My month in Madagascar was an awakening to say the least. It was a wholehearted awakening to the world. By my very first day I was hit like a storm with the reality of injustice and poverty. My eyes were open and my heart was broken for things I could never have imagined. I lived as a foreigner but I refused to merely be an observer or a travelling tourist simply passing by. No, I couldn’t just observe. I was there to be childlike, a learner with eyes wide open. To have my heart stretched, to be emmersed in an unknown culture, to partner with my new friends, share with them, to make their reality my reality. To write truthfully and realistically I struggled daily and both my heart and body were challenged, I was up against more than I could handle and I was submerged out of my depth in the strongest of currents.
Poverty lives and breathes in Antananarivo as surely as it does in many other cities across the globe. Disease is like a thief in the night and injustice walks the streets every single day. The orphans, the slaves, the needy, the addicts, the lost, the abused and the oppressed are overlooked and ignored because nobody knows any differently. How did I come to know this? I watched it first hand.
I see the joy on the innocent face of a young girl as I accept to give her my empty plastic bottle to play with.
I see the orphans praise, sing and worship the king. The former drug addicts, the former slaves, the former criminals. Watching them lift their hands towards heaven, crying at his feet.
They kiss my cheek, grab my hand, play with my hair and hug me so tight that I don’t want them to let go. They teach me what it means to love and I am changed.
My eyes meet theirs. They become a name not a number. They become a real human being in a real life world, not simply a statistic on another overlooked advert or poster.
A street girl shows me what it means to have a generous heart by offering me her rice.
I watch how the son and daughters of the most powerful witchdoctor in the city are saved, delivered and free. They smile at me as they’re dancing in church and I am changed.
A drunk and violent mother is cared for by her teenage sons despite the way she hurts them. They have been rejected and disregarded but they love anyway.
They play in the dust and the rubbish. They make a rope swing in a mango tree and a kite out of plastic bags. Their feet are dusted in mud.
The mother of two young babies cries before us because her husband has left her alone and she cannot feed her children.
30 mamas queue up for a gift of milk every Wednesday, clinging tightly to their tiny babies, they undress them and place them on the scales to be weighed, only to discover that their children are dangerously underweight. I see their bones and I am changed. I wait for them to return the following week but they never do. Their bodies couldn’t make it through another week.
A baby is found at the rubbish dump, discarded.
I am changed when through all of these things the love of Jesus is so outrageous, extravagant and reckless. Through the darkest of days it’s beating in my heart and streaming through my veins. I see his mercy in their eyes. I see his goodness, faithfulness and perfect grace in their life.. They taught me more than I could ever teach them and they showed me love in a fierce way. I went there to give but really I didn’t know what that meant until I met them. I went there because I thought I was being generous but really they taught me what generosity is. I went there to help but really they helped me. I went there to be a light but really the light was in their own eyes. I went there in the hope of contributing to the eradication of their poverty, but honestly they lifted me out of my own.
They have nothing yet they taught me everything.