Some reflections on my trip to Swaziland
Many people have asked me over the past week ‚ÄúHow was your trip? Was it a good one?‚Äù I‚Äôm not sure how to answer that question.
I can‚Äôt call it a ‚Äúgood‚Äù experience. Much of what I saw and experienced was cut from the fabric of human suffering in its most basic form. There are people slowly dying from disease who do not have access to the basic treatments we take for granted in USA. There are children who, having lost both parents, are now struggling to raise their younger brothers and sisters and to provide food and means to educate a large family. I saw an economy in slow collapse with no realistic hope of a rebound. I saw hungry children, people sleeping on the floor and under beds while dying in crowded hospital rooms and people with little or no hope in their eyes.
And yet‚Ä¶ In the same breath that I begin to respond by saying how ‚Äúun-good‚Äù my trip was, I‚Äôm reminded of how much else I saw that left me speechless with admiration.
I saw example after example of heroic faith. I saw a woman who in addition to raising her own family, is trying to provide food, clothing and shelter to all of the orphan children in a small town ‚Äì and is doing this because she understands that this is what the Gospel requires. I met a woman who is single handedly caring for twenty people in the end stages of AIDS in her community. I met two people who have dropped everything, including their careers and possibly their futures because they recognize that God is calling them to respond in radically committed way to the increasing HIV infection in their homeland. I heard the voices of fellow Anglicans lifted in songs of praise. I heard a faith flowing like a deep and mighty river in the hymns of the Church sung not just on Sunday, but anytime that people gathered for worship. I saw a school that in the face of overwhelming destitution has managed to have 100 percent of its students pass the national exams. I spoke with clergy who have given up any expectation of a normal life as they spend themselves ministering to their people and their community in this time of national crisis.
I think that the word I have settled on to describe my experience in Swaziland is ‚Äúoverwhelming‚Äù. Many people ‚Äì especially clergy ‚Äì warned me that they had been changed in fundamental way by their visits to Africa. They told me that I should expect the same thing. But knowing what might happen, and having it actually happen are two different things. I know I‚Äôve been changed as a result of this trip. I‚Äôm not clear yet exactly how. I do know (to borrow a phrase from our Bishop) we can not continue to do things the same old way. The human tragedy that is beginning to unfold in southern Africa is going to require a response from us as human beings ‚Äì to say nothing of our moral obligation as Christians.
This does not mean that we can be released from the important and necessary ministry that happens locally. That must continue and perhaps even increase since the needs are growing here as well, though thankfully more slowly. But this local ministry must happen against the backdrop of a recognition that what we see here is a mere shadow of what is happening right now in other places around the world.
I do not know what God is going to call us to do. I do know that we are going to be called, or are already being called, to take action. There are many pitfalls that we will face in whatever we try to do. There are many things that break our hearts when we hear of them ‚Äì and yet some of them might be made even worse if we act incorrectly or rashly in response. I am grateful for the commitment that our Vestry has made to begin a reorganization of our Outreach Commission. I think that the conversations we have as a parish around this topic are both important and timely. Whatever we decide, as long as it grows from our life of common prayer and worship, it will be what God wants us to do.
And doing what God wants us to do is the greatest good that any of us can imagine.