be honest, I'm sorry to say that ....I forgot. (And I've cried some bitter tears of sadness over that too.)

But I have been reminded once again.

I cannot tell you of the heart-break and heart-wrenching feeling I have in my soul over the atrocities committed against humanity by their own neighbors under the spell of witch-craft. The stories told of women maimed in front of their children who have borne it because they have been threatened with the killing of those children if they resist is simply mind-blowing.

I dare anyone to watch the segment of the Tanzanian reporter who first brought this plight to the attention of the world media as she describes an incident that happened with a baby with Albinism being taken from their mother without having a complete emotional breakdown. As a mother, my heart literally shattered to think about what that would feel like -- to be so helpless as your child is destroyed for the sake of demonic influence.

The sad and inspiring story of another victim, Mariamu, was bittersweet for me as I watched her personal tragedy turn into redeemed joy. The last shot of her hugging her young son completely undid me, and I had to leave the room to sob in my bathroom as I cried out to God about why there is so much evil and suffering and to help the beautiful country of Tanzania and to help me do something to make some sort of a difference.

Beautiful Tanzania

At that moment, I wanted to sell everything we have and move our family over to Tanzania and love on those children with Albinism. I know that's not practical right now, but I do know there is something I can do about this situation.

First of all, I have family who is actively working in Tanzania with a non-profit they created, and I know that I can get funds to where they can be most useful. I'm working on that.

Also, through other friends, I have found a missionary couple that is actively working in a school for children with Albinism to provide much needed supplies and continued protection.

I may not be able to do something personally about the ocean of suffering and sorrow out there in the world, but I was reminded this last Sunday, that I have been given a bucket.  My bucket may not be able to empty out that ocean, but I can be diligent and purposeful to use it to alleviate some of it.

May I never allow the crusty callous of indifference to grow upon my heart. May I always rise up and take that bucket in hand and head back to that shore line.

May God cover those who have suffered by the hands of those who have evil in their heart find peace, safety and healing.

May God bless Tanzania and her people.