Four years ago, I sat in a South African home beside the frail body of Phakamile on the day before she died. Beside us sat Pabble, a local caregiver.
At Urbana last night, I held back tears while I watched the video of Shortie, a caregiver from Swaziland, the tiny country surrounded by South Africa. I wanted to stand up and shout, “That’s my people!”
Watching the caregivers in that video, I could see Pabble’s tired ankles, her torn Bible, her hands wrapping blankets around a sick woman’s body. I felt myself there in the room with her, back in the country I spent three years of my life in and another two years studying in a Ph.D. program. And then we sang a song I had sung a hundred times before, and we spoke the greetings I had spoken a thousand times in South Africa.
These were my people. This was personal.
I hope for every person at Urbana there was some moment when you said, “This is personal. This is for me.”
During the session last night, as the video on the African caregivers rolled,, the 16,000 Urbana delegates built over 34,000 kits for World Vision to deliver to caregivers like Pabble and Shortie back in Southern Africa. These were not just bags for some stranger far away; these were bags for real people who had prayed for us, and for whom we had prayed.
We wrote messages on cards to the caregivers who would receive the bags. And then we wrote the place where we lived and drew a line on a little picture of a map to the place where the caregivers lived. I stared at that little line on the card. Wherever it came from or went on the map, it was not a long line.
Learning to Recognize the Connection
That line represented a connection, the kind of connection we so often overlook. All day long we touch products from around the world—the clothes on our bodies, the phones in our pockets, the coffee, the pineapple, the rice we taste. These have all been touched by sisters and brothers around the world. Our choices affect them, and theirs affect us. But we rarely feel any gratitude for them or consider praying for their lives.
We forget we are connected.
Urbana offers us a time to remember that we are connected, that these people across the globe are our people, too. At Urbana we sing in a half dozen languages and hear speakers from as many different countries. We see Jesus in dramas as an African American, as a Spanish-speaker. We see images of a feast of Korean food. And each time people recognize their people, their language, their place, a cheer goes up from the crowd.
Have you had your moment yet at Urbana, when you knew deep down in your heart that these people loved by God somewhere else in the world were God’s people, and that makes them your people? Maybe you worshiped for the first time in months in the language you grew up speaking. Maybe you saw a face from a country you’ve been praying for. Maybe for the first time you felt a pang of compassion for a person you never knew anything about before.
When you feel “This is personal—these are my people,” you feel a touch of what Jesus feels for every person on the planet. Each person is his person. Each language is his language. Their needs are his needs and their feelings are his feelings.
Somewhere, I hope you felt it: this is personal. These are our people. We cannot ignore their needs. Their needs are our own. I hope you cling to that feeling and go home from Urbana with it engraved on your heart.