Why, O God, do I cry out to you?August 25, 2010
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—let them be caught in the schemes they have devised… Psalm 10:1
Sometimes it is all too much. Overcome by passion and conviction and wondering where compassion for one another has gone. O Lord, I cry out to you for the suffering of your people. Ignored, forgotten and left to suffer and die. So many have lost heart and gone astray. Caught up in selfishness and disconnected from one another. Does anyone care? Does anyone see? Will anyone stand up and speak so those on the margins will be heard. Your children, God, are suffering-oh how it must cause you pain and heartache.
I was disheartened to read the headline of the local newspaper about a child who is unable to access his ARVs because there is a national public workers strike in South Africa (August 2010). Regardless of where one stands with the reason for the strike, nurses and teachers are staying away from work and it is causing great chaos. Some are striking by choice and others are being threatened and physically injured for being at work. Schools and hospitals are closed around the country. The child named in the article is one among thousands. Does anyone understand the ramifications of not taking your ARVs? Sickness, opportunistic infections, hospitalization, even death. Another child who will never give his gifts, contribute to his family, the workforce, the economy, the world. Going off ARVs, even for one day, changes their effectiveness and can cause drug resistance not just for him, but for EVERYONE. This is only one child. Dare we consider those in the hospital already, those being turned away, those who need their monthly medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. or lifesaving surgeries that are being postponed. What about children ready to be birthed into the world and have chosen the wrong week?
During the same week, I visited a children's home called Gugulihle to take photos for a company wanting to link and support their efforts to teach and care for children. The woman who runs the soup kitchen and crèche near my school, Inanda Seminary, introduced me to this new crèche, Gugulihle. These two women work together and support each other which is very surprising because most individuals compete for resources instead of helping each other. After we returned, the last thing the woman told me was she was unable to get one of the ARV medications for her grandchild this week because of the strike. Same story as the headline, but now it is on my doorstep. Her daughter died last month of AIDS so she is now the mother of her 4 year old HIV+ grandchild. Why was it the last thing she told me in passing? Surely it was on her mind from the moment I saw her, but she is a servant herself in the community-always thinking of others first.
I am so privileged. I have resources. I am connected. I know people. So I called my doctor friend who willingly wrote the script. I fetched and paid for the medication-easy for me. Not easy for the grandmother. It was all done privately from a place of privilege.
The needs are great and the connections so few. We sit behind walls and fences and gates. We don't know our neighbors. We can live, and live well, without interaction in community. We can be blind to reality and people become numbers and faces rather than Mary or John. The world has become such a global information village that it is everyday reality to turn on a TV and see innocent travelers killed by hijackers, strikes turning to violence, ethnic groups bombing each other, governments brutally killing people of opposition or horrific pictures of starvation – and we can somehow stay detached because it is about them, not us. It's so commonly seen it becomes normal and not shocking. It's all too easy to be isolated. We have forgotten to live in community. Our lives, richness, fulfillment is about what we in our immediate families do and not about how our community does. In former generations, you could only be OK if your village was OK - now just look at wealth in South Africa next to poverty, wealth in India or Brazil next to poverty. Our lives have to become more dependent on community, and then we will feel and see like Jesus.
We are disconnected with those on the margins. Are we afraid to get involved or afraid to risk really knowing how ugly the world is, and at what cost and sacrifice to us if we do know the stories? Maybe we will have to change our lifestyles as we are challenged by the stories of those at the margins. Maybe we will need to get our hands dirty and feel the pain and suffering that they experience. This strike has certainly challenged me personally. What makes me and my children so special? Nothing actually! We are all God's children. My children attend a private school, and they have access to private doctors and hospitals in South Africa. We are connected and well resourced. I know people.
I know the grandmother is coming over for the medicine, and she is going to thank me. I don't want her to thank me. I don't deserve it, but I can't stop her. She says it; she says 'thank you', and as she says it, I turn away and hold back my tears. Then she shares about how much she is hurting from the death of her child last month, and the nightmares she is having from the 5 months of caring for her child and watching her die suffering and in pain from AIDS. She said that someone went to the hospital again today to try to get the medicine and found sick people coming into the hospital and hitting them and telling them to go away. She says she doesn't want to know how much the medicine cost because it is very expensive. I remind her that we can't put a price tag on the life of her grandchild. She agrees, but says I can only think that way because I have means (means = money).
O Lord, where do we find you? Where is the compassion and love for one another? What evil has overcome ALL of us?
What about all of Your children of the world who are crying out for shelter and food and education and medication. South Africa is not unique. Why are some the 'haves' and others the 'have-nots'? Why is it so easy to hide behind privilege and be disconnected from community while others are so desperately in need?
And why, O God, do I cry out to you? Am I not the answer to my own crying out? Are you not calling on me to respond to the needs of your children?
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more. Psalm 10:18
Reverend Susan Valiquette, chaplain, seconded to Inanda Seminary since 1999.
Reverend Dr Scott Couper, development manager, seconded to Inanda Seminary since 2009.
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