This is the time of year where we intentionally extend gratitude toward the Almighty for our blessings. “We are really blessed with so much,” say millions on Thanksgiving Day, referring to their TVs, their cars, their gadgets, their formal education, and the safety of their families. Youth groups who travel to the two-thirds world for a week often return home with the same observation: “We are blessed with so much.”
Could these blessings also be a curse? Could our TVs lead us to moral decline, our cars to economic and ecological ruin, our education to greed, and our safety to complacency? Nevermind those questions. In the violent rush of Black Friday, many have already forgotten their gratefulness anyway. I just wish to merely point out the rudeness of proclaiming that we are blessed because of the things we have.
By saying, “I am blessed because I have food,” we must consider the woman who does not have food. What would her response be as she overhears such a statement? She would hear in your statement that while you are blessed, she is not blessed. By thanking God for certain “blessings,” we are undermining God’s core teachings that it is actually the poor, the hungry, the mourning, the persecuted, the meek that are blessed. Conversely, the rich, the well-fed, and the respected are the ones facing their ultimate woes. Everybody wants to claim God’s favor is upon him or her, but is it?
Suzan and I had the pleasure of reconnecting with our partner organization UTOPIA in Kyongera, Kyenjojo District. Part of our agenda was to stay with its founder, Atuhaire Moses, and visit some local beneficiaries.
One morning we woke up and immediately set off, walking through Kyongera’s rolling hills, nearly 20 kilometers from a main road. After blazing through forests and fields, we came to the home of a woman with more children than I could count (none of their names will be mentioned here). Her home is pictured in the featured photo for this post (not the one at the bottom of this post).
There was also a middle-aged man seated in the compound, his ribcage protruding from his flesh. I asked Moses why this family was malnourished, since there were matooke trees planted all around their home.
Moses explained to me that they did not own any of the nearby property. Although the land was fertile, it was not available for their use.
The woman explained to us (in Tooro, a language neither Suzan or I understand) that her husband had been taking ARVs to maintain his health because he was HIV+, but when he made the 40-kilometer round-trip trek by foot to the nearest government hospital, they told him their supply of ARVs had been depleted.
If you are not familiar with AIDS, just know that missing one day of ARVs likely means you can no longer take ARVs effectively. Upon missing a dose of antiretrovirals, the virus can mutate and cause complications, hastening fatality.
When I heard this story, a myriad of emotions filled my being. Sadness, fury, compassion, and powerlessness rushed into me simultaneously. Just days prior, I had been informed by one of Solidarity Uganda’s co-founders that the funds the central government had delivered to Kyenjojo’s public health sector had been partially embezzled and scandalously returned to the central government because there was no need for the remaining funds. (You have to read between the lines here: individuals must have been bribed to return a portion of the funding.)
What frustrated me most is that my taxes (and therefore, myself) were at the root of this evil, because millions of dollars in US Foreign Aid to Uganda provided the NRM government with the very grants used to supply the hospitals. There was no accountability system in place to ensure that the funds would be used for the right reason, rather than being gobbled up by the elites.
I remember asking Suzan, my wife of only a few weeks at that time, what we could do to help the family. We were broke from wedding expenses, borrowing money from friends and family just to eat and pay a $60 monthly rent. There were no easy answers anyway; there was little hope in nursing the man back to health, even if he had the money needed.
But God’s favor was upon this man and his family, for blessed are the poor and mourning. In this instance, God’s love is toward them, and God’s anger is toward the “successful” people that society celebrates: the politicians, the doctors, the administrators, the grant providers, perhaps even myself for complacently paying taxes without question.
My hurricane of emotions brought me to call out to God: “Can’t you do something about this suffering?!”
God replied with the same question. I honestly do not know whether God can prevent humans from being bad to other humans. Such tremendous forces of victimization stand in the way. I don’t know whether God is often voluntarily inactive or whether God is simply powerless over some things, and there is no way to be sure. But one thing is clear: whether or not God has the capacity or sovereignty to repair a world of disarray, we can certainly follow the example and call to do something about it.