Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine
Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne
Take my love, my Lord I pour
At your feet its treasure store
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.
“God has blessed me so much with …” I've heard a lot of words filling that blank. A roof over my head, a family that loves me, a new set of mattresses. The many things for which we are thankful. And it is a wonderful thing to be thankful. We may have an entire holiday dedicated to the practice of thanksgiving, but it is a sadly dying lifestyle. Be thankful, please do, but think about those words for a moment. I know that after two recent experiences, I will have to pause briefly before filling in the blank. “Why?” You may ask, and I reply that there are people, Christians even, without a roof over their heads, without food in their stomachs, without clean water. Those blessings that I have taken for granted so much of my life are lacking in a very present, desperate way for some people around the world. Has God chosen not to bless them? What makes me so special?
The first of those two experiences was a three day trip to the SIFAT campus in Alabama. SIFAT stands for Servants in Faith and Technology, and the organization's mission is to train indigenous missionaries (the local pastorate in developing nations) in sustainable community development initiatives. At the same time, they use their campus to give Midpew Americans a taste of what life is like in those nations. I knew none of this going into our weekend there, just some vague notions of staying in some village and that it might be cold. Believe me, I was in for a surprise. We had a few activities during the afternoon as we got to know what they call the “global village,” a conglomeration of houses typical of countries such as Bolivia, the Philippines, and Uganda. But as night drew on, we were all gathered together and informed that in the upcoming simulation, whatever food, drinking water, and shelter we got would be what we would have for the night. With this rather vague explanation, we entered the slums.
Darkness. Mud. Confusion. Those were my first impressions of what were to be a very long two hours. We were forced to question the various slum dwellers to figure out what we had to do, which turned out to be working odd jobs for a cantankerous, persnickety woman to make money to buy what seemed to be very overpriced soup. Certain actions could send a family member to jail, but justice was not a concept the guard understood. As the evening was drawing to a close, everything seemed to go haywire as some of the students rebelled against the guard for selling drugs and other oppressive actions. At this point, I was sitting in a house that we had managed to purchase with another family, still pretty clueless. In my head, I knew that all of this was a simulation, that in a little while we would be leaving, going back to America where everything is sane and calm and normal. But every other part of me was terrified. I did not know what was going on outside; I just wanted to survive and get out, but someone was upsetting the order of things in which I understood my place and accepted it. As Chaarity can tell you, I was standing in the dark praying aloud to God. And suddenly everyone was being pushed into their homes and the slum dwellers were walking through the main way as they sang “Amazing Grace.” It was so surreal.
Two weeks later, we piled into the vans and drove to the heart of Atlanta. There, in the most crime-ridden part of Georgia, sits the City of Refuge, the main homeless shelter for that area. We only spent half a day there, plus a bit of a morning, but that was enough to expose us to real poverty. This was no backwoods simulation. As I walked along one of the streets, I was struck with the realization that this place had been beautiful once. When I mentioned to Lee my thoughts about what it would take to renovate a particular house, he informed me that that is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Atlanta. But now all of the buildings are in a state of disrepair with boarded windows or no windows, crumbling concrete, litter in abundance, and the clinging stench of pot. Many of the residences were abandoned, at least by their legal owners. As I look back on it, I am struck by the analogous relationship between the buildings and the people. This neighborhood was once beautiful, a place where people wanted to live and maintain and love. But somewhere along the line its well kept facade started slipping until it became the mask of despair. The people who live there are beautiful, the face of God on earth. They are, as another City of Refuge worker, Micah, was fond of saying, “the last, the lost, and the least.” Somewhere along the line in their life, they maybe made some bad choices. Or maybe (and perhaps more commonly, especially with regard to the women and children), they were caught in a flawed system that prevents them from rising above their situations. As they were held down in darkness, they assumed the attitude of despair that is overtly manifested in the squalor of their environment.
When I think of these people, the women that we talked to at City of Refuge, the children who greedily grabbed off all of the love we could give them, my own overwhelming confusion and fear in the slums, I hear the echo of David's cry in Psalm 143:3-4. “My enemy has chased me. He has knocked me to the ground and forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave. I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear.” But what now? In an email from one of the staff members at SIFAT, he mentioned a quote, that “The aim of education is not knowledge, but action.” Each of us, myself included, must now figure out how to make serving those people that we met, that we briefly lived like, a reality in our lives.
I asked the question at the beginning, if God has blessed me so much, has He simply chosen not to bless others? And I think in writing this I have realized something. The answer is no. He has chosen to bless them through us. We have so much, but we have been given in order to give. Whatever my calling may be, God has still given me the responsibility of caring for those less fortunate in whatever way available to me as I walk in that calling. In giving of myself to others, I am giving myself back to God. As the song says, “Take myself and I will be / Ever, only, all for Thee.”