I came to Ghana almost two years ago with something resembling answers. I think we all do. We enter into ministry or missions with big ideas. At least I was certain that answers existed to the educational deficits in Ghana. We often start out as idealists and end up as realists. Change is not simple. There are no easy answers to the persisting economic and social problems ailing our world. If you had asked me a year ago (and some of you did) what my life plan was, I would have given you a convincing outline of how I was going to design and implement a program modeled after Teach for America in Africa. I was convinced that was my calling, convinced for a few short months anyways. Time has given me greater insight into the complexities of educational reform in Ghana. I don’t have answers. In fact, I feel as if I am more unsure than ever about the means to bring sustainable change to educational institutions in West Africa. The problems seem so great it is often tempting to run home and forget they exist because I don’t know how to begin to address them. But I have found a different answer. Live in the questions. I don’t have to have solutions or answers. I just have to be willing to participate in the suffering, pain, and injustices that victimize the poor and marginalized. I have to be willing to live with and among those who are suffering in order to share with them in the problem and hopefully live our way into some answers together.
“…None of us can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with our whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded or even destroyed in the process. Who can take away suffering without entering it? It is an illusion to think that a person can be lead out of the desert by a person who has never been there…” Henri J. Nouwen
I recently read these words in the book titled The Wounded Healer and they have been echoing in my mind for weeks. We can keep on pretending that we are serving, helping, and ministering to people, but until we are truly willing to share in the burdens of others we are only fooling ourselves. We want to help without it costing us anything. We are afraid of the personal costs of becoming involved in the suffering of others. We don’t want to suffer the expense of discomfort.
This morning as I sat on my flight I paused at these words which epitomized to me the reaction of the world’s wealthy to encounters with pain and poverty: “The world is full of miserable places. One way of living comfortably is not to think about them or, when you do, to send money.” The author, Tracy Kidder, writes about the incredible life of Paul Famer, an infectious disease specialist giving away his love and life to the world’s poorest. Writing checks is useful and certainly necessary.
I am entering the last 7 weeks of my time in Ghana without reserve. I want to listen well, love deeply, and give foolishly. As I look towards graduate school I will walk into without solutions rather only with questions. I will take with me the voices of the poor in Ghana and hear the wisdom of the educated and try to make sense of it all. I don’t have a life plan. What I do have is a commitment to participate in the suffering of the world. I want to be a part of the suffering, so that I can also be a part of the healing.
In Ghana when something hurts you, you say "it is paining me." I am learning to enter into the pain of others and share it with them. While the suffering and questions of life is often painful, I understand that is part of the human experience. Our sin and selfishness has brought such pain and suffering into the world, and learning how to bear each other's burden is a central part of Christ's teaching. If it is paining you, it should also be paining me.
I invite you to risk the unknown, risk entering into the pain of another. Whomever or wherever that may take you. I am convinced that is what it means to love.