This is the single greatest question that I have been asking myself for the past 10 years of my life. I still remember it clearly: a real, personal, and deep encounter with God. I was a senior in high school, it was nighttime, and I was on my bed praying. Clear as God has ever been, He spoke to my heart and asked the question, “If you could do anything with your life, what would you do?” It didn’t take me very long to come up with an answer: “I would run a family orphanage in Africa, where kids could know what it is like to have a mom and a dad, to have an education and be cared for, and to be given the opportunity to in turn be change agents in their world. I want them to be able to dream and become what they desire to be!”
Since I was young, it has always bothered me deeply knowing that there are children in this world who grow up on the streets, in garbage dumps, and in cemeteries. Pretty much at any given moment in my life, if given the opportunity, I would in a heartbeat jump on a plane and go to them. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about them, see their faces in my mind, see the tears running down their cheeks, and hear the cries of their hearts for love. Sometimes I even feel physical pain in thinking about their suffering.
My freshman year of college, through a crazy and clearly God-orchestrated series of events, I was chosen as a representative from the United States to go to South Africa for a leadership conference. We had one day of outreach and they split us randomly into groups. Randomly…right? No one there could have known my calling, but I just happened to be in the group that went to the family orphanage. I still remember the story of the lady that started that place. She said, “I just got tired of seeing all the kids on the streets.” So she provided a place for nearly 150 orphans and neglected children to come and learn about Jesus, receive food and lodging, and most importantly find true love. While I was there, I met a beautiful young girl with AIDS. She dreamed of being a soccer player, but most likely because of her illness that would never come to pass. It was the first time that, in just a small way, I was confronted with a reality outside of my own.
As a junior in college, I spent a semester living in the Dominican Republic, teaching English in Nazarene and Compassion International Child Development Centers. Outside of my responsibilities as a teacher, the church I was associated with started a ministry for street children. Every Sunday morning we would prepare a meal and a program for them that taught them Bible stories. I learned…and there’s really nothing else to say about that.
The year before I moved to South America, I moved to Nashville to study Business. I got a job at a bank and my life took a few turns. Through a God-orchestrated series of events once again, I connected with an organization that works with victims of human trafficking. Once again I learned, my heart was broken, and I was left with this recurring question, “What do I do with this?”
Yesterday I opened up my book that I have been reading, and read chapters about how this author’s life was changed through a trip she took to a certain city in Africa. This certain city – one of how many hundreds of thousands of cities in the world – but one and the same as the city that I have direct ties to and a passion for. I fought back tears as the question reverberated in my heart, “What on earth do I do with this?”
I could go on, but I will stop.
In our lives, we are all at one time or another faced with this question, “What do I do with this?” We have a specific experience, we “by chance” meet someone, or we witness an atrocity. We see starving children on television, witness signs of domestic violence next door, or hear of another suicide and we are left thinking, “What do I have to do with this? What can I do? What do I do?” Often, we can’t figure out how to answer that question, so we put it on the shelf for a later time. However, I am convicted in a powerful way by what the great abolitionist William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.” Wow. Take a second and let that sink in.
I heard the story not too long ago of a church in Nazi Germany. The church was located close to the train tracks, where trains would pass regularly, carrying Jews to concentration camps. As the trains would pass, the passengers’ cries could be heard inside the church. It disturbed the people inside. How could something so heartbreaking not disturb someone? The church decided to do something about it. Each time the trains would pass, the musicians would play music and the congregation would sing louder and louder, drowning out the cries of the prisoners. Years later, this certain member of the church could not shake the deep guilt he felt. Although they knew the atrocities that were happening just yards from their church building, they chose to drown out the cries instead of responding to the injustice.
Before we jump onto our justice bench and condemn this congregation for what they did, this story begs the question: how are we doing that in our own lives? The brokenness of the world undoubtedly makes us uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, then we have a whole new set of problems. If we are truly followers of Christ, then coming face to face with suffering should do something to us. It should break our hearts. It should cause us to wrestle. It should call us to action.
And to be fair: action requires a degree of risk. It is dangerous. It is sacrificial. It must be selfless. And when I am tempted to wonder where my limit of giving is, I remember Jesus. What more incredible example do we have? He saw our brokenness and helplessness and He chose to do something about it. This action plan didn’t just cost Him time and money. It cost Him His very life. All for love, right? Man, if I could learn to love like that…
I have a friend who desperately wants to make a difference in the broken and war-torn city where he lives. He and his wife have given so much of themselves to care for the suffering children around them, but the need is just too great. As he reaches out to me time and time again, I always have some legitimate excuse. However, I have recently been putting myself in his shoes in my mind. I have imagined myself standing before God. I have been praying with tears, “God, what do I do with this?”
I don’t know the answer to that question in my life, but I do know that I must wrestle with it. I don’t know what the next few years of my life are going to look like, but I must be open – open for God to not only interrupt my plans, but to step out in courage for the sake of His children and for the sake of the call.
I don’t know how you have faced that question in your own life: “What do I do with this?” However, if God is bringing that up, don’t set it on the shelf. Don’t push it into the back of the closet. As much as it hurts, don’t drown out the sound of His voice. Go through the process with God, respond to His leading, and find peace in His will.
Why? Because Jesus – the Lamb – is worthy. He is worthy of it all. He gave His life for us – the lost, the broken – and in light of the cross, there can be no sacrifice too great. As the man on the street said in the recent movie Do You Believe, “Do you believe in the cross of Jesus Christ? The cross is blood-stained. Jesus died…so the question remains: what are you going to do about it?”