I remember the most malnourished children I’ve ever seen. I was 19 years old in Zimbabwe somewhere between Victoria Falls and Bulaweyo, the second largest city in the country. Our bus had broken down so we were hanging out with the natives on the side of the road, as you do, as someone repaired it. Most of the kids we met there weren’t wearing shoes (Zimbabwean kids don’t like shoes) but they had clothes and looked relatively healthy and energetic until two small kids, one girl and one boy, arrived. They were acting odd, almost crazy. Their hair was reddish colored, clothes barely held together, and stomachs protruding. It took me a minute but after observing I realized these kids weren’t acting a little crazy because they were ADHD. They were acting crazy because they were starving.
After playing with them for a little bit, our group leaders started serving our lunch on the broken down bus. I couldn’t eat. I was wallowing in guilt and confusion over what I had just witnessed in those small children. I kept asking God why I had so much when they had so little. God did not seem fair or loving in that moment. In fact, during that entire monthlong mission trip, God felt very distant. Probably because I kept pushing Him aside, so upset that He had allowed the suffering I witnessed in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where we also traveled.
I now realize how unproductive my response of not eating lunch had been that day. Though I was focusing on the poor and needy around me, I was also very self-focused, allowing guilt to be my dominant emotion. My parents had warned me against this feeling before. Growing up in a mission-minded church, I had opportunities o’plenty to do out of country mission trips. After these trips, I would come home and cry to my parents about the fact we have a.c. and walk-in closets and indoor plumbing. Before I could threaten to move into the backyard and live like the community I had just spent a week or so with, my parents would intervene with the wisdom of long-term missionaries: guilt is not a feeling from the Lord and, therefore, feeling guilty is not the purpose of those trips. Instead, turn the guilt into a desire to do something about people’s dire circumstances.
Stats like 925 million people are hungry in the world today can make us feel really bad about our full refrigerators. But get over it. Why do we have so much and they don’t? I don’t know; we just do. So let’s make use of our resources.