By Dawn Hamrick
As I go through life, I believe a shift has occurred in me, completely by the grace of God…I am learning to really SEE people, not just look at them as I go by. Some days I’m better at this than others. You see, seeing people is truly different than looking at people. Seeing involves active recognition, understanding and action, while looking is merely passively taking in the view. When I SEE someone, I’m taking time to acknowledge their existence, their importance, their hurts, their failures, their hopes, their dreams. I allow these things, the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly, to enter my own heart for a bit, to rest there, to elicit compassion from the quiet places where God has been transforming me from a valley of dry bones into someone living and breathing, who desires to see others as He sees them…as He sees me; to love others with the love Jesus has lavished on me.
I believe that every aspect of the life of the believer, is an opportunity to SEE people – in our homes, in our jobs, in our shopping, in our neighborhoods, whenever and wherever the Lord leads us in our days. Are we going through life with our eyes open but merely looking at the people in our path as we go along? Or like the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:11, are we going through life with with our eyes and hearts wide open, seeking to really SEE every person we encounter and share the affection of Christ with them? Do I see every moment with other people as an opportunity to shine light into the dark places? Do I see their eyes and the pain they may carry, or the mistrust, or the anger, or the joy? I have a friend who starts each day with a prayer, asking God to show her who she’s supposed to minister to that day, who she’s supposed to give to that day, who she’s supposed to encourage, or correct, or embrace, or share the Gospel with that day. I’m trying to make it my goal to start my days this way. I think it’s a good way to start really SEEING people.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel and work alongside some of those whom God has called to minister cross culturally. In my travels, I often come across stories in the faces I see that capture my heart, and my lens. Here are a few of them…
It was our first full day in Moheda Gew, a Datooga village on the south side of Lake Eyasi in Tanzania where our friends Purity and Forrest had been living and working for the previous five years. No one had yet visited their work there, and our team was excited to experience their ministry and the people they had come to love first hand. We were headed for the home of a friend of theirs through a landscape that looked an awful lot like our own high desert. We arrived to a grouping of thorny, circular enclosures around several low stick and mud structures that housed the family we were visiting and their animals. There were many women and children inside that all seemed eager to meet us. Our friend Purity helped with introductions and some rudimentary conversation in Swahili, and then mostly narrated for us what was going on and the topics of conversation. Listening to these foreign tongues, and feeling very foreign myself, I snuck some shots of some of the people we were blessed to meet that evening. This is one that, for me, captures the heart of Datooga life – teetering on the edge of old ways and beliefs while moving toward a new day and spiritual hope.
These little girls are both daughters of witch doctors…one of them entrenched in the animistic bondage of demon worship, and one whose family had been meeting regularly with our missionary friends. These girls represent the first generation of Datooga children to be formally educated, with part of that education being biblical instruction for an hour a day being taught by our friend Purity. Their eyes tell the story of us all….made in the image of God, some yet lost and unable to even search, some already enlivened and responding to the call of a Creator they don’t yet know. It broke my heart to be with these people, and hear about the darkness they live in, the superstition, the hunger and thirst for so much more than food or water, not even knowing what it is they really need. And at the same time, I was encouraged to know that there are still some who heed the call to go to places like these bringing the message of hope, healing and eternal life offered in Christ to those who otherwise might never have heard. God is working!
Do you see this little face? We’ll call her Maria. I did ask her name, but it’s a Tzeltal name in a Mayan dialect that I can’t spell, so my missionary friend told me to call her Maria. She’s a beautiful girl, somehow full hope and promise, living on the side of a hill in a wood shed the size of a garage with about 30 other people. Let that sink in for a moment, and then take in her smile again.
After bouncing around in the back of a pick up truck on a two-lane jungle highway for a few hours, we finally came to a stop at a new community that had recently been established by a few families who had been ostracized from their home village for their refusal to renounce their new-found faith in Christ. In Chiapas, Mexico, failure to comply with the tribal elders’ demands to return to the traditional Mayan religion, results in outright persecution. It starts off as harassment and pressure, and often progresses to jailings, beatings, being forced out of the community at gunpoint in the middle of the night, and some have even been killed.
Voice of the Martyrs has Chiapas listed as hostile to the Gospel, and followers of Christ there endure persecution daily. The men and women who work diligently to share the love of Christ with people there need our prayers. The careworn face of this Mayan woman selling her hand woven wares caught my eye, and my heart.
Surrounded by beautiful jungle and rich culture, and gifted with fingers that can create the lovely textiles she plies, you can see in her eyes a sense of hopelessness, enslaved to an ancient religion that offers no real life. The battle for people’s souls wages. The enemy is real. Please pray that believers there would have courage to share with their neighbors and friends, many of whom have plagued them with persecution. Pray that many would be challenged by their faith under the threat of harm, and would turn to Christ in repentance.
This group of stalwart believers are a magnificent portrait of what joy in the face of persecution and trials looks like. Seeing their situation, and knowing how they got there makes the worst of my days pale in comparison. That they don’t have much at all is a complete understatement. They grow corn and cassava root and have a few papaya and banana trees, and they take water from the nearby stream on the little piece hillside they call home. See, really see the joy in their eyes and their genuine smiles as they selflessly shared a meal with us that I’m sure impacted their own meager supplies for the day.
This group of people truly demonstrated these verses to me: James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
This is David*…a young Moldovan boy whose eyes tell the story of a people about to be forgotten. I see sadness here, mingled with cautious hope. He is one of a whole generation of children being left behind by parents seeking a better life. For a country that should have been recovering from the long, dismal years of the Cold War, Moldova instead found itself with a dying agricultural economy and no jobs or opportunities. Working-age people have been forced to look for work outside their homeland, leaving their children with grandparents and other, aging relatives, who barely have enough to care for them. Some are even abandoned to group homes, a whole generation essentially raising itself. This boy spent hours with me kicking a hacky sack around, just eating up the attention. His story is heartbreaking, being raised by a single mom who doesn’t really have time for him and a grandmother who does the best she can with her own busy schedule to make him feel wanted and loved. Though we couldn’t communicate with words, a look, a high five, hugs and laughter speak volumes. I’ll never forget this boy…his footprints forever on my heart. I’m so thankful God has people working there, diligently showing kids like these that they are indeed seen and loved; that there is hope, that they can have a home in the family of God.
Thank you for reading these stories. Please pray for the people attached to these moments, and the people ministering to them. My challenge for us today is this: let’s ask God for open eyes and wide open hearts. Let’s begin to really SEE people, looking not merely to view, but SEE to have God’s compassion on the people in our paths. Let’s look for opportunities to shine light, to share truth in love, to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people that we SEE!
*name changed to protect privacy