Bringing the Kingdom to the hungry
My family has been living a nomadic life since I was four. We had moved out of Sri Lanka to escape the civil war and had settled down in the Maldives when my doctor-parents received God’s call to offer their medical services in Africa. Shortly before my eleventh birthday, my parents moved our family from our cosy home in the Maldives to a little nation landlocked by South Africa. Lesotho, fondly referred to as Africa’s “Kingdom in the Sky,” couldn’t have been further away from everything my seven-year-old brother and I were used to. Pristine mountain ranges and valleys littered with traditional African housing and the occasional local on a horse became a daily sight to behold for the next two years. I was severely unprepared for the stories of poverty and suffering that defined this beautiful country.
My parents worked at the small mission hospital in Lesotho while my brother and I attended the mission school. It was through my classmates that my eyes were opened to the truth that life was not all beautiful mountain ranges in Lesotho. The many hardships I saw my classmates suffer made me realise how different our lives were.
I vividly remember one of my earliest friends, Lerato*, and her little sister sitting on the left-side pews in church, their eyes not moving from the centre. There, their mother’s casket lay. In Lesotho, the untimely loss of a loved one was a harsh reality for almost every family. At least three classmates lost their parents to illness in my two years in Lesotho, and a few others had previously lost their parents to diseases.
Over the next few weeks, I noticed that a number of my male classmates often came late to school. I later learnt that they had to help bring the family livestock to grazing grounds early in the morning before schooltime. For Lesotho’s agricultural and livestock-rearing community, a family’s survival depended on the success of its yearly harvest, and the health of the few cattle it owned. With little opportunities for trade and export, families often struggled to be self-sufficient and make ends meet. After school hours, my male classmates would hurry back home to gather the cattle.
During my second week in school, for Home Economics class, we were asked to bring ingredients from home to prepare some food. I decided to make a fruit salad and brought a selection of apples, grapes, guavas, and pears. Lerato and my other classmates brought mealie-meal (a type of maize flour) to make their staple food, pap. Once the food preparation was over, I was extremely confused to see my classmates rush over to the fruit salad and fight for the fruits, especially the pears. Lerato later explained that certain fruits were a luxury that many of them had never tried. Lunches provided by the school were monotonous affairs of the same scoop of mealie-meal and salted spinach. Meat was a rare delicacy that occasionally appeared on our plates.
The numerous mountain ranges meant that there was an abundance of fresh-water streams in Lesotho. The issue was not the availability of clean drinking water but rather the community’s lack of access to it. In the village where we lived, the sole pump was located in the mission compound. Families queued for hours in the evenings for their daily supply of clean water. However, despite the availability of clean water, hygiene practices were almost non-existent. The school’s toilets were in awful condition, even though students were made to wash them once a week. While there were separate toilet buildings for boys and girls, the toilets were just holes cut into slabs of stone. There was no proper waste disposal; it would just collect in a pit below the stone slab. During winter, sitting on those stone slabs was unimaginable. Garbage, including sanitary items, were disposed of just outside the toilets. The lack of hygiene often meant that open water sources became contaminated and children contracted water-borne diseases.
After two years, my parents relocated to work in another mission hospital in war-torn Sri Lanka. I left with a new-found realisation that there were children just like me who did not have the same opportunities that I had. My family eventually moved to Singapore when I was 15 and settled down here.
Life in affluent Singapore stood out in stark contrast to the life I had left behind — its peace, safety, and freedom were a culture shock to me. Living in Singapore started to make me think deeply about what Lesotho would be like if the body of Christ came together to bring God’s kingdom to this mountain-kingdom in order to meet the needs of the struggling children and families. I began to be more inspired to do something that would make a significant difference in the lives of children like my friends in Lesotho. Even so, when God first called me to World Vision Singapore, I was sceptical. My work here involved speaking to various groups of people about the needs in developing countries, and encouraging them to help. How much change was I going to bring simply by talking to all these people in Singapore compared to being in the field, working hands-on with the poor and needy?
However, God started to change my thinking by drawing my attention to why my parents decided to move to Lesotho. I recognised two key motivating factors: the first was an intense love for God’s people, and the second was obedience to God. It made me realise that bringing God’s kingdom to the vulnerable does not necessarily mean packing my bags and moving halfway across the world like my parents did. True, some are called for that, but for many of us who are called elsewhere, like a school or workplace, making a difference in people’s lives just requires two simple things: one, to start seeing God’s people through His eyes; and two, to respond when He convicts you to take action. An action could be as simple as saying a heartfelt prayer for the vulnerable, or as big as rallying friends together to support projects that directly benefit the poor.
In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reminds us that He came to proclaim liberty to the captives and the oppressed – this is what His kingdom stands for. What keeps me passionate about my work is the knowledge that I am an ambassador for the Kingdom, and my role as an ambassador is to ensure that the Father’s love for His people reaches them. I began to see how God fits me into His big Kingdom puzzle. At certain times, I would be a corner piece planting the first seed of God’s love and empathy in Singaporean children. Other times, I would be a middle piece, bridging the gap between the needy and an individual who wants to help them. I came to understand that no matter which piece I am, or how small or big God’s tasks for me seems, I can take what Luke 4:18-19 says to heart and have confidence that He will work through my obedience to bring about His love and transformation in the lives of the needy.
At World Vision Singapore, I know that every person I meet, every conversation I have, and every event I plan brings God’s Kingdom one step closer to children like my friends in Lesotho. One such event I’m planning now is Project HungerFree which seeks to cultivate a sense of empathy among students and young professionals. While many youths in Singapore may not have the same opportunity I had to experience life in places like Lesotho and Sri Lanka, Project HungerFree gives them a glimpse into how communities in different countries live. In a country like Singapore, it is easy to forget that for millions of others poverty and conflict are harsh daily realities. However, through this project, youths will discover that there are tangible actions we can take right now to address their needs and bring the love of God to them.
Join World Vision at Project Hunger Free on 15 July 2017. Hear from international development experts and disaster response coordinators, and discover how you can create ripples of change right where God has placed you. Find out more at www.worldvision.org.sg/hungerfree.