So my family and I have just returned from Ethiopia. There, on the edge of a lake, two families – with a total of seven children under eleven between them – run three homes that look after over seventy children. Since Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home first opened rs in 2010, it has grown year-on-year. In 2015, Lantu’s Home for newborn babies and children with additional needs opened. In 2017, House of Hope, for children with HIV/AIDS followed.
We spent our time there playing with children, assembling equipment and helping where we could. We took with us shoes, toys, equipment, nail polish. Small gifts and everyday items that brought excitement and wonder. I was amazed by the care that was provided amidst conditions that were basic at best. I was reminded all over again that places still exist where Amazon doesn’t deliver and sourcing everyday items such as drawing pins or castors is a consummate challenge.
I first travelled to Africa nearly twenty years ago, spending the summer in Kenya, eating under-cooked meat offered to us by friendly locals out of what they didn’t have, and learning to live without electricity, running water, or normal toilets. When I came home, I struggled to get my head around the affluence of my life – even as a broke student – and the ease at which my world operated. Electricity was reliable. Systems worked. I had opportunity. Access to education and healthcare. I baulked at spending £20 on a night out, the reality of what that could provide for a family in the village that I had just left refusing to dislodge itself from my mind. I promised myself that I would not forget. But as the months passed, the sights and smells of Africa slowly receded, along with my resolve to value what I had more, live frugally, and remember those who had so, so much less than me.
I am as overwhelmed today as I was then as I attempt to return to ‘normal’ life this week. After seeing people live with so little, coming back to supermarkets, super-fast broadband and properly tarmacked roads seems lucky beyond belief; a random twist of fate that saw me born here, in England, whilst others are born elsewhere, into abject poverty and lack. But I know that now, as then, I am still prone to forget. Much like the tan that begins to fade a few weeks after you step off the plane, so too those searing memories and hot convictions cool and fade against the cold edge of everything.
In different guises, this soul-amnesia has crept up on me many times over the years. Whether it is a spiritual experience that I resolve to hang on to or a stark reminder of the absolute ease in which I live, I promise myself that it will be different this time. I write journal entries, tape things to my fridge, and turn over complex remembering-strategies in my head. I will not forget this time. I will not return to the status quo.
On the long journey home, we mull it all over. We are driving on blissfully flat roads. Our once-average car now seems absurdly luxurious against the tapestry of rides we have encountered these past ten days: tiny Ethiopian tuk-tuks and ancient vans with plastic sheeting where the windows used to be. It’s not that I haven’t had these thoughts before – and this is the thing that frustrates me the most – it’s that once home, they are so hard to hold onto. In the moment, it all seems so elemental. Immersed in the care that is being provided for the most vulnerable of children in the poorest of places, we are bought in. Sold out. I’d do anything and give everything to make a difference because I can see and touch and feel the need.
And perhaps this is the crux. Perhaps whatever takes centre stage is just that which is the most present right here, right now.
It is the same with the spiritual too, for that also costs us, if not in exactly the same way. Whatever we choose to focus our time and energy on is always at the detriment of something else, because neither of these things are finite resources. Investing in my relationship with God may cost me my early hours, those precious slumber-filled moments I’d rather not give. Say no to self? There too is a cost. A sacrifice. A choice.
We are always choosing, even if we think we are not.
So today, I choose again, Afresh. Anew. I choose to remember God’s grace to me in all that I have been blessed with. I choose to remember that that deserves to be front and centre always. I choose to remember that just because I live in a materialistic, demand-driven society that tells me I always need more, better, faster, harder, it doesn’t mean that I can’t disagree. That I can’t say no to myself and choose self-discipline, self-denial; the putting of someone else’s need before my own. And just because I am not there – or may never have actually been there physically – does not mean I cannot be invested in a cause, a project, or a charity. I can choose to support, choose to champion, choose to give and give and give.
Because ultimately, that is how I choose not to forget.
To find out more about the work of Ebenezer Grace, to make a donation or sponsor a child like gorgeous baby Jose below, click here.
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