(Posted by Jane)
According to the last personality test I took I’m mainly ‘a mix of green and yellow.’ The ‘green’ indicating that I’m relational, concerned with and affected by individuals; the ‘yellow’ identifying a love for vision, new ideas, and seeing the ‘big picture.’ A fair sense of my character, deduced from just 20 questions. But despite those ‘green’ traits it seems I’m often slow at appreciating a responsive, personal, and relational approach to working with the poor and marginalised. I’ve surprised myself in recent years with how much I love strategy and a clear, systematic approach to implementing a vision, and how I often find my mind awash with big ideas.
This has been the case recently as I’ve become increasingly involved with an organisation supporting women in one of Kampala’s slums. I’ve often come away from an afternoon of volunteering thinking ‘If we did things this way perhaps we could reach more women’… ‘If we put such-and-such a programme in place perhaps this would be more sustainable’… ‘Maybe we could be more effective if we had a clear plan for how to deal with these different situations’… I must point out that this organisation has many strategic and effective programmes in place, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering.
And yet in the same instant that I’ve had these thoughts, I’ve found myself humbled. Humbled by an amazing organisation driven by love for each individual rather than programmes churned out to unknown faces; an organisation operating relationally and responsively rather than through predetermined systems.
On Thursdays we visit the women in their homes. Simple, we visit them. There are times when I’ve left feeling overwhelmed: overwhelmed by apparent hopelessness, overwhelmed by their practical needs. ‘What more can we be doing?’ I wonder, and I come up with ideas that would result in removing the visits team from the women’s homes and putting them in an office… genius… when the reality is that many of the women we spend time with are so desperate, so lonely, that I doubt they would attend a ‘programme’ for the masses, or that an impersonal strategy would even reach them in their need. What they need is someone to visit them. To know them. To hear their story. To encourage them in their situation to keep going. To offer advice specific to them. To pray with them. To remind them, face to face, eye-contact held, that there is hope.
This time last year I was studying the book of James. Slightly against my will I must add, because I knew I would be challenged by its contents. James certainly does not mince his words! And yet, after making a series of strong demands on the church he summarises with breathtaking simplicity by saying: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress.’
To what? To visit.