by Dan Haseltine
To be resilient is the underlying wish anchored to the deep human longing to be healthy. Sickness is inevitable. Suffering is a part of life. Whatever the various forms of struggle may take, we want to be able to quell the fear that we will not recover. Our Christian faith is tightly wound around a narrative about recovery and healing. If sin is the terminal illness that we face in this life, than Christ is the vaccine that ultimately brings healing. We have a hard time with terminal illness. There is a strong aversion to stories that don’t offer redemptive foreshadowing of hope. We don’t want our wounds to stay open, or worse, to be random and for no helpful purpose in moving our character arc forward. Living in a world, broken as it is, inside of bodies, broken as they are, life goals often take the form of simple desires to just bounce back.
I recently walked through a community called Suki. Outside the city of Addis in Ethiopia sits a place where 25,000 people live without access to bathrooms, clean water, electricity and significant shelter. The political and economic complexities that created Suki continue to make it an impossible place for human beings, valuable as we are, to thrive. Slum lords control the rent with such a tight fist that even small improvements to a shelter mean the doubling of rent, and subsequent eviction of families, say nothing of the financial burden adding water, sanitation or electricity would cause. So Suki is a place of terminal illness, steady erosion of human dignity, and untimely death. However, hope exists there. And a person could miss it if they did not take the time to train their eyes to see beyond the layers of red clay, dust, and garbage. Which brings us back to the idea of resilience.
If you have spent time in Manhattan, with skyscrapers lining the streets, you can feel how easy it is to succumb to the constricted worldview of your surroundings and start to believe that this place, this street, this life is all there is. Places like Suki can have the same effect only without the physical obstruction of tall buildings. It takes a lot of physical and mental energy to dream and scheme a way out. If we imagine the influence poverty has over a person’s ability to see themselves as beautiful and valuable as a tug of war, then we can also imagine that it takes a persistent kind of tension to keep from letting that sinister influence pull a person into the abyss.
If a person does not have the mental and physical resilience to fight, study, work, and dream, then they will be bound to Suki forever. What makes escape possible? Nutrition. Food fuels the will, the capacity, and the imagination necessary to rise above our circumstances. If a child under 5 years old has a single episode of malnutrition in the days when nearly all of the nutrients they take in are used to develop brain functions, that child has a dramatically lower chance at escaping. If a person has a compromised immune system and they do not have access to food, that person will not escape. This is not only true in places like Ethiopia, but also in the food deserts here in the U.S. So we can be grateful for the additional $20 million that our government has added to the fight for world-class nutrition around the world.
The Gospel is a story of resilience. I think Jesus knew that people couldn’t process what he talked about on an empty stomach. I also think we, as the body, have a role to play, while we celebrate our abundance, to also serve those in places where nutrition is scarce. If Jesus showed us anything, it is that there will always be enough to go around, should we be willing to be generous. We need not be afraid.
I sat in a small shelter next to a tiny woman and visited with her while she ate protein paste from a small cellophane pouch. She was HIV+ and also battling cancer. She showed me the diploma that her son had received just a day ago. Her pride over her son was a brilliant light that filled the tiny room. She knew that she was not going to live much longer. She also knew that her lunch had given her the ability to fight for her life so that she could see her son graduate and escape from Suki. Her smile, her strength, her joy were inspiring. We prayed together that afternoon, grateful for two things, the Bread of Life, and bread for life. Nutrition matters.