I met Pastor Aziz a few years ago now at the annual Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) conference. Aziz, as he is called, is a Sudanese refugee living in Kenya along with many of his family. He is an Anglican minister who works with widows and orphans in Kakuma, the largest refugee camp in Kenya. He came to CAFO looking for people to help meet the overwhelmingly, unquantifiable needs he faces every day.
Located near the Sudan border, Kakuma is home to nearly 180,000 refugees. Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war that resembles more of an ethnic cleansing for years now. Apart from the Reece Witherspoon film, The Lost Boys, there has been very little attention paid to the tragedies that have befallen the people of the Sudan by the American media.
Since meeting Aziz I have learned much about the injustices and tragedies that have befallen the Nubian people. I will get an email asking for prayer because an air raid killed members of his family, which prompts me to scour the Internet for news of the event. Sometimes, I will find a small European article that will cover the story that changed Aziz’s life. I have also learned about Anglican Bishop Andudu who now lives in exile in the US. Andudu is man who tries to lead his church and encourage his pastors from thousands of miles away, all while appealing to Congress and the American church to build awareness for a marginalized people group.
I feel so small to help this man, his people, and his situation. In all truth, Aziz needs a somebody and I am a nobody. For the past 2 years, I’ve talked to everyone and anyone working in Africa to help him get resources, food, bibles, volunteers, and support in any form. I’ve held dozens of conversations on his behalf; I’ve reached out to groups like Gideon Bibles and Kenyan politicians I’ve met through my professional connections. Apart from prayer and a few donations we’ve personally made, I am largely useless to help Aziz.
But, the focus of this post is not actually about the crisis in Sudan or even necessarily about Pastor Aziz. This is actually a confession about the shallowness of my faith when even lightly pressed by affliction.
Last month, our family took a large and unexpected financial hit. On the exact same day, Aziz emailed me again asking for help. I was overwhelmed by my reality and out of compassion for anyone or anything else. His email could not have come on a worse day for me and I responded very poorly. My email was so cold and cutting, and although it didn’t actually say this, my message basically inferred “Dear Aziz, leave me alone. I cannot do anything to change your world.”
As I regained my senses from the blow, I also experienced tremendous guilt for my hasty and reactionary posturing to Aziz. I so quickly, oh, too quickly, resorted to self-protection over ministry. I empowered fear over faith. What kind of a Christian social justice advocate responds like this? Am I the person who can only help others when my world is orderly and controlled? Was my sense of God’s provision so limited? Was my understanding of James 1:27 so shallow? Did my call to reach orphans stop at my own doorstep. I was not the Good Samaritan reaching down to help a brother out of a pit. I simply dismissed his cry for help and walked right by.
Oh God help my limited and small view of life.
Six weeks passed without a word from Aziz. I carried my guilt in silence, watching a broader refugee crisis play out on the world stage. To help or not to help Syrian refugees fell behind the conversation raging in my head about a refugee community I have personally been connected with – helplessly – for years. When I was pushed, I shut down to care only for mine.
On Thanksgiving Day, in a family conversation about world events, I fessed up to my mom and sister what happened with Aziz. They immediately responded with the truth I needed to hear: “ask for forgiveness”, “trust God for the resources”, and “don’t respond in guilt, but find your part here and fulfill it”. Right on the beach, I cracked the door and let light flood into this situation that was guilting me into silence and inactivity.
At roughly the same time, an email arrived from Aziz. My public confession, sharing my shortcomings one with another as encouraged in James 5:16, had immediately given me a second chance. The best part of this story is that the next day I was given an unexpected offering of $100, which I gave wholly to Aziz. My email to him started with “Dear brother, I owe you an apology for my lack of faith”. His response was likewise filled with grace “Dear sister, I’m sorry if my cries for help sometimes feel like a manipulation”.
It’s funny how things change when you respond correctly. God’s word is so amazing, second chances and seed to the sower are both given with grace! The truth is that I will probably never be the big answer Aziz needs for his ministry or his people. I may only ever be able to sow small seeds, like this last $100 that paid for one pastor to travel one way back to Kakuma from Bible College. Playing my part with grace and mercy, however small in the scope of the world’s problems, is good enough for me.