The girl on the screen with tattered clothes and dirty hair will probably never see me. I wonder where she is right now, what she is doing, if she knows that her painful story is being broadcasted to thousands of people lined in rows for a concert. She doesn’t see us, or know any of us, but we see her. We see her and know her, and the angles of her face ripple in the creases of our brains, in a haunting motion that cries, to please, do something. Yes, we see her.
The audio of the short film is not fully over when the room fills with rustles of wallets opening and bills being counted. Before it is time to give, however, another video plays. A different child, a different country, a different kind of poverty, but he needs help too. The movement ceases throughout the great auditorium, as jaws drop and hands fall to sides. Minds that were a few minutes ago occupied with thoughts of the concert they came for now mentally rack their bank accounts, wondering, can they help him too?
A few more videos are played. Men, women, children, all clenched by poverty’s grasp in one form or another. So many people, so much need. But the rustling among the crowd has changed, away from the eagerness of pulling out a hand to help, to the uncomfortable, discouraged awareness that the need is too great. It is too much. They cannot help everyone. The concert-goers look at the ground and at each other restlessly, shamefully wondering when the performance they came for will begin; when this too-big need can be pushed from their eyes and minds.
I was at this concert. I, too, was among the masses who put away my wallet, discouraged. What did I know? What could I do to help the poor? Who am I to stop injustice? The need is too great. I cannot fill it.
As a culture, we are exposed to a vast amount of information. By lunchtime, the world knows about a tweet sent that morning, or which celebrity said what. We are a people inundated with pictures, with stories, with articles and calls to action. We are exposed to poverty through the screens of our computer, flooded with cries for help and pleas for justice. The thing is though, that too many stories can make us numb. Too much awareness can paralyze us, and leave us feeling that we can’t do everything, so why do anything?
The need is too great.
I left the concert that night, ears ringing and heart light, the plights of the faces halfway around the world blissfully dismissed from my mind. I hugged my friends goodbye and walked along the city’s damp sidewalk, the puddles set on fire by the glow of the lamps above.
I almost missed her, standing in the shadow of that lamppost.
She looked my age but from a different world, clothed in piercings and a layer of smoke.
I almost missed her.
She called to me, and I looked at her. Those eyes. So haunting and delicate; so beautiful. Where had I seen them before?
She spoke to me, her voice asking for money and her heart asking for hope. She told me her roller coaster story as she lit a cigarette, this time not through a screen that has been made smooth with pictures and music, but in the messy, halting way of sharing in the flesh. I continued to stare at her as she spoke, wondering where I had seen that face.
Then I knew, and I tried to catch my breath. The girl in the video. A different story, a different country, but the same eyes. Eyes that, should I let them pierce my soul, would teach me something about the very heart of Christ. Eyes requiring perhaps my wallet, but more importantly, my self. As I extended my hand to touch hers, the faces on the video stepped back into the frame of my mind, this time my own pleading face among them.
The need is too great. I cannot fill it.
Another face. Larger. Stronger. More powerful. He already did.
On this earth, we are the footprints equipped with the gospel of peace. We are called to bring forth life; to open wide dark curtains that block out hope. The need is so great. We cannot fill it all.
But we can fill some.
As Christians, we have been given a glorious inheritance that will never fade. We are called to carry that light and to scatter it through word and deed, wherever and whenever we can. Sometimes, that means giving our money to organizations where feet are already planted. Sometimes it means giving our time in the form of a trip or project.
And sometimes, it’s as messy and simple as saying hello; as fulfilling and frustrating as listening on a street corner to a story riddled with pain; as hope-giving and humbling as knowing we cannot fix the world’s problems but that the Lord gives us hands to hold anyway.
Oh yes, the need is great. But take heart, for all is not lost. He is working and moving and will claim the victory. He has given us the opportunity to be a part of that work, in whatever way we can.
The need is great. Together, let each of us do what we can to fill it.
** Photos provided by Matthew Genders**