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A Stolen Computer and Perspective

January 20, 2008

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I spent my birthday with my good friends at World Vision this last week at the World Vision artist retreat in SeattleWA. Every year Taya and I look forward to this time of reconnecting with our friends there and having our passion stirred and our hearts broken again for the poorest of the poor. It’s like gas in our engine for the work we do the rest of the year.

I’ve been meaning to post daily reports of what we learned here about the needs around the world, but alas my computer was stolen from the hotel where the retreat was held. It was my shiny new black Macbook that I bought two months ago after saving for months. I loved it like a new best friend, called it pet names, and whispered words of affection into it’s tiny little internal mic. To add insult to injury, it was stolen on my birthday. So as you might imagine, I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself and sinking deeper and deeper into a mire of self pity. I was in danger of being pathetic, but thankfully I was at a World Vision retreat – which always offers perspective.

Not long after it was clear that it was stolen, we were blessed to attend a session with Atul Tandon, Senior VP of Donor Engagement at World Vision (yeah, I’m not exactly sure what that title means either, but Atul plays an important role in one of the largest humanitarian agencies in the world. He was CFO at Citibank in India, his native country, and eventually Citibank Manhattan before taking a pay cut to give his time and energies to World Vision. As a boy he lived on less than a dollar a day, like many of the children he now serves. He is a great man and it’s always a blessing to hear from him.) Atul talked to us about what our work means and why it matters.

He talked of the importance of remembering that the “poor” are not abstract idea but they are individuals, each with a story. When he feels weary of the challenges that confront those who serve the poor, he always reflects on the individual stories of people he has met to help him regain perspective. He told us the story of Adam, a boy he met in a refugee camp not long ago, living with his mother in a make-shift shelter. He was skin and bones and hadn’t spoken a word, completely mute, since witnessing his father being hacked down during the genocide in Darfur. His mother was holding a little baby who was conceived after the man who killed her husband then raped her.

Atul doesn’t give himself permission to cry when he hears these stories, it would only make the victims feel worse. He saves his tears for when he is alone. He does his best to encourage and strengthen those he meets in the field, and so he asked this woman how he could pray for her and her family. A holy hush fell over the room as Atul shared with us this woman’s most moving and dignified words.

“Please pray that I will have the strength to forgive the man who killed my husband and did this to us,” she said. “Pray that he will regret his actions, ask for God’s mercy and find forgiveness. Pray that I will see this man in heaven.”

We wept. Where does this kind of dignity come from? It is surely supernatural, a gift, a grace from God. Whoever this man was, he could no longer take from her. As she released her anger and bitterness, she was free and his act of hatred had reached its limit and met its match in forgiveness.

Needless to say it provided me with some needed perspective. I had been chewing on hateful thoughts all morning for the person who had stolen my computer, praying only partly in jest that God would smite him. It was now clear that in the grand scope of things my loss was at worst an inconvenience compared to the death, loss, and devastation of those we have pledged to serve in our work with World Vision. I knew I had to move toward love and forgive the s.o.b. who stole my computer and thus cut him off from stealing any more from me – like my peace, my joy, my attention. I had been meditating on my loss, and now it was clear I needed a more worthy meditation.

And here is another reason I’m compelled to share the work of World Vision with my audience and to constantly bring the cause of the poor into my spotlight. I sing and share a great deal about brokenness and healing, and I know how easy it is to fall in love with our own depression, to meditate on our own woes. This only makes them worse. But the more I work for the poor and am forced to engage the troubling realities of the world we live in, the more I learn how healing it is to turn my focus outward and the less likely I am to be crippled by my own self pity. I don’t deny my own pain – that’s not healthy – but I’m less tempted to dwell on it. My eyes turn away from self and upward and outward as I’m filled with a sense of purpose and the understanding that I’m meant to play a part in God’s redemption plan for this world that has been ravaged by the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

Perspective, hope, and personal agency. These are a part of what it means to have a world vision. 

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