Making sense of God’s love
Written by: Rachel Goh (Photo by: World Vision Singapore)
I have visited many rural impoverished areas, and held many malnourished children — swung them about and loved on them. But I was completely caught off-guard when I visited the refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It was my first time in a disaster zone.
There were children everywhere, covered in dust and naked in the mud. They gazed out at me, a stranger in their midst, with more blankness than excited curiosity. It felt as though there was an invisible gulf created by our disparate experiences that prevented us from truly meeting in the middle and making friends.
Toddlers had scrapes and open wounds everywhere, with flies nesting on their broken skin. It was as if they no longer could feel any pain. I washed a 10 cm wound on the arm of a child no older than one and a half years, and he simply stood, staring into the distance.
Young girls — approximately six and eight years old — recounted their experiences like they were checking facts off a list. “We ran when our house was burning, and we lost dad and mum to gunfire. Grandma got us to the riverbank and into a boat. We begged to cross, and as we did, they fired at me. These are my wounds,” said an eight-year-old, whose arms bore three bullet holes and a full rip. It was me that ended up crying — silently and on the inside… for who was I to cry when she didn’t?
Children carried big bundles of sticks and branches on their backs, walking long distances barefoot just to prop their tarpaulins up for their families. Some filled bottles with water from puddles. Others just wandered.
As they did, I searched for God amongst them. He was the first person I looked for — for answers, reason, hope, or any faint assurance. Where could He be, amid such pain? I grew up understanding and embracing our God as the God of the poor. I’d always thought I would see Him stand out in the crowd of the slums. But I didn’t.
I began to ask myself: perhaps God’s love looks different among children of war? Perhaps, in all this pain, He was to be found elsewhere — in recovery homes, in sincere peace negotiations, even in the Pope’s soon-to-be visit.
While I had initially thought I couldn’t find Him and that maybe He wasn’t there, as I sat and coloured with pre-schoolers in World Vision’s Child-Friendly Space, I saw Him.
The little boy next to me pointed at the car I drew with chalk, and spread his hands over it. Then he looked at me in the eye. He was the first child to properly connect with me. He talked in a soft, pure voice, in his native language. And I listened. I did not know what he said to me, but in his eyes, I saw who he was: a child reaching out for me to reach in; a child hand-made with love, crafted in innocence; a child with quiet strength.
Being with that child, I felt His quiet power and gentle love. I wish it were easier to articulate or to explain — a quiet stirring within me moved me to deeply recognise His presence.
I have learnt that “the Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9 NIV). He was not found in the wind nor in the earthquake; instead, He was found in the gentle breeze and in a low whisper (1 Kings 19:12).
Our God is a gentle Father. He dwells with the refugee children, holding them close to His breast. He bears the immense pain with them. The political struggles do not interest Him as much as each little child does. This is why He was found in the inner healing space of each child, where they find peace and love in a quiet, gentle way.
This is God’s language of love for these children of war. It is personal and personalised to the state of each child. It may be brought to them in the quiet, through a good and loving stranger’s help, or through the safety of a Child-Friendly Space. For us, in the breaking of our hearts, we share in His broken heart — only then can we begin bearing His love in the same gentle way to His children.
His language is not of words or easy semantics — God’s language is love.
The one thing that stood out for me as I spent time with refugee children in person for the first time was how much hope there is for them. Every gift and contribution makes a tangible impact in their lives. Hope for Humanity, an upcoming World Vision event, will feature a space that embraces every person who is interested in making a difference in the lives of children caught in disasters. We invite you to come together to truly empathise with them and discern the next steps you can take. Sign up at www.worldvision.org.sg/hope. For more information on World Vision’s unique approach to helping children caught by disasters, visit www.worldvision.org.sg/disaster.