Have you ever seen poverty and brokenness but felt hopeless at relieving it? I have. Most of the time, I feel absolutely useless to those around me. Even though I want to help others, I don’t have enough money to end poverty, nor the ability to heal someone’s heart. And I definitely can’t cure cancer. So how should I respond to the people who are suffering? Can I actually do something about it?
I was confronted by this question when I traveled to the majority world this summer. The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel carried me past slums, beggars, and naked children. The income disparity was incredibly high, but everyone acted as if it was perfectly normal. I would be overwhelmed in markets by young mothers and children asking for food. I spent time with local women who, despite the smile on their face, had bodies covered in bruises and scars. Women, who were rescued from sex-trafficking, lived their entire lives hating men because of how they were mistreated. I felt overwhelmed at all the brokenness and need. What was I, just a girl from Canada, supposed to do?
I think we typically have one of three reactions when we see poverty and brokenness around us. The first extreme response to poverty and need is apathy. I found I “switched off” my emotions when I was walking through a slum or saw malnourished children begging for money. Coming from a safe and comfortable environment, I’m not used to being exposed to such desperation. Not knowing how to help, I chose to do nothing. After a while, I stopped caring emotionally for those in need. The problem is that I began to shift the responsibility to other people. Instead of continuing to figure out how I could help, I thought, “When are people going to do something about this?”
The second extreme response to poverty and need is despair. The problem with this reaction is that we are left with no hope. I tried so hard to relieve suffering on my own, but I didn’t see any results. When I realized my weaknesses and compared it to the staggering need, my heart sank. Even though I desperately wanted to, I cannot save all these people. Despair, along with apathy, presents the lie that nothing can be done to help others. However, I realized that there is true hope for all those who live in poverty, are sex-trafficked, and abused. These people can experience restoration and redemption – but it won’t come from me.
I have come to understand that there is a third option: responding to brokenness with hope outside of ourselves. Once I started to realize that finding hope had nothing to do with me, I started to understand God’s heart for people in need. Jesus is a true light in the darkness of the red-light district, slums, and broken lives. Jesus is able to provide true hope to people because he is alive and eternal – he will not waste away or disappear. People craved hope, and when they sought what Jesus offered and accepted him, they were transformed.
Through Jesus’ ultimate defeat of death on the cross, people can trade their shame, brokenness, and rejection for freedom and life with God. Instead of apathy or despair, I can respond to their need by sharing with them about the true hope found in Jesus. Jesus is rescuing, healing, and saving people. He is hope for the world, and hope in my own life as well. There is brokenness, pain, and suffering everywhere in the world but relief comes from the One who came proclaiming, “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12).