Saturday, April 14, 2012


there is a family here that consists of 7 children.  the oldest, a girl, is 17.  the littlest one is six.  from what I have been told, there father died and their mother re-married, and moved with her new husband to Mondou, a town 2 hours away.  She hasn't been back in 6 months.  She didn't leave money and hasn't sent any. 

they all want to go to school - and here, except for some small fees in the higher grades, the government school is free. 

and to their credit - they are refusing to drop out of school.

I was first told about the children a couple days ago by the Benzakis.  Benzaki is a public health officer at the hospital - a tchadian who went to university in Nigeria, he speaks a little english and takes himself very seriously.  He is a thin, awkward man with a big smile and a big heart.  and whatever his faults might be as a hospital administrator he is always helping people that come to him. 

They don't have very much, their salary can't be more than 200 a month if that, and this year, the plot of rice they cultivated next to their house gave them ten bags.  remember that now, a sack of rice is $80.00 and is getting harder and harder to find.   They told me that all their rice is gone.  They have been giving it away and in the space of five months have gradually given away all their rice. 

they feed orphans, give food to starving people that stop at their door, and even though she more or less goodnaturedly complains about Tchad constantly, Mrs. Benzaki, a Nigerian, never turns away anyone that comes to her door. 

for the last month, they have been giving rice, little by little, to the children.  Planning for the future is not really something that is ingrained in the culture here, if you give somone money, food, they spend or use it right away - so thus they have been giving them rice every week. 

the children are only eating the rice and whatever mangoes they find.  no sauce for the rice.  no salt.  no oil.  no tomatoes.  just rice.  once a day. 

they wanted to take me to their house, to see the children and to talk to them

i didn't want to go

i didn't want to see their house, i didn't want to shake their hand, i didn't want to look into their eyes, i didn't want to know that literally 6 houses away from me was this kind of wretched, extreme poverty, the kind you hear about when you read mission stories in books. 

i didn't want to go because once you go, you are involved.  once you know they are your neighbor, you have to treat them like your neighbor.  once you hear their story, you cannot ignore it.  once you see their suffering, you cannot walk away.

sometimes its easier at the hospital - you don't know where they live.  you don't know how much they make.  you just attend to the problem at hand - the sick kid, focus on that, and leave the rest up to them. 

but here, it is different. 

6 houses away, children are starving.

6 houses away, their roof is caving in.

6 houses away, they are cooking with several cracked pots and only rice

6 houses away, they are wearing their only set of well-worn clothes and walking long distances to school. 

6 houses away, they are drawing water from a crumbling, deep, slimey well, the water a foul grey green, no wall around the well, drawing with a rusty bucket. 

so, why don't i want to go? 

because I'm running out of money.  

and this is where it gets hard.  this is where you have to take a long hard look at giving. 

defining the ever shifting line of how to give, how much to give, who to give to, how much of yourself do you give, in what way do you give, for what motive, defining, drawing, and living and back and forth across that line is one of the hardest things that anyone who works among extreme poverty has to face. 

it is something that everyone that comes here has to wrestle with

it is something that haunts you, a constant inner battle

how much do you give, when people are starving?

all of it??

how much do you give, when people need medications and cannot pay for it??

do you buy it??

how much do you give, when 6 houses away, there is a family of 7 children desperately fighting to stay in school?  going to bed hungry every night

and you can pride yourself all you want on being a giver, being a philanthropist, being a humanitarian, being a do-gooder, whatever rocks your socks and stirs up your cheerios

but what happens when you no longer give of your excess??

I have been here, thinking myself generous.  thinking of myself as a giving person.  and indeed I have given. 

but I gave away money that was given to me by my mother and her Needy Neighbor Fund (yes my parents do have such a marvelous fund) so I have been playing with her money, buying medicine, hydrating kids, giving things away, buying baby formula, helping my family, etc. 

I have put it to good use - such good use that its almost gone

so now what happens

now I don't have a stack of bills to hand out whenever the mood so strikes me

now, if I give, I am giving of the money I have set aside to live off of here.  Now, if I help this family, I will have to write less emails, make them shorter.  I will have to struggle with the internet less (trying to get and receive emails eats through phone credit at an astounding rate). 

but, being able to send and receive long emails has been a sort of life line for me here

now, if i give, I am giving of the money that buys me carrots and guavas and the occasional preciously cold Fanta or Mountain Dew from the market......

now, if I give, I do without

and thats why I didn't want to go

am I generous?? 

not as generous and I was falsely perceiving myself to be. 

and here are the Benzaki's, helping the girls with school fees, keeping them fed, buying them expensive roofing material, giving where i KNOW it hurts 

so much poorer than I, giving so much more than I

that is true giving.  giving not of your excess, not of your savings, but denying yourself things that you need or want because someone else needs or wants them more desperately

that is true giving

that is true love

this is true Christianity

and that is one of the hardest things of all to do. 

when Jesus said, I was hungry, and you gave me food, the person he was referring too didn't swing by Panera on their way back from their corporate job and handed the homeless a container of soup out the window

that person didn't give a percentage of his large income to his favorite charity

that person didn't give dusty cans of tomato soup and old boxes of cereal to the soup kitchen

or just volunteer on thanksgiving


that person took their last bag of rice and gave you half of it.  they divided it down to the last grain.  they knew they might be hungry later.  they knew they might not have money to buy themselves more rice, they knew they might have to get creative, they knew that know it would be harder to get ahead - but they gave anyway

and that is what the Benzaki's taught me

and that is a lesson i really don't want to learn

because that is a lesson that hurts.

and what do I really need for my sanity?? do I really need all that I have??  do I really need to drink cold drinks to reward myself for the hardship of being here?? 

I am surrounded by things, stuff i bought, payed alot of money for so that I could be "prepared" to come to africa.  Bug repellent and organic tea tree soap, shampoo, and conditioner to drive out the mosquitoes,  benedryl creme, fungal creme, a crazy creek chair to sit in, a top of the line mosquito net, extra permethrin to treat it with, every type of OTC med, books, study materials, and the list goes on and on. 

i have a hut stuffed with stuff = stuff to keep me safe, stuff to keep me happy - stuff to help me survive this "ordeal" that is someone else's reality for LIFE. 

but then, you say, you need that stuff, you need to protect yourself, don't be a martyr

but then, if i don't need the stuff, how do i give it away?  in what way?  to whom?

don't we want to teach people to work for things??

teach a man to fish..................yadayadada??

and around and around we can go

and if there is a balance, i can't find it.

not that i have ever been that great at balance anyway - extremes are more my thing - but this giving

it is a constant dance between the heart and the mind and the soul

a constant search for inner strength to do the right thing

to stop rationalizing the wrong thing

because the right thing is simple - 

if you have something, and someone else has nothing - you have a moral imperative to give him of your something -

if you have 2 coats - and someone else is naked - give him your coat

if you have to carry someone's luggage a mile - carry it for 2

if you have to turn one cheek - swivel that head around and turn the other

come on Christians - buck up and stop rationalizing your excess - take a good hard look at what you are giving.  take a good hard look at whether or not you could give more. 

excuses don't work when people are starving

and they are starving

6 houses away

and they have faces

and they have names

and they are trying desperately to continue school instead of dropping out to work.

......I was hungry....and you gave me food
......I was in prison.....and you visited me
......i was naked......and you clothed me

remember the parable?? 

except its not a parable

its all around us


  1. I understand you. And I know that our experiences are of course all different, but this post, I resonate with so clearly. There is a poem....and after I came back from Chad the questions and struggle--the circular thoughts really, really ate at me. One day, when I left the house at five a.m., unable to sleep, I recieved an email from my had this poem in there,

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

    And I know that it's a balance...between being right there inthe center of the pain--to really feel it and be aware of it, but then also resting your heart for the things that are beyond your control. Not all is beyond our control...there are things we can do, but worry is so destructive. Aye! I'm rambling.

    I'm praying for you, Janna!


  2. or right next door ... or down the hall ... or beside you in the bed.
    praying for you and your choices.