His name was Daniel. He wasn’t old, perhaps within 10 years of my age. He spent his days on the couch listening to T.V.
He was blind.
He needed help with every basic human action: walking, to be put in the wheelchair, eating, using the toilet. He relied on the nurses for his daily life. Some-days I would help him eat, help him drink tea. I tipped the enamel cup to his lips, as some dribbled down his chin he would say ‘Thank you’. It didn’t feel like an act worthy of thanks. I didn’t know what to say. Once we talked of New Zealand. Travel. India. He had a brother living in India and wanted to travel there. With a sense of humour, he asked me to take him with me in June.
One day he asked for help to get to the toilet. More than one person was required to lift him – it cannot be done alone. Searching for a nurse the response came ‘Just ignore him, he has a nappy he can go in that.’ The nurse acted like she was in a sterile office job and not dealing with a real person – a person needing help for a basic human need. This Hospice is a place for those rejected and left alone in society because of HIV/AIDS. Where is Daniel’s dignity if one of the only functions his body has left is denied when we do not help him to the toilet? How does he not feel the stigma if he must sit in his own faeces all afternoon? He is dehumanized when he is treated like this.
The first few days I worked at the HIV/AIDS Hospice were great. I could see the kids playing, the green grass and immaculately kept gardens showed vibrancy and life. After a couple of weeks, however, I noticed the cockroaches under the beds, the dirty marks on the lino that never got cleaned, the children fighting from boredom – all physical symbols speaking to the reality that not everyone was experiencing quality life within that place. It was an experience of the rose-coloured glasses coming off. I was shocked and challenged to realize that even within an NGO, and within a church that is proclaiming the love of God there are problems and issues of division and un-loving actions.
This is the ultimate of poverties. As Mother Teresa said “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” It is those we and society name as unwanted, unloved and uncared for that are needing the good news of Jesus -the restoration into a relationship of unconditional, gracious Love.
As Christians, we say Jesus loves all peoples, all faiths, all colours, as equals. Do our lives reflect that? We can easily say we need to stop creating distance between ourselves and others but do we really live that reality? Is it ‘us’ and ‘them’? ‘Helper’ and ‘Helpless’? ‘Giver’ and Receiver’? Even if we know who ‘they’ are in our world, country, town, street, church, we make choices every-day that are acts of unity or division, acts of embracing or dis-engaging.
The truth is, this reality is hard. I’m still learning how easy it is to distance people, to ‘other’ people, to place them in boxes and neglect our common humanity – and shared inheritance and children of God.
We must constantly fight against our ability to ‘other’ people and keep them at a misunderstandable distance. When we find out just who ‘they’ are a remarkable thing happens. ‘They’ are no longer something to fear. ‘They’ cannot be left uncared for when we have built a relationship with them. ‘They’ have something to offer us. ‘They’ becomes Lerato. ‘Other’ becomes Anna. ‘HIV/AIDS’ becomes Busu. ‘Abused’ becomes Thandiwe. ‘Other’ becomes neighbour. ‘Them’ becomes brother/sister and friend.
We love because God loved us first (John 14:19). Dwell here for a while.
What way are you moving? Towards or away from those ‘different’ from you? Is there a certain person or people group that you may have distanced that God is asking you to take a step towards or embrace? What is one thing you could do this week to make that conscious step?