In a nation that is struck by poverty and hindered by years of war, it is easy to become numb to the constant state of despair all around you. I am used to seeing children in torn, dirty clothes, or wearing no clothes at all. I am used to seeing men and women crawl through the streets of the market, disabled by a disease that would have been preventable with a simple vaccine. I am used to being asked for food wherever I go. I hate that I have become numb to it because it is all around me every day. But now it is the “hungry season” in South Sudan and at this time of year, the despair is too great to overlook.
The “hungry season” refers to the months around May and June where people’s harvest from last year has run out and they are waiting on the crops for this year to be ready. The rains have come, the sorghum and ground nuts are growing, they just aren’t ready to eat yet.
Just the other day, I held a baby on his way home from the hospital. He was admitted because he was severely malnourished. He was somewhere between 3 and 5 months old (birthdays are hard to nail down in this culture) and only 4 kgs. My heart broke as I held him. He should have only been consuming breast milk, but his mother could not produce any for him because of her own malnourishment. There is no formula available in the market, so many women who can’t produce breast milk are forced to give their babies cow’s milk; however, this mother could not even afford that. When my teammate and I dropped him and his mom off at their home, we found nothing – not even a jerry can for fetching water. We later found out that the little boy passed away.
How do we respond to this? In our training before we landed in South Sudan, we had to write our theology on poverty. As I looked through the Bible to complete this assignment, I found that the Lord clearly desires us to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. In the Old Testament, it is even written into the Levitical Law to care for the poor and needy, and even how to do it (Leviticus 19:9-10). God even says in Deuteronomy 15:4, “There should be no poor among you.” There are so many examples throughout the Bible of God’s compassion for the poor and His command to help them. Just a few that stood out to me are: Leviticus 25:37-37, 39-41, and 54; Deuteronomy 15:28; Exodus 22:25, 27, and 23:6; Luke 12:13; and James 2:2-5.
But what does this look like practically? There is so much need all around me every day. I can’t possibly respond to all of it! And even if I could, there are books like “When Helping Hurts” that make me afraid of disabling people by trying to help. I don’t know the answer. But I write this because I am challenged to find it. I am challenged for all believers to look for the answer. I pray for the Spirit to tell me who to give to and how I should help. What does it look like to care for the poor and needy around us? How do we show compassion and love like Jesus did when he walked the earth?
I do not know the answer, but one way I have discovered to discern it in certain situations is to simply be present. To sit with those in need, even if I have nothing to give but my companionship. And to pray – pray for the people of South Sudan, and our neighbors around us wherever we may be in the world, for hunger and disease to be distant memory, and ultimately for everyone to know our Savior Jesus Christ.