I recently had the chance to meet up with a dear friend I had not seen for some time. She and I sat in her living room and we did what good friends do, we discussed the major twists and turns in our lives. We talked about family, weddings and special days gone by, but then the topic turned to work. My friend fell strangely silent and said, “I hope you don’t mind but I don’t think I can handle asking you about your work. I can’t even turn the morning news on anymore as when I see what is going on in the world I just feel so miserable and hopeless.”
My friend is not a heartless or cold person. Quite the opposite, she is one of those dynamic individuals who wants to help where she can. She is often the one organising a cake sale or coming up with a creative fundraising plan for a charity she supports. That day my friend had lost her get-up-and-go when it came to the world. She went on to explain that she simply felt defeated, tired and overwhelmed when she thought about some of the challenges facing the world today. I could not criticise her weariness, our world is indeed facing some colossal trials. An estimated nine million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, taking refuge in neighbouring countries or within Syria itself. Ethiopia is facing a desperate situation where drought puts 15 million at risk of acute malnutrition, food shortages or worse in the next year. Nepal is still struggling to repair its infrastructure so that essential aid can reach those left homeless as a result of earthquakes that happened nearly a year ago. My friend went on to describe the way the daily news made her feel, saying that she found all of it ‘just heart-breaking’.
Feeling heart-broken for our world can be a good thing. A broken heart is a heart that is in touch with the suffering and pain of others. When we are heart-broken we do not tend to want to sit idly by for long. Heartache can lead us to a place of compassion and action. In the 1940s, Methodist minister Henry Carter felt heart-broken about the post-war refugee crisis in Europe, a problem that seemed insurmountable in scale. He pioneered the Methodist Refugee Fund as a personal initiative to raise money and collect supplies to relieve hunger and improve conditions among refugees, particularly in Austria and Germany. All We Can traces its roots back to this fund, and indeed the man who was so heart-broken that he was stirred into action.
Something I am reminded of when I travel to see the work of All We Can’s partners is that behind the terrible and terrifying statistics about poverty are people with hopes, dreams, interests and unique God-given potential. When we think about nine million people fleeing conflict we might feel overwhelmed, and yet when we think about the young woman the same age as ourselves doing all she can to help her son enjoy life despite her dire circumstances we feel moved into action.
My friend and I did end up talking about my work for a while. I shared with her stories of hope from The Philippines, a country I travelled to last May to learn about how communities supported by All We Can’s emergency response partners had resiliently rebuilt not only shattered homes by shattered lives after 2013’s devastating Typhoon Haiyan. It was there I met people like Geoffrey Pablo, a staff member for one of All We Can’s partners who had signed up to help in the relief efforts even though he had himself lost his home. In 2015 I also met survivors of the Ebola crisis in West Africa. With typical Sierra Leonean courage and grit a young teenage survivor told me, “Life is not easy but we lived. Now it is our turn to help others”. These stories challenge me to look beyond the heartbreak and find a way to embrace recovery and transformation for the hurting, even though it may pain me in the process.
In less than a month I will travel to Ethiopia to find out about the impact on individual lives of the drought there. I go praying that my heart will be broken once again as I know God’s heart must break too. I imagine I will find myself sat in someone’s home, having a hot drink and sharing stories about the twists and turns of life. When I am there, I will remember my friend back at home and the connections we all share.
You are the restorer of broken cities
you are the repairer of shattered lives.
We pray you help us find you in the midst
of a broken world in need.
Take away the tears of the needy, hungry and homeless
comfort the mother who cries in the night.
No situation is beyond your love.
Please pour out your compassion on a hurting world.