Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Caught off guard

Last evening our Life group (small group) gathered in another church's parking lot to go through the Compassion International experience tent.  Normally our life group members take turns every Monday evening hosting a time of worship and discussion of the Word hinged on the previous sunday's sermon during which the kids head to another room for their own time in the Word with some kind of activity.  However we decided to check out the Compassion Experience since a couple of families in our group sponsor Compassion kids.  It is a tented immersive event where you walk through a trailer made up into a series of rooms that represent someone's life somewhere in the world.  You put on headphones and carry an ipod preprogrammed with a story of a child's life that was profoundly changed by Compassion sponsorship.  It is brilliantly put together and packs up easily in an eighteen wheeler trailer that moves the experience from place to place.

After all in our group arrived we entered the tent and broke into smaller groups of 4 to 5 as the rooms in the experience are small.  After being given head sets and ipods we entered the first room collectively and hit play to begin our experience.  I was immediately caught off guard by the familiar surroundings bringing me instantly back to Africa.  I entered a tent in York, PA during a crisp fall day and suddenly I was in a cramped dark room like many I have been in before.  Tiny pin pricks of light entered in through cracks in the walls and tin roof ceiling, rough furnishings and hard packed floors with belongings scattered around greeted us as a child's voice filled our ears with her story of poverty and woe.  I found my eyes filling with tears and my throat swell with unshed emotion.  I was really caught off guard by my very emotional response to what I was expecting to be a touristy experience to drum up support for Compassion International.  I have no problem with Compassion and have heard the pitches before so to find myself so torn up inside was a bit of a shock.  True it was really well done, more so than I anticipated but my reaction seemed disproportionate to the simulation.  I slipped off to my parked van to pull myself together after finishing one of the two story lines available.  

Steve was in a different group but came to find me after he realized I wasn't with my group.  He joined me and listened as I tried to verbalize my emotions.  I was simply unprepared to face such startling poverty and pain.  I am still fresh in the US.  Still trying to transition from one country to another.  My spirit is still catching up with my body.  Still trying to process the last 7 years of our life.  A life that took us from middle class America to an impoverished developing world in Central Africa.  We went with hearts filled with hope to help and were quickly met with the reality of the enormity of the job.  We found ourselves staggering under the weight of all the change and need.  Slowly we adjusted and started to carve out a place to grow and learn and begin to help.  It was truly life changing in every way possible.  

So there I sat in a church parking lot watching wispy clouds turn pink like giant wands of cotton candy stretching, dissolving and darkening across the sky.  Still adjusting internally.  We met back up with our life group and debriefed the experience.  I was able to listen to others process the experience.  I heard their hearts and shared some of my thoughts and experiences.  What a beautiful mess this world is... It makes me come back to the realization that I must surrender once again into the unforced rhythms of grace.  It is not something to be checked off a list in some linear fashion.  There is a profound mystery in God's timing and grace.  I will continue to shake off the unrealistic expectations that things will resolve quickly.  And mixed up in the grief and pain is joy and friendship and love and purpose.  The same day I came across a video filmed in Yaounde, Cameroon where dancing and fun swirl around in the midst of what many would consider punishing poverty.  Sometimes physical poverty is lumped in with poverty of the soul.  Let's not confuse the two!