I’ve often wondered about war photographers. How did Robert Capa feel when he captured the image of a man dying in a Spanish battle? How does it feel to observe yet not have the power to intervene? There’s a moral tension between the duty to tell the world the story and the duty to join the struggle.
Martin Luther King Jr understood this; a photographer once put down his camera and waded in to try and stop police brutality. King reprimanded him severely, because now the world would never see what had happened – all he had done was add one more person to the fray.
I’m a disciple, with a pen. I’ve already written about my favourite moments of our Africa trip, but now I’d like to tell you about what we saw on one particular night. I’m not involved in the day to day battle with poverty; my presence didn’t really change anything, but perhaps I can play my part in telling the story.
A trip into the dark
We were somewhere around about the equator, and somewhere in the vicinity of the traffic lights. It was Sunday night and we were in the middle of the city of Mwanza, in an area where the homeless and the hurting gather together. Hundreds of people sleeping rough next to street-side sewers; I guess society would see them as the untouchable ones.
They were four years old, and carrying babies, they were older than you can describe, they were men, they were women, they were strong, they were weak, they were leprous, they were broken, they were hungry. They weren’t they at all. The word they collectivises and dehumanises and robs, stripping people of their individuality and identity.
There were mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and they were united, in their individuality, by their lack. They lacked a home, they lacked the security of a place to stay, the means to acquire such a place, and the basics of life that we take for granted.
It’s one of the darkest places I’ve ever been. It felt like a place that death could visit any time and pick and choose his victims. It was the kind of place you hear about on television. But equally, forewarned is forearmed. I knew to expect the bleakness of poverty; what I was surprised to see was the strength, power, and reach of hope.
I knew to expect the bleakness of poverty; what I was surprised to see was the strength, power, and reach of hope.
I had arrived in the darkest place to find that God already had a general on the ground. We were out with a man who for twenty six years has served the people on those streets. There in the middle of what should have been a place of hopelessness were people declaring truth and spreading hope. I should not have been surprised. After all, Jesus told us this would happen.
I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
– Matthew 16:18
Jesus didn’t say He would go in the flesh to every person in need; He said He would build His church, and that church would take the battle to the very gates of hell in order to see people saved.
We gave each person a couple of slices of bread and filled their cup with tea. When I did get close to anyone I would put a hand on their shoulders and asked God to bless them, because touch reaches across the language barrier.
Every Sunday contains a kerbside service; some hymns are sung, the gospel is preached, and some people are connected with their saviour.
We fight for the furthest heart
There is a song we sing at church called Relentless, and in it is a line that refers to Jesus as fighting for the furthest heart. My trip to Africa made me question whose the furthest heart is. In the dark of night, amongst the homeless in a far off city, we found that God was already there. They were far from health, wealth and prosperity, yes, but God was there eagerly pursuing their hearts.
I’m profoundly moved by what I saw in Tanzania; I’d encourage anyone to go and to see and to serve. But I would also say that you don’t have to travel to find the furthest heart. God is everywhere. The furthest heart is not defined in distance from Jerusalem or Rome, London, Sydney or home. The furthest heart may be your next door neighbour. The furthest heart may be my best friend.
You don’t have to travel to find the furthest heart.
The furthest heart is not a matter of geography. The furthest heart is the lonely prisoner who has given up hope of redemption, the domestic abuse victim who no longer leaves her flat, the debtor so lost in their debt that they feel trapped by it, the sufferer of depression who looks at their meds and wonders whether a few extra will let them sign off for good, the middle class professional staring at their possessions and wondering why they still feel unfulfilled.
The furthest heart is the heart who does not know God yet, and who can’t see the light at the end of their tunnel. I want to be part of a generation of people that fight for the furthest heart, whether that is in the developing world or the room next door.
Wherever we are planted? We’re within a stone’s throw of need. We’re within spitting distance of people who feel forgotten, forsaken, beyond hope. Let’s commit to being people who will fight for the furthest hearts. People who will reach into the darkness and whisper, “You’re not forgotten, God knows your name”.
You don’t have to travel the earth to find the furthest hearts, just open your front door.