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Sometimes I feel like I am too small to make a difference.
My experience is too small. My education is too small. My bank account is too small. The amount of time I can offer is just too small.
When I’m presented with opportunities to serve I find myself running over the list in my head of all the other people who’d be so much more qualified than me. I think about the people who have true expertise in whatever area it is and I decide that the little I have to offer would not really be worth anyone’s time.
When all I can afford is $3 to donate, I talk myself out of giving at all because, what can a mere $3 really do anyway? I won’t go to volunteer because my schedule only allows me to come sporadically and for short chunks of time. They don’t want me, I tell myself, they want people who can really be committed and invest themselves fully in the ministry.
I guess it comes down to the fact that I really don’t like to do things half-way. If I’m going to mentor someone, I want to read books and talk to wise people and make sure I know everything I need to really do justice to the title “mentor.” If I’m going to speak to girls about teen pregnancy, I won’t feel qualified until I’ve talked with teen mothers and done research and know statistics. If I’m going to sing at a nursing home to a half deaf audience, I won’t go until we’ve practiced every last chord and note.
There is definitely something to be said for doing things excellently ‘as to the Lord and not to men.’ But lately, I keep hearing God asking me to STOP with all the preparing, all the over thinking, all the trying to be qualified. He’s been asking me here to just TRUST. So I’ve been silencing all those excuses and finally just learning how to step out in obedience.
God has been taking the hodgepodge of all the infrequent hours I can offer, and all the various things I am mediocre at – all my inexperience and unpreparedness and feelings of inadequacy – and He is teaching me to trust Him to take everything small in me and grow it into something that is enormously important for the kingdom.
And the beauty of it all is that it has nothing to do with me! All he asks me to bring to the table is trust. No hours of preparation or resumes of expertise could add one ounce to what He’s doing. I come with my small offerings of time and energy, my fumbling attempts at loving, my serving that’s tainted with selfishness – and He in all His divine provision multiplies my shabby giving into something significant.
I’ve been captivated observing this kind of trust in so many of the Kenyans I’ve met but I couldn’t quite articulate it until Wednesday.
Wednesday I met Grace at the matatu stop in Kibera. Armed with my camera and favorite lenses, I intended to capture the work she was doing with the women in her Empowerment Group. We started down the dusty street, uselessly trying to talk over the blaring music coming from every direction. I smiled, because this kind of cacophony is so characteristic of the Kibera that I have come to love. I strained through the reggae and gospel and rap songs to pick out Grace’s words.
She asked about my day, and I hers. We chatted and laughed as we walked on. Then she mentions causally right as we approach the door to the school, “So I’ll be there for ten minutes or so and then I’m going to run over to address an emergency they’re dealing with at a school on the other side of the slum. You’ll be ok teaching the class, yeah?”
I looked at her like she was crazy. She was leaving me in the middle of a million person slum, completely unprepared, in a room of 14 year olds no less! At least she could have told me this as the beginning of our walk and then I’d have time to grill her about what on earth I was supposed to talk about!
She mentioned that she’d planned to discuss gender discrimination and self esteem that day. I knew I’d heard talks on these things before… my mind raced through 22 years worth of sermons and school assemblies and life experiences. If I had an hour to think about this I was sure I could some up with something pretty good. But as I stood there in front of the class while Grace introduced me, my mind was completely and utterly blank.
What did I know about gender discrimination? These are girls who’re married off at 13. They have parents who don’t see the need to send them to school because they’re women. In the culture of Kibera, women wash clothes and make food and take care of babies. Their self esteem is shattered after years of cruel words that have shaped them. They are beaten and raped and it is such a norm here that many of them don’t even realize that this is NOT ok.
There was so much they needed to hear, but what words did I have? Who was I, this ignorant naive Mzungu to speak into their lives?
Grace scurried out the door and I stood there awkwardly squished up against the blackboard. It was one of those moments when I felt too small. I felt unprepared. I felt inadequate. I wished I could have done research about what these particular women really needed to hear. I wished I had some engaging game that would teach them a profound lesson. I wished I had some three point sermon or some clever acronym that would help them remember truth.
But my wishing was useless, I was going to have to learn something about TRUST.
Suspicious and distrusting of my white skin, thirty pairs of narrow brown eyes suddenly turned to me.
I opened my mouth. I can’t tell you the words that came out. Most of what I remember is the persistent pleading prayer in the back of my head for the Holy Spirit to just take over and speak through me! My sentences at first were peppered with ums and uhs… it was hard to tell how much of my English they actually understood.
But as the hour went on, the girls began to participate in discussion. They opened up about the things they are battling, the people who’ve held them back, the lies they were being told. We talked about peer pressure and sexual abuse and stereotypes and HOPE. Slowly they let me in more and more, and with every hand raised, with every fear expressed, with every dream voiced something in me got so excited. They had no reason at all to trust me, they had no reason to respect me or anything I said. But they were, somehow. Despite the fact that I am not a trained teacher; despite the fact that I had no history with them; despite the fact that I had come completely unprepared… good good things were happening.
As our hour came to a close, I taught them a song called Somba Le Le. Half way through the song they got up out of their seats and started clapping and dancing. They enthusiastically followed the ridiculous moves I was making up and even added some of their own as our glorious song filled the tiny dark room.
I told them that as far as I knew the song’s catchy words had no meaning. I suggested we make up our own.
“What do you want this song to mean? What do you want to think about every time you sing it?”
“Girls can do!” someone shouted out in a melodic Kenyan accent.
“Girls can do ANYTHING!” another voice chimed in from the back.
Girls can do anything, it was.
With pride in their eyes, they sang on, attached to the anthem now in a deeper way. There was strength in their voices and joy in their dancing. It seemed like these girls who’ve been taught all their lives that they’re nothing, really believed these sacred words. The light in their once apprehensive eyes made me think that somehow they had really gotten a glimpse of their value to God in that hour.
They sang as they paraded out of the class, 10 minutes late because we didn’t want it to end. Each girl shook my hand as they left and made me promise to come back the next week. I couldn’t wait.
I practically skipped my way back to the matatu stage. I couldn’t get their faces out of my head. There was something holy that happened in that hour. I came in all my smallness and trusted that God would show up. And He did. In the words. In the music. In the way these girls opened up their hearts. In the worth they walked away with.
It was exceedingly more perfect than anything I could have planned or prepared for.
Sometimes I think all God asks of us is obedience. He is a God who’s always loved to work through the small, untrained, imperfect people.
I feel too small to make a difference because I am.
What I forget too often is that I serve a God whose strength is made perfect in my weakness.
He IS big enough to make a difference. The crazy thing is that He chooses to work through our smallness.
All he asks of us is to be willing. Can we muster up the courage to step out in trust?
- Pray that God would reveal to you something that He wants you to step out in obedience and trust Him with. When he gives you something concrete, don’t hesitate – DO IT!
- If you ever have insecurities about not being enough, REFUSE to listen to them and choose to TRUST that God can do great things through broken people!
About the Author: Christine Sullivan was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2009. She graduated in 2009 from Taylor University with a bachelor's degree in Studio Arts. She loves finding beauty in the unseen and overlooked and is passionate about bringing stories of injustice to light.