One of the hardest things about meeting with the poorest of the poor here in Ethiopia is figuring out what to say. There’s tremendous pressure (often self imposed) to say just the right thing to bring a bit of light and hope into the lives of those we meet. But how can we really succeed when the people have less than nothing, have seemingly unfair illnesses, and an endless list of challenges stacked one on the other? Words simply feel inadequate. While the people are inspiring with the depth of their faith in the face of insurmountable odds and speak frequently of how blessed they feel just to have us in their homes, for me our presence just doesn’t feel like enough. As a result, I’ve been thinking often of what to say, how to say it, and how to communicate the love and compassion we feel in the short period of time we have with each family.
Two of my greatest loves are bird watching and traveling. Both bring contentment to my soul and make me feel alive. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, learning about different cultures, seeing new things, and discovering a wider variety of birds than I ever thought imaginable. But every place I’ve been to date has one bird in common…the simple sparrow. I look for it everywhere I go and have yet to uncover a destination that doesn’t boast a variety of this understated and often-overlooked bird.
The other day when I spotted one here in Ethiopia it reminded me of a verse in the Bible quoting Jesus speaking:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10: 29-31
It doesn’t seem like simple coincidence that the bird mentioned in this verse can be found the world over, and in fact seems to be the one bird the world has in common. While it may have a variety of names, people know what a sparrow is; how common, how simple, and how ignored. It gives universality, perspective, and power to this verse for every person in the world, and maybe provides me with the answer for what to say to those who feel overlooked, unimportant, forgotten, and afraid. For at its heart, the message we’re trying to convey to the people here is that they are loved, have tremendous worth, and that through Jesus there is no need to fear. Neither He, nor we as His hands and feet have forgotten them.
They may just be words, but they are words with tremendous value, depth, meaning, and importance. For if our Father loves the common and simple sparrow enough to know when each one falls, the depth of His love for all of us is unfathomable, immeasurable, and incomparable. And as much as I love the sparrow, my prayer for the remainder of our time here is that I can convey this very idea through words and deeds to these beautiful people who are worth so much more.