World Poverty Photos

Poverty Photos

Take a look at some poverty photos.  See how people live in poverty around the world.

If you like the poverty photos, or think they are especially powerful, please share w/ your friends.  There’s a link below the poverty photos (look for “Share This”) that enables you to easily share around web.

Finding Hope in Haiti

I find it interesting how people react when I tell them that I am going to Haiti for a week and a half. “We’ll pray for you,” is a common response. No one seems to have a good impression of the country, though many Haitians try as hard as they can to live good lives. The problem is that the country is broken in many ways, and has been for far too long. The rate of AIDS is quite high (5.6%), Port-au-Prince is a haven for crime (don’t go out after dark, I am told), and people are eating dirt out of desperation (really).

World Concern's Derek Sciba shows boys in Kenya their image on a video camera viewfinder.
World Concern's Derek Sciba shows boys in Kenya their image on a video camera viewfinder.

World Concern humanitarians have worked in Haiti for a long time, through crises and hurricanes and political upheaval. We’ve had the same director there for the past couple of decades. In spite of the ongoing poverty, we’ve had a significant impact on the thousands of lives we’ve been able to touch.

My goal in Haiti is to document what’s going on there right now. Our programs include support for those with HIV and children orphaned from AIDS. We are rebuilding water systems and livelihoods after hurricanes roared across the island last year. We’re even doing simple things that mean so much, like giving children goats. The goats have babies and produce milk, providing income and tuition for schools.

I’ll have a still camera, a video camera and a notepad, and will travel with Christon, the country director, to projects across the island. If I can get my international phone to work as I wish – I will also microblog on World Concern’s Twitter account. We want to show our supporters how their money is being spent – and relay stories about those promising people who are determined to change the nature of the country.

After I return from Haiti, I will spend a couple of weeks back in America, then head to Southeast Asia to document World Concern’s work in that region.

Help to Injured Civilians in Sri Lanka War

Right now, World Concern’s Sri Lanka staff is helping many civilians injured during recent attacks. World Concern is one of only a few humanitarian relief agencies permitted by the government to help. We’re providing food, bedding, clothing and personal supplies to both the wounded and the weary aid workers.

It appears to be the last deadly throes of a long civil war. The ethnic minority that has been fighting for autonomy has been cornered. Regardless of your perspective, innocent families are paying with the lives of their loved ones because of this war.

World Concern provides essential supplies and food for people injured during the Sri Lanka civil war.
World Concern provides essential supplies and food for people injured during the Sri Lanka civil war.

You can read more about what we’re doing and donate to help. We need money for our response!

Below is perspective on the crisis, written by World Concern Sri Lanka County Director Ian McInnes:

Sri Lanka’s three decade old conflict between the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lankan Government is at its fiercest. 70,000 have already lost their lives in a separatist struggle for control of ‘Eelam’, a self-designated homeland for Tamils by the LTTE. Having lost control of the East of the island in 2007 the LTTE now faces a fight for survival in an ever decreasing space in the North.

The safety of an estimated quarter of a million civilians trapped within this conflict zone is of grave concern to humanitarian organizations.

These Tamil families have been on the move now for months, continually retreating as air strikes, artillery fire and ground battles rage around them on three boarders to the North, West and South. Their retreat to the North Eastern corner of the Island has them pressed hard up against the Eastern coast with nowhere further to run.

Continual pleas by humanitarian agencies have resulted in the establishment of ‘safe zones’ within the war zone, but civilians face real danger trying to get into these zones, or indeed trying to flee the North for the Government controlled areas in the South of the Island. The LTTE have blocked their movement holding the population back for political legitimacy and as a recruitment pool as they lose fighters on the front lines.

Meanwhile the constricted fighting space is resulting in mounting civilian casualties. On 3rd February a crowded hospital was shelled three times killing 52 civilians and injuring many more according to ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross). Both sides deny shelling the hospital. Sadly these tragedies are becoming all too frequent.

With a ground victory appearing imminent and geo-political conditions favoring the Sri Lankan government – India broadly support the defeat of the LTTE with Sonia Gandhi having lost her husband to an LTTE suicide bomber; the US under the Bush Administration offered technical support to the Sri Lankan security forces and was the first to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organization – the Government are eager to eliminate the LTTE.

However this war is costly both in economic terms at $1.6 billion annually and in lives with scores of government solders dying daily (an independent body count organization, the Foundation for Coexistence, puts the collective death toll in the north at 3,200 for December and January alone).

More than 70,000 people have died during Sri Lanka's civil war. World Concern is helping with food and essential supplies for the wounded.
More than 70,000 people have died during Sri Lanka's civil war. World Concern is helping with food and essential supplies for the wounded.

In order to maintain political support for the war the Government has suppressed its own casualty numbers and is eager to control the message both within Sri Lanka and abroad. Maintaining staunch nationalist support for the military has meant a steady erosion of free speech, credible reporting, and the suppression of discussion of any other solution to this conflict other than the current military one.

Dozens of reporters have been killed in the last year, including a bold assassination of a senior editor in broad daylight on 8th January. Sri Lanka ranks 141 out of 165 countries for press freedom by Reporters without Borders (http://www.rsf.org) having slipped from 51st place in 2002. To put that in perspective Sri Lanka now ranks just beneath Zimbabwe and Sudan and just above the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

This is making the work of Humanitarian agencies all the harder as it seeks a non-violent solution for those trapped by the fighting.

It is now simply a matter of time before civilians either flee en masse – around 100 a day are managing to escape now – or face a bloody battle in much closer quarters as the Government try to eliminate the remaining LTTE from their midst.

Darfur Crisis: How I Plan Disaster Relief

World Concern works with refugees and displaced people in Chad. Using innovative techniques, we include them in the discussion as we plan our future disaster relief.
World Concern works with refugees and displaced people in Chad. Using innovative techniques, we include them in the discussion as we plan our future disaster relief.

One of my responsibilities with World Concern is to make sure our programs are of the highest quality possible.

Sometimes this means helping our teams figure out the best way to do something.  Sometimes it means training people.  It surprises me that I really like teaching, but I really do, especially when it makes a difference.  And I’m usually as much student as teacher.

Most of the people receiving disaster relief here in Chad are refugees or displaced people from the Darfur crisis. They have had absolutely no education and are not used to thinking in abstract ways, so sometimes it is hard to communicate even when language is not a barrier.

Our latest exercise was to find out people’s priorities beyond tomorrow.  On the first day I sat with our key staff and trained them on a technique, and the next day we tried it out for real.  We wanted to know what people value most in their communities so we can plan our programs accordingly.

Our first step was to sit down with small groups of only men or only women because women here won’t give their opinions in front of men.

In the US, people are so closed up in their homes that it takes actual scheduling to get a group of Americans together.  Here though, my translator and I just wander through the disaster relief camp until we spot or hear a women, plunk down on a mat in some sliver of shade, and start talking.  Curious neighbor women soon gather and we have our group.

For this exercise, we started with a simple concrete question, “If you had a salary of $40/month, what would you do with it?”  As they listed things, I’d draw simple pictures of it on a big piece of paper, grouping similar thing, as we all laughed at my lack of artistic ability.  If they were used to pens I would have let them draw the pictures themselves.

Finally, I draw circles around the groups of pictures to make categories – staple foods, other foods, clothes, kitchen utensils, debt, animals, education, housing…  Then I pass out beans, explaining through the translator that each is worth 500 francs (a bit more than $1) and the paper is the market.  To give them an idea, I go first, then collect up my beans.

By now, the women are really getting engaged, crowding around on the plastic mat, chattering with each other about what to buy, explaining the game to those who are slower in getting it.  Babies are shifted out of laps to get at the paper.  Now we’re laughing and teasing each other.  Some of the wiser, older women quietly make their points and purchases.  Young teen-age mothers are more timid, looking to others for approval of their choices.

One by one, the women naturally take turns, carefully placing their beans on their purchases with the thoughtfulness as if it was a real purchase.  Rough, calloused fingers, thickened by years and decades of hard labor fumble and drop beans, quickly snatching them up again.  Finally, all the beans are down and we count them.  48 beans for staple food, 20 beans for chickens, and so on.  Then we talk about their choices as a group and why they chose what they did.

Now that they understand the game, I ask a harder question, “Make a picture in your head of your home village as you would like it to be.  What do you see?”  We go through the game with that question, then the final question, “If the war goes on and you are here for another 5-6 years, describe how you would like to see this community here in the camp.”

As they name the things I draw them out.  Then again, they vote.  Now the stakes are higher.  The jokes, joshing and laughter continue, but now there is an element of seriousness.

They know that their answers may influence what programs we plan for disaster relief.  This is exactly what we want.  They are now a part of determining their own future.

Merry Fitzpatrick is World Concern’s director of technical support.

Read more about her journey to Chad.

Learn more about World Concern.

Disaster Relief Journal – High Security During Travel

World Concern travels to hard-to-reach places to provide disaster relief. This often means many hours on difficult roads to reach people in great need.
World Concern travels to hard-to-reach places to provide disaster relief. This often means many hours on difficult roads to reach people in great need.

The most common element in all our program fields is the difficulty in just getting there.

This past week we ventured into a new area, just north of our current program area in eastern Chad.

Although it is only about 150 miles, it took us about 12 hours and a couple of days to prepare.

In the whole country of Chad, there are only 2 paved roads outside the capital, N’Djamena, neither of them terribly long.  Around here, we mostly follow tracks in the sand.

The short 3-month rainy season is intense, creating many wide sandy river beds called wadis.  These fill quickly with water during the rainy season.

In the dry season, you can easily get bogged in the deep soft sand of the wadi.  In the dry season, the main problem isn’t the wadis, though, it is the militia.  They find NGO vehicles soft targets.

Not long ago in an area not far from our destination the director of another NGO was killed in an ambush while attempting to provide disaster relief.

We take security very seriously, traveling in as large convoys as possible, carrying radios and satellite phones, checking with locals along the way about the road ahead.

We were supposed to meet up with a convoy of 4 vehicles at a town part-way there, but the government had declared that day a national holiday the night before.  So we arrived at the meeting point only to find that the other group wasn’t traveling due to the holiday.  We had 2 vehicles of our own, the minimum required for that road to avoid an ambush and plowed on anyway.

The drivers are used to sand, so were able to slip into and out of 4-wheel drive as we would fourth gear on a highway.  They were great and never let us bog down in any of the wadis, though it was touch and go a couple of times.

Our lead drier was from that region and hadn’t been there for a year or more, so every now and again we’d suddenly stop while Isaaka ran out into some seemingly random field, falling into an embrace with someone out harvesting their millet.  Then we’d be on our way again.

Although we arrived at our destination at around 2pm, we were sent onwards to meet the Chef de Canton (like the Mayor) and Sous-Prefet (like the Governor) in Hadjer Hadid, another 30km (18 miles) up the road.

It took about an hour to get there, then another 3 hours to find the Sous-Prefet, wait for him to decide to meet with us, then meet with him, then repeat the process with the Chef de Canton, all the while drinking sticky-sweet, scalding hot tea in 90+ degree weather.

All the formalities done, we were able to trundle back to Arkoum, our final destination, arriving much later than we really should have been on the road.  Within 15 minutes of arriving, we were setting up camp in the dark under a thankfully bright moon, eating a meal of rice and canned sardines.

It took us about 12 hours to get 150 miles, and that was without any problems at all with the vehicles or the road.

Disaster Relief Journal – Visit to Church – Part 2

Ayamba, our Congolese logistics officer surprised me today.  He was the preacher of the day.  He said he preaches at the local church about once every month or so and this was his third time preaching there.

About 6 months ago there was a general assembly meeting and the attendees were broken into groups for a debate.  The topic was whether or not just giving the tithe is enough.  He spoke for his group and the church leaders were so impressed that they asked him to be a regular guest speaker.

Ayamba and I have worked together off and on in disaster relief for over 10 years, yet he still manages to surprise me with stuff like this.  He spoke very well, being funny without intending to.

Ayamba is a short, stocky fellow with very large, emphatic gestures.  Many people, when they first meet him completely underestimate him and a ken perception hiding behind a very simple, unsophisticated, humble demeanor.

He really engaged the congregation, held their attention, and pointed out to them a real problem they have with the way they treat adultery.

As most of the congregation is married, but with their spouses far away in safer places, it was an important topic.  Most sermons would have come across very heavy-handed, but he was able to get them to see how ridiculous they are being in pretending they aren’t doing what they are doing, as well as just considering it wrong on the woman’s part, not the man’s.

Today, I was pleased and proud that my friend should have given such a sermon as he did today, that this first time working outside of his own country, he should have landed so solidly on his feet.

Disaster Relief Journal – Visit to Church – Part 1

Attending church in other countries is always an experience.  You are an observer and an observed, but you are also an equal participant and become a part of the local life, if only for a couple of hours.

Goz Beida is in a Muslim region of Chad, but Chadians come here from Christian regions looking for work or with the government or army, often related to disaster relief.  A church has sprung up here to serve these workers.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched the congregation grow from a small handful to more than 200.  The original collapsing, melting mud and thatch building has been gradually replaced by a solid tin-roofed structure 3 times as big and with a cement floor.  It is all very clean and tidy now.

On Sunday we squeeze butt-to-butt on simple wooden benches.  Men on the left side of the room and women on the right.  The choir, in blue and white robes, sits up from with their drums and such.  Everyone has cleaned up and dressed up for the occasion, especially the women.  The women wear an assortment of bright dresses and some unbelievably complicated head-dresses.  All the women wear something on their heads while all the men go bare-headed.

We start off with about an hour of singing while the sanctuary gradually fills.  Some songs are in French, some in local languages.  The choir thumps away on gourds and drums.  Some people clap and dance.  A few women really get into it.  Finally, we all settle down onto the benches.  The sermon is in French and translated into local Arabic.  Most of the elementary-age children are elsewhere.  Little ones wander in and out at will.  Babies nurse unabated.  At a signal, a young man with a bucket of drinking water will bring you some water in the communal cup.  important in such a hot, dry place.

After the sermon is the collection – a big deal.  The treasurer places out two large bowls and lines them with a white cloth.  Ushers indicate rows of people in turn to come forward and place their offering in the bowls.  Singing accompanies the ceremony.  And then, sometimes for some reason, a second round.  More singing and dancing.

Finally, the announcements and introductions/travels.  A Congolese man who’d gone home for a visit had run into a man from this church and carries his greetings.  Another is in the military and has recently arrived.  Others may also be part of disaster relief. And so it goes…

With the final hymn, people file out very orderly through a side door, each stopping in a line to shake hands with those that follow.  So if you are half-way through the crowd going out, you shake the hands of those ahead of you in a sort of reception line, then take your place at the end of the lin to shake the hands of those who follow.  Everyone ends up shaking everyone else’s hand.

Some people scatter quickly, but a surprising number clump into groups, standing in theshad of a tree to chat, as if to stretch out the precious weekly ceremony.  Gradually, people wander off in colorful clumps, down hot sandy lanes in the glaring, baking sun as Muslim children stand and gawk, wondering what it is all about.

Women & World Poverty

Women in Poverty

On Thursday, January 29, 2009, President Obama signed his first bill – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (CNN article).

For many years, Lilly Ledbetter worked received much less than her male counterparts who were doing exactly the same work but she did not discover the discrepancy until she reached retirement. She wanted some restitution for the years she had been underpaid but a narrow interpretation of the Statute of Limitations required that she file suit within 180 days of her first unfair paycheck. Since she did not discover the unfairness in the pay system until her retirement, the Supreme Court, on the basis of the present law, threw out the favorable judgment of the lower courts. This law changed the Statute of Limitations to 180 days after the most recent paycheck, providing more recourse to women who do not discover the inequity for many years.

I hope that Lilly Ledbetter will now be able to receive a fair judgment but, if we trace this news event backwards from today’s headlines, we discover that it is rooted in a core belief about equity and gender that is not a part of many of the cultures where I have worked during the years.

If Lilly had herself believed that it’s OK to pay women unequal pay for equal work because that’s just how things were, she would never have brought suit to begin with. That belief, in turn, is rooted in an even more basic belief that women are inherently worth less than men. And that is the core belief, shared by both women and men, in many of the countries of our work that we challenge and begin to change through our microfinance.

On a recent trip to Bangladesh, I asked Khushi (her name means “Happy”) what in her leadership of Women’s Small Business Assistance Center (WSBAC), World Concern’s micro-finance program for women in poverty, brought her the greatest satisfaction. She did not point first to increased family income or even the impact of that income on the women’s families—kids going to school, getting needed health care or enabling the further growth of the women’s businesses. Instead she said, “When we start the program the women look at the ground, many will not speak and, those who do speak share without confidence or spirit. Later in the program, they speak directly and with confidence. They talk of what they can do. They have a much greater influence in their family—their husbands respect them more. They know that they can do things.”

I’ve come to think of this experience as “seeing the lights go on in the eyes” because, quite literally, that is what happens as something that had been asleep in the women is stirred into life, shines through their eyes and is pantomimed in their confident body language—heads up, leaning forward, even interrupting one another to share with confidence and enthusiasm.

I saw it in the eyes of Anowa who was the head of a women’s microcredit group in the village of Kalipur.  This group helps women in poverty lift themselves up.  She sews together jute bags for cement and other items. Wholesalers now place orders with her and she has hired two additional women to help her. Another, after the death of her son caused her to lose her snack shop, began a rickshaw repair business and now owns two rickshaws. A third bought a good milk cow and now sells the five liters of milk it produces a day for Taka 50 (about $.70) a liter. Others make dresses, run market stalls, buy and sell. The eight women call named their community bank “Hashi” or “smile.”

Why is giving women loans, training and encouragement to run their own businesses so different from simply giving them money? This week I discovered a new (to me) insight that I had never seen in quite the same way before. I was again reading the first few chapters of Genesis, foundational to transforming development.

God spoke the animals into being, giving them their life. But Adam and Eve spoke their names into being, giving them their identities. There is great power in both actions. Only God can do the first, giving life to a baby girl in Bangladesh, but people, especially the child’s family, give the girl and the woman she becomes her identity.

Our staff and the WSBAC program speak three new identities into being for these women—community bank member, businesswoman and borrower.

  • Community bank member—As a community bank member, the women participate in making decisions that make a difference. The group must decide who will get the loans first and who will not. The women must become critical thinkers, evaluating the credit-worthiness and character of the applicant, and the likelihood of her success. Girls who transition quickly from the rote memorization of primary school—if they are able to attend—to the passive submission and obedience of a teen-aged wife and mother, may never have engaged in critical thought and decision-making. When the women in the group pay off their loans on time, as over 95% of the over 3,000 clients do, the group members come to be known as smart, insightful and savvy rather than slow, passive and dull women how must look to men for insight.
  • Borrower—As a borrower who must repay her loan with interest, a woman, whose identity was shaped by dependence upon others, is renamed as trusted, responsible and respected. For a woman whose identity is almost exclusively shaped by child-bearing and passive obedience to their husbands, becoming a debtor is a tribute to the confidence that others have in her competence. And when she pays off the first loan successfully and moves to larger second and third loans, respect for her grows within the village and with her husband and family.
  • Businesswoman—Businesswomen must plan, use simple accounting to make business decisions, and find suppliers and markets—even if their business is only a market stall. The women, many for the first time, must make investment decisions regarding money. They must decide what risks they are willing to take. For women whose time line for most decisions extend no later than the next day, extending their sense of control and influence permits hope to take root. If we feel that the decisions that we take today will have no influence over what happens in the future, our hope either dies or slips inexorably into numbing passivity.

Why, then, does the light shine in the eyes of these women? It is because we speak the same words of identity to them that God communicated to Eve—the good news of Genesis. “You are created in my image. Therefore you have value in and of yourself. Together with Adam you are to exercise dominion and stewardship over my creation—responsibly exercising your initiative, intelligence and creativity to make it productive.” Nobody has ever spoken this identity into being for millions of women in the world—an identity that is rooted in the character and action of God. The gifts and responsibility that God gave these women by virtue of their creation have not been awakened or developed. For many this awakening is the first step on a pathway that draws them nearer to the one whose image they bear.

World Poverty and Hope

Mid-second week in the Obama administration, hope continues. More than any president in my memory (beginning with Eisenhower), no president has ever entered office buoyed by the expectations and hopes not only of Americans and all the world.

I arrived in Kenya, Africa on my last trip on the same day that the election results were announced and walked into Obamania that probably had no parallel in the world. The recent saying in Kenya that the United States would have a Luo (Obama’s father’s tribe) president before Kenya had come true and all Kenya rejoiced together. My first work day in Africa was scrapped by a hastily called holiday across the entire country.  I too join in the hope that the only president in my memory who had actually worked among the poor will make poverty reduction a priority, not just as a policy but from a heart that better understands.

As I traveled throughout Kenya during the following week, however, I realized anew that the hope placed in Obama would not soon translate into hope that will reach the people I visited.

Later on in the American election week, I stooped down to enter the narrow and low doorway  of a traditional Maasai hut. Making my way through semidarkness I sat down in the small central room with the open fire in the center, glowing red and occasionally flaming up through the smoke that filled the essentially windowless room. For about ninety minutes I talked through a translator with the two Maasai women, one a grandmother and the other her daughter—kind of—she was actually her late husband’s brother’s daughter’s daughter–who together were rearing 13 children without a man in the household.  They talked about the complexity of their lives, of how they had to fight off men who would harass them, of the problems of dealing with sickness among the children and their few cows and goats, of the second woman’s own birth son and how her husband who had deserted her had come back to try and take the son in order to sell him off to others as a laborer. When I asked about their daily joys, they said it was to see the children grow and know that they were enabling them to do it.

As we prepared to leave, the older woman who had never gone to church before suddenly and without prompting not only announced that she would begin to attend but also that she would stop brewing pombee the local and illegal brew. We were all surprised because we had never specifically suggested that she begin to attend church, and did not even know that she was brewing local beer.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked.

She said it was because we (the World Concern project) were the only ones helping her with her physical needs who also sit, listen, inquire and give her a chance to share her story.  The others just plunk down whatever they are giving and go. And at this point we had given her nothing. We had only come into her house, drunk her tea and listened to her for an hour or so, following the example of the church volunteers, trained by our program, who also visit and listen and bring practical assistance.

President Obama will, I hope, continue the assistance to World Concern and other agencies that enable us to help combat poverty in Africa. But not all help is the same. As Christians we really believe that each man, woman and child is created by God in his image and worthy of respect and dignity. When this belief is transformed into practice—in showing a Maasai widow and an abandoned mother that they are people of value by receiving their hospitality and listening to them—respect animated by the love of Christ—we go beyond assistance, powerfully inviting lives to be transformed in hope.

So, yes, I share the hope of many in the nation that President Obama will bring positive change. But transforming change is truly brought about by men and women who follow Christ and become his hands and feet bringing assistance, see the poor through his eyes and speak his words of life.

Poverty in Sri Lanka

The BBC reported today (article)  that the Sri Lankan army had taken the last of the major cities held by the Tamil Tigers and would soon have them surrounded. As in all wars, no matter how conscientious the warring sides may be about civilian deaths and injuries, they suffer tremendously. This is especially true in a fight against a terrorist movement that is rooted among a minority population. In Sri Lanka this is made worse because the Tigers tend to prevent movement of their people into a safe area. The Sri Lankan army and much of the rest of the world call them hostages to the Tigers. The Tigers call them supporters. Hostages or collaborators, they suffer.

I first visited Sri Lanka in 1983 just as the first full wave of communal violence broke out between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. The shops belonging to Tamils were still smoldering in Columbo when I arrived from Bangladesh where I was living with my family. I had come to work with Sri Lankan Christians to set up a relief response. The riot in Columbo was precipitated by a Tamil Tiger ambush in northern Sri Lanka in which nine Sinhalese soldiers were killed.

I finally returned to Sri Lanka last September to visit our work in eastern Sri Lanka among Tamil civilians, many of whom had been displaced several times as they tried to flee the fighting. As I met our mostly young staff, I realized that most of them had lived most of their youth and adult lives between my two visits. Because our work eastern Sri Lanka is largely among Tamils, most of our local staff are also Tamil. They have grown up in the face of a national conflict that became a part of everyday life.

I gained just a glimpse of what life is like now as we passed through one checkpoint after another. As we passed through checkpoints I was shielded from close questioning and body and luggage searches by my nationality and race—clearly not of Tamil or Sinhalese descent—and the World Concern flag and highly visible World Concern name and logo on our hood. The Sinhalese police and military have come to respect our integrity, the quality of our programs and our heart of service to the people.

As I passed soldier after soldier stretched out over kilometers of road, each in sight (during the daytime) of the next one along the road,  I tried to imagine the feeling of the lone military sentry in the middle of the night, whose major role is that of the canary in the mine—unable to hold off an armed assault from infiltrating  Tamil Tigers but whose violent death would alert a forceful response.

As I passed through the checkpoints, I also tried to imagine the growing panic of a young Tamil innocent of any terrorist activity or leanings as he realizes during his questioning that he is for some reason he does not understand falling under suspicion, Or the Tamil child trying to avoid forced recruitment by the Tigers.

As I reflected on the lives of our staff, so different from my own, I realized that Jesus could better understand than I.

  • Jesus lived in a country under military occupation. I imagined Jesus moving off the road with the twelve young men in his group as Roman soldiers passed, trying to obscure their “groupness” by separating, casting their eyes downward and fading into the sides of the road.
  • Many tried to recruit Jesus into the Zealots who carried out a low level insurgency against Rome. They appealed to the prophets who had predicted the coming of a victorious ruler who would free them from the Romans, portions of scripture that Jesus had heard many times from his childhood. His disciples certainly saw the military potential of a general who could heal the sick, raise the dead, feed a regiment from five small loaves of bread and two fishes, and control the weather.
  • Jesus sometimes moved in secret, answered questions in such a way to share his message without giving any specific cause for his arrest, and lived daily with his life under threat.

Even up to the night of his arrest, Jesus struggled with the decision whether to use his power to thwart and defeat his enemies or to die at their hand. During his arrest, for the first and only recorded time in his life, Jesus healed a wound given in an act of violence—a wound inflicted by his follower on one who had come to arrest him. This was the last miracle he performed before his death.

Jesus carried out his mission, giving his life to save those who killed him. He was arrested immediately following that internal struggle in the garden.

As I share with our staff, I appealed to them to model Jesus’ life in occupied Palestne, in many ways paralleling their own.

  • Jesus knowingly washed the feet of the enemy’s informant along with his other followers, illustrating for Judas and all of his disciples that true power lies in loving service and not in conquest and that true leadership is found in humble submission and not in command.
  • He showed that Christian martyrs die with words of forgiveness of their enemies on their lips and not curses.
  • By his death and resurrection, he showed that victory comes through apparent weakness and life springs from death willing suffered for the salvation of others.

I had been meditating on this quotation from Cardinal Suhard, at one time the Bishop of Paris, “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”   Trying to understand how to be a Follower of Christ in Sri Lanka, torn by 24 years of war, helped me understand in a deeper way how Jesus’ way is so utterly different from any other.