Introduction by Bart Daniel, HOPEww Global Health Development Officer
Most of our stories are about the changed lives of the poor we serve; rarely do we talk how working with the poor has permanently changed our lives.
When I first went to China 10 years ago, I went to work with the poor. While I would never tell anyone this, in my heart my arrogant attitude was “here I am - God’s gift to the poor! You should be so grateful for me! How did God ever get anything done before I came here?” Fortunately, God was patient with me as he slowly changed me. I had been living in China for six months when I joined Dan Liu on a trip to a rural village in the Shanxi Province. The people in this village were living in mud caves and extremely poor; these villagers could only afford to eat meat three times a year for special holidays. I was humbled at the generosity and love these villagers demonstrated to me; they prepared a big feast with several different meat dishes. In the following year, while working with the poor, my life was changed permanently as I realized that I received far more than I could ever give.
I remember when I first read Acts 17:26-27 in 1985 and how I realized that God determined the exact time and place that I lived so that I would reach out and find him. For years Acts 17 was a fixed time in my life when I found salvation, but in China I realized that it was a daily occurrence. Through working with the poor, I was reaching out and finding God; it’s how God hardwired me. I am not alone in this; over the years as I have talked to different people, I have realized that all of us went to help, but in the process we have been changed in incredible ways. Over the next month, we will be running a series of articles called “Profiles in Change”. These are the stories of your brothers and sisters working overseas and how God has changed them.
The following is the first installment.
The Gift of a Teddy Bear
by Matt Walker, One-Year Volunteer, HOPE worldwide – Bolivia
Sitting down to write this little piece I have no idea where to start. How do you summarize important things in life? You want people to share your experiences – see it the way you saw it – with all the beauty, heartbreak, hope, despair, ugliness, brokenness, love and faith that went along with that. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just not possible to do. I can try and package some words to make you convinced that, yes, my life was changed, but this is my story - and to you that’s all it is.
I can promise you that you won’t have the same experiences as I had. So I could tell you about how I was able to befriend someone half my age who had no parents or siblings to look to. How I was able to be a stand-in father for a child who thought he was going to have to sit alone while the other kids had their dads come to school for father’s day. And, how I will never forget his smile when I walked in. I could tell you about pulling a homeless kid off another while they were trying to stab them with a knife. I could tell you about witnessing the senseless violence committed against an 8 year old. I could even tell you about trying to get through to a 14 year old who spent a good chunk of his life being manipulated by a child molester. But I could also tell you about embracing someone in tears after they told you that you were like an older brother to them. I could tell you about being on the receiving end of smiles from so many innocent children. I could tell you about receiving a teddy bear from an orphaned girl who has almost nothing but wants you to remember her. And how that bear has more worth than all of my possessions combined. I could tell you about living like Jesus did in a new way made his words more real. But that would be an understatement. Or how I was able to see God in the faces of so many children who want to love and be loved.
Of course this all goes without mentioning that being a part of a group of people who are passionately trying to positively affect people’s lives was in and of itself impactful. To have people to cry with and talk with and laugh with, who are all experiencing similar things as you, is invaluable. I could even tell you a little about E.Coli, my friends “Sam-n-Ella”, ruptured eardrums, second degree sunburns, falling off cliffs or pulling out cactus needles.
I could tell you about all those things but they would be barely more than just words to you. Maybe you would be able to create some very interesting mental images but you wouldn’t understand those experiences. Not the way I do. It’s my story. You get to create your own. That’s what I want to encourage you to do. GO. DO. Be that character in the story that God wants to write with your life. If you want to do something that matters, something that you will never forget, something that you know your heart is calling you to do – step out. And do it.