I love reading invigorating stories of people who have started NGOs, founded orphanages, adopted foster kids, created fair-trade organizations, or pulled off some other world-changing feat. But as inspiring as these people are, most of us aren’t called to that kind of mission. We’re in one place, woven through a family and a community, living pretty low-key lives.
Whenever I log in to Facebook or load a news website—or when I glance at the newsrack at the checkout—it seems there are always some really ugly things going on, and I find myself oscillating between anger and despair.
As I scroll through my social media feeds, there are comments like, “This is so sad!” or “I hate that this is happening!” While I agree with those statements, I can’t help but feel that they’re a bit useless. How does saying that we dislike catastrophic issues help the people whose lives are being turned upside down because of them?
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The world provides enough for every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.” It’s easy to say things like, “The rich should really give to the poor and solve world hunger!” However, when the giving strikes closer to home, it can be tougher than we think.
Sometimes I feel paralyzed by all the suffering in the world. There’s simply no way I could make a dent in all the hunger, sickness, poverty, depression, oppression, loneliness, and death. When you look at the brokenness in its entirety, all you see is desolation.
It was my first Christmas in Taipei, Taiwan, when I heard the Christmas classic “Silent Night” sung in Chinese for the first time. It made a special impression, and I remember thinking that I had to learn the words. The first line was fairly easy—after all, half of it is the song title—but beyond that it got harder.
It was a typical Monday morning, and my husband and I were in town on business for the humanitarian aid project we operate in several Balkan nations. By 10 am it was already getting quite hot. The afternoon was supposed to be even hotter and more uncomfortable, so we were trying to finish everything on our to-do list by noon.
I’ve recently been reading about the “Pay It Forward Movement.”1 What stood out the most to me is how simple the philosophy is. Yet it’s still often difficult to be altruistic and do something for someone just because someone has helped you, or because you want the cycle to continue.
For the last few years, I’ve volunteered in a project teaching underprivileged youngsters. I was brought up in a typical Indian upper-middle-class family, and for most of my life, I’ve lived in an affluent neighborhood of the city where I was raised and have enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. So it was bit of a culture shock to set foot in the slums and experience life on a totally different level.
I was reading the familiar story of the Good Samaritan1 from a well-illustrated cartoon Bible to a group of eight- to nine-year-old Sunday school students. It ended with the question Jesus asked: “‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”2
According to legend, there was once an abbey which had a very generous abbot. No beggar was ever turned away, and he gave all he could to the needy. The strange thing was that the more he gave away, the richer the abbey seemed to become.
When the old abbot died, he was replaced by a new one with exactly the opposite nature. One day an elderly man arrived at the monastery, saying that he had stayed there years before, and was seeking shelter again.