My day began by watching my deceased neighbor be buried in his front yard. My day ended by watching another neighbor beat a little boy violently. It has not taken long for us to remember that death and violence are a part of everyday life here in the village. And there is a part of me that asks the question: Is it ever okay to put my headphones in to drown out the constant strain of yelling that surrounds our home? Is it okay for me to look the other way while a grown man beats a whimpering child? Is there ever a reprieve from the wailing at funerals, the violence, the fighting, the disease, and the death that surround us in this place? Is there a time to just send someone away saying, “Be warm and filled”?
A week ago yesterday, Dave and I went over to our neighbor’s house to talk about their grandson’s health. The grandmother was very thankful for the medication we brought her and the grandfather greeted us warmly and thanked us. This grandfather has been blind for about two years and I’ve seen another of his grandsons leading him around the village.
We regularly hear fighting coming from that house at all hours of the day and night. This past Tuesday night was no exception. I was having a rough day with my kids and went outside late at night to look at the stars and pray, and then I heard them fighting. I am ashamed to admit it, but my first reaction was not pray, but instead to roll my eyes and wonder if the hollering would ever stop. That is something I am ashamed of now. Why? Because yesterday I went back to this same house and found the grandfather lying dead in his bed while family members were digging him a grave outside. Women were in the house wailing and men were outside drunk; alternating between arguing and singing loudly.
When I went into the house, one of my friends (the deceased’s daughter) explained to me what had happened. Allegedly, her father had gone to the city to withdraw his retirement in order to pay for a surgery for his eyes. It was a considerable sum of money and when he got home, his wife (my friend’s step-mom) and her children demanded the money. When he refused to give it to them, they beat him, inflicting injuries that led to his death.
One week ago, he was greeting me at his front door. Yesterday he was lying dead in the middle of his living room, allegedly due to domestic violence. His second wife and her children have left town out of fear of retribution from the family.
And then it hit me – while I was rolling my eyes at the shouting emanating from their house, this blind grandfather was being beaten by his own family members. I am ashamed that my first thought was for myself rather than the well-being of my neighbor. I see clearly now that my response was not Christ-like.
Blessed are those who weep
All over Scripture, we are called to not tune out the sufferings of the poor and needy. When my children ask what to do about the sufferings of our neighbors, I call them to consider that Proverbs tells us that we are to look them in the eye and breathe in the sufferings they bear. When we turn our eyes away, put the headphones in, ignore the screams we hear, and close our ears to the cry of the poor, we will ourselves “call out and not be answered” (Prov 21:13). For, “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse” (Prov. 28:27).
I know what you are thinking: “You must be great at parties.” But, consider the biblical characterization of Christ as a “man of sorrows.” Would I be flattered or insulted to be known as a “woman of sorrows”? Should I rather be someone who is carefree, loves to laugh, and is fun to have around? My home culture calls me to pursue “my best life now” but Jesus says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). I am persuaded that a life of weeping and constant prayer is the only appropriate response to the sin and suffering that surround us. The lightheartedness knowing that “everything’s going to be okay” is not for this life now, but instead for the next.
But it’s too hard
Someone may wonder if it is even healthy for someone to strive to bear the burdens of the blind, orphan, and abused as a way of life. In the face of this concern is the trusted verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). I am confident that Jesus loves to answer the prayers of his children as we ask him to strengthen us as we seek to strengthen others.
With all of that said, I do long for reprieve. I long for a place where the sounds of peace fill the air. I seek a better country where an unimaginable joy takes hold of everyone, and we can laugh, really laugh. And I know that this is not just a fantasy. This place exists and I will one day live in the presence of my God. And so today I can choose to open my eyes, to listen to the wailing, to grow not in numbness, but in compassion. Because I know that for every wound inflicted on this Fallen Earth, I will one day feel the healing touch of my Savior. And by His grace, I will hear those same voices, no longer wailing, but worshiping with me. Until that day, Lord, keep me weeping.