A few Sundays ago, I decided to take the long walk to the youth (actually teenage) section of my church. I call it the long walk because it’s a place I very frequently try to avoid. Ever since I moved to this part of the world, I have questioned my ‘calling’ and ‘love’ for younger people. I, who for the most part of my life have willingly served in different kids’ churches in every single place I have lived, have since taken the back sit. It was a shock to my mum when she heard I joined other departments at church that had nothing to do with children.
It was a shock to me too.
But I can explain.
You see, I was born in a part of the world where respect for the elderly or anyone older than you is tattooed into your DNA from your mother’s womb. Greet as you walk by, say please, thank you and excuse me, no wide rolling eyes, don’t raise your voice or talk back, most probably keep your gaze to the floor and NEVER, and I mean NEVER turn your back and walk away. Yes, those were the rules, and any violation of them might send you flying to the other end from where you were standing wondering how you got there seeing stars.
And for the most part, the fear of flying kept us in check, but besides the fear, we knew deep down that respect was as important as the air we breathe. Most especially because the elderly didn’t just demand it, but most times deserved it.
So moving to the UK, I knew things would be a bit different than I had experienced, but I never fathomed how much until I got the shock of my life as I began to relate with the big boys and girls at youth church. First of all, they were more direct in their approach; the kind of direct that sits at the shores of rudeness waiting for the waves to wash it right in (at least in my opinion). Second of all, most of them seemed like they already had life figured out. Of course, I don’t expect any less from anyone that age. When I was a teenager, I was already a certified psychologist, therapist, life-coach and counsellor, and no one could tell me otherwise. My life knew all that life had to offer, or so I thought. So that one didn’t shock me much. I guess the hardest culturally-shocking-blow was when I realised that I could be ignored, sized down with eyes, talked back at, and walked out on, and there was really nothing I could do to salvage what would be left of my dignity . . . sigh!
No words. No words.
So I stayed in my lane.
Even though my heart really yearned to be a part of what was going on over at their end, for fear of being unable to handle this eyebrow-shaving cultural difference, I offered my services elsewhere, where we all were from the same village: The Choir and Drama Departments. HOLLA!!!
But very recently, I started having an urge. You know that urge that makes you do seemingly stupid things? Yes, that one. And that was how I found myself that Sunday wandering towards the corridor that led to the youth church. I found the entrance and walked right through it, spotted a sit at the back and made myself comfortable. It would be unfair not to mention that some months ago, while preparing for our annual drama festival, I had the greatest opportunity of working on a dance routine with 16 of the teenagers. In that two-month-long period, I lost more weight that I did in the entire year and gained a few friends amongst them. So maybe that’s where I got my confidence from. It wasn’t so much of an ‘enemy territory‘ anymore.
As I sat there, I couldn’t quite catch the entire gist of their discuss, but in the very brief moment I was there before ultimately running back to the main church to back up the sweet lady singing for offering, I heard something I had never heard before. It was a scripture one of them read. At that point they were talking about how they could apply the lessons they learn from scripture in their daily lives, and when this lady decided to share, she literally opened the heavens over me.
Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. Proverbs 28:27
In all my years of lovingly studying the Bible, I don’t think I ever noticed this verse. And as she read it, all I could remember was how I would walk past a certain homeless man on my way to a certain store, and avoid his eyes because of course I really didn’t have anything to give him, and if I did, I never thought of giving anyway.
Oh my curses!
You probably might say ‘I don’t think it’s that serious‘, but I choose to believe it is. In fact, when the young lady shared her experience, she recounted how when she read it, she didn’t want to be cursed, so she would leave some money in her pocket for easy access and give it out when she came across any such person on the road on her way back from school or wherever.
It challenged me.
I know how many things I’ve read in the Bible and because of the severity of the matter at hand, I tell myself “It must not mean that in context”, or “I’m sure it only applies to the traditions at that time”, or whatever other excuses I could come up with just so I could ignore it. And yes, there are things like that in scripture that probably only applied to the tradition at the time or have a different contextual meaning, but I must ask myself if my
excuses interpretation is born out of a genuine desire to obey or something sinister.
I guess what really poked at me was not just the fact that I don’t give to the people on the streets, but the fact that I LOOK AWAY.
If I must admit, growing up in a society where ‘beggars‘ on the street was an everyday sight, my heart had become closed to the plights of anyone in such a category. I remember those times when someone would come to the window of the car I’m sitting in pretending to be blind just to get a little hand-out. Or was it the many times children were sent out as bait to attract pity and make some money? I would watch the mother of these children (with a fully functioning body) sit on the sidewalk giving side-eyes to them as if they were going to be annihilated if they didn’t come back with some good bounty. So after such experiences, it’s really tough to take them seriously. Not to add to the self-righteous attention-seeking social media business venture of giving to the needy while taking a selfie so you can be called a saint. I can’t deal.
But the truth about COMPASSION is this: it makes a fool out of anyone. Yes, I will be putting myself out there to be taken advantage of when I decide to always look towards the plights of others. Of course, I cannot always know who is living a lie or telling the truth, but looking away does more harm than I will ever know. Yes, I’m not able to help everyone I meet, or give every time I see someone in need, but I must take the time to ACKNOWLEDGE their plight. Sometimes, acknowledging is all the compassion that is needed.
I might have warmed the heart of that man I sometimes walk past if I looked him in the eye and gave him a smile. Nothing stops me from bending a knee beside him and saying a prayer. And yes, like the teenager who shared, I can decide to keep some money in my pocket each time I know I’ll walk past him, not because I fear being cursed, but because like Jesus who never looked away from the plight of anyone, I must show compassion. And if I pass him 5 times in one day, I can smile 5 times, it really will cost me nothing . . . but LOVE!
So after barely spending 10 minutes, I walked out of youth church that Sunday more blessed than I walked in, just for listening to someone share her experience. I also walked out with a new sense of boldness. And here’s why: You see, the reason I never really offered to help at youth church is because I feared I might be disliked or insulted or disregarded, one way or the other. But the REAL truth is that I LOOKED AWAY from them. I never really acknowledged them as people I could sow my life into. To me, they were that beggar on the street who I thought was pretending to be blind and I had made up my mind as I drew closer to him that I was offering him nothing. For them, compassion was just another word struck off. I admit it.
But not anymore.
It might not be the most amazing experience. Like everything in life, there will be ups and there will be downs. But I will not continue to look away from the things that deserve my compassion. Not those with physical needs, and most especially, not those with spiritual needs.
At least, I will look and acknowledge.
See you on Sunday!