Are you hungry right now? Maybe you’re reading this in the morning and haven’t eaten breakfast yet. Or perhaps it’s mid-afternoon and lunch is in the rearview mirror but you can’t quite see the light of dinner out ahead. You might grab a few handfuls of trail mix, or drive out and buy a blended coffee to tide you over.
A few weeks ago, I had just sat down to lunch with my family, when we heard a very familiar sound – knocking on the front door. I hesitated and thought, Don’t they know this is when we eat lunch? I reluctantly went to check because maybe it was somebody I could ask to wait, or maybe it was just a neighbor kid wanting to play. I saw a man sitting about 20 feet from our porch on the ledge of our kitube, which is like a covered hut in our front yard. Here in Nyahuka, I can often recognize a familiar person even if they are turned away from me, even from far away distances, simply based on the shirt they are wearing. Kiiza wears a black dry fit of sorts … Thomas wears a neon green polo shirt … Jackson wears a yellow soccer jersey from some high school in North Carolina I think … Joel wears an old Manchester United jersey … Emma wears a faded, baggy yellow t-shirt. They wash them somewhat regularly, but still, the wardrobe is extremely limited, resources are scarce.
This time, I can see the neon green polo, it is Thomas. I know him well, our mission knows him well. He regularly teaches Sunday school at the local church. He often runs work crews on the mission to help with projects. He translates alongside our doctors at the hospital, and has even taught our own children several lessons of Lubwisi, the local language. And here he is, a single dad with 4 children at home, sitting in my kitube.
We greeted back and forth in customary Lubwisi. I added a new phrase I’d recently picked up, Agay Waway? (How is your home?) and he laughed in a friendly way, encouraged that I was still learning the language. But then his tone shifted to the truth, past the perfunctory ‘Hello’s’ and ‘Everything is good’. Head downcast, he simply said, “My children are hungry”. In a matter of weeks, this man went from working all day, providing for his family, paying to send his kids to school, and joking with the missionaries, to My children are hungry!
COVID-19, which hasn’t even reached our district yet, has already shut down transportation, commerce, schools, and so much across Uganda that it’s left a swath of hunger in its wake. At the end of the road in Bundibugyo, where very few people have a salaried job, with economic activities at a virtual standstill, people are HUNGRY.
I’ve learned that Uganda is a very indirect culture. So when Thomas said, My children are hungry, I’m naturally supposed to interpret it as Will you please help me? I then asked him what he needed – Some posho (like cornmeal), eggs, cassava, oil to cook with. This is so his family can eat, not like kings, but like peasants, for the next week or so. I asked him how much all of that would cost. 50,000 shillings, he said … which is only about $13. So his family of 5 won’t go hungry this week … $13!
I walked back inside my house to get some cash, past my family at the table eating egg salad sandwiches on french bread, with watermelon and Crystal Light. I grabbed the amount he said, then tossed in a little more. I gave him the money and he was extremely grateful, half-bowing while saying Webale! Webale! (thank you, thank you). I responded, Webale kusima, which translated literally means, ‘Thank you for thanking me’, and he walked away from the kitube. After kicking off my sandals inside the doorway, I headed back to the table to eat my sandwich. I grabbed a slice of watermelon and put it on my plate. I reached for my glass of Crystal Light. Then, noticeably from the greeting room we heard a very familiar sound – knocking on the front door, again.
When Jesus ministered to people, He provided for both their spiritual and their physical needs. We see him healing diseases; we see him raising Lazarus from death; we even see him feeding multitudes of hungry people on a few occasions. Yet I’m always left wondering how He decided who to feed, and who not to feed, since he did not feed every single hungry person that he ever encountered. But what I do know is that when seeing the hungry multitude on the hill that day “he had compassion on them” (Matthew 14:14). In Matthew 25:35 he says, “For I was hungry and you fed me … as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me”. And so yet again there’s the very familiar sound of knocking on our front door again.
In the last month and a half since COVID-19 shut things down, there’s been at least one person at our door just about every single day requesting assistance for food because their family is going hungry. This isn’t merely the stranger at the end of the freeway exit with a sign that says, “Anything Helps – God Bless”. These are people we know, people we are in relationship with, new friends of ours. There are urgent pleas from:
-A man who has helped with our plumbing
-A boy who plays with our kids and lives alone with his elderly grandmother
-Two men who recently built us a goat shelter and a goat pen
-A boy who plays on the mission and has no father (because of AIDS) and a mother who is out of work due to COVID restrictions
-An elderly woman who is caring for many children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and adopted kids who call her Maamba (grandmother)
If you’re reading this blog post, you are not going hungry right now. Not in the physical, truly stomach-yearning, wasting away kind of hungry. But if you’re like me, you do hunger for something. COVID-19 didn’t really create that hunger, but it certainly has made the rumblings more noticeable. Maybe you hunger for real, in-person, face-to-face community. Maybe it’s for meaningful work, and not just the mundane, Groundhog’s Day, over and over daily tasks again. Maybe you hunger for safety, for security, for health and assurance that you or a loved one won’t get sick from COVID-19. Maybe you hunger for your stocks to rebound, or your small business not to get buried forever. Maybe you hunger for some space from your spouse for a bit, or for your kids to go back to their real school. Maybe you hunger for truth and transparency and real problem-solving in politics (whatever side you’re on). Maybe you hunger for a drink out with friends and the camaraderie that comes with it, or to go to a ballgame – either to watch professionals or 7 year olds. Whatever it is, we all hunger for something.
This COVID-19 crisis is like a forced fast – we didn’t choose it, but it’s causing us to really feel what’s important in life, and see what our longings are towards. When things get stripped away, we tend to finally recognize what they meant to us all along. Maybe they meant too much, or maybe we didn’t appreciate them enough. That job we complained about, now gone, maybe wasn’t so bad after all. Extra time with our kids, in this small window of life that we get them in our home before they branch out, is indeed pretty special. Maybe we put our hope and trust in our health, or our financial stability, only to find that those things do not truly protect us, at least not ultimately.
Like literal fasting from food, these hunger pangs are intended to point us to the true provider of all things – God. So what are you hungering for, what are you longing for today? The world is broken, and COVID-19 isn’t the cause. It’s been that way since Adam and Eve set humanity on this course. But God is the ultimate fulfillment of all of our hungers. He is our forever security when sickness and death stare us in straight in the face. He is our provision and sustenance when markets nosedive and income ceases. He is our close friend when we must distance ourselves socially from other human beings.
As the bread of life, God wants us openly and honestly to cry out to Him, “I am hungry!”
Please feel free to comment below with what you are hungering for today.