“When we stopped by the Sumith Feeding and Training Center, a delicious aroma filled the air as Elaine and I stepped from the van. Lunch, bought fresh every day by staff members, simmered in large kettles over propane burners. A meal for several hundred children required four to five hours of preparation time. Each vegetable simmered in a separate pot with onions, chili peppers, and curry added for taste. I smelled potatoes, leeks, carrots, and rice—the mainstay of their diet.
“Some of the younger children sat on the long benches, eating the meal with their fingers. Lunch was served at about two-thirty or three in the afternoon in the Sri Lankan custom. Children may take seconds or thirds as long as they do not waste food. A huge bowl of rice sat in the center of each plate. The curried fish, hard-boiled egg, and curried vegetables formed a circle around the rice. When finished, the children washed their own bowls and plates under the water tap and stacked them in a pile. After lunch, everyone gathered for religious training before going home for the day.
“We waved to the small children. They stopped eating long enough to smile and wave back. Then we walked into the mat-making room. I expected to be greeted by ten-year-old Surakata who is always eager to tell us about his progress on his rug mat project. However, he was not there. I asked the director, ‘Do you know where Surakata is?’ She shrugged her shoulders and replied, ‘He might be sick, or maybe he’s running errands for his mother.’ Although we emphasize regular attendance, sometimes the parents do not understand the importance of a daily commitment to theprogram. If they need work done at home or help with the younger children, they ask the boy or girl to stay home for a day.
“About a week later, we returned to the Sumith Center. Surakata was still missing. The center leader said, ‘Deo, we’re worried now about Surakata. He attended regularly. It’s not like him to be absent over a week. If I give you directions to his home, will you stop by this afternoon?’ I nodded. Elaine and I climbed in the van and I instructed the driver who drove us through the lush jungle growing along the riverside. The narrow road wound back and forth, following the meandering river to the village where Surakata lived.
“The driver parked. I walked up the crooked trail leading to the village. A woman who was washing her clothes in the river directed me to the hut where Surakata lived. Surakata’s mother sat outside the shanty. She rocked back and forth, tightly clutching her knees in her arms. A low moan escaped from her lips. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
“I walked up to her and placed my hand on her shoulder. ‘Hello. I’m Deo Miller from the Sumith Center. We’ve missed Surakata. Where is he?’ ‘He’s terribly sick’ was the mother’s tired response. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with him.’ ‘Where is he?’ I repeated. ‘He’s lying inside on the floor,’ she answered, motioning to the entrance of her home.
“I entered the hot, musty hut, bending down as I walked through the low doorway. When my eyes became adjusted to the dark interior, I saw Surakata curled up on a mat in the corner. His body was contorted into an unnatural position. I tried to speak to him, but he was unaware of my presence. His forehead burned with fever. I picked up the semiconscious boy, mat and all, and carried him out of the stifling hut. I laid him gently on the ground near his mother. He remained in the strange, fetal position, unable to move or communicate.
“‘How long has he been like this?’ I asked. ‘Almost a week. I can’t break the fever.’ The mother’s penetrating eyes searched mine for reassurance. She asked, ‘Will Surakata die?’ I could not meet her gaze. Instead, I stared in horror at the distorted figure before me. ‘I’ll take him to the hospital. I have a car here. Do you have a blanket that I can wrap him in?’ The woman entered her house and returned with a tattered piece of fabric. I wrapped the frail body and gently lifted Surakata into my arms. Carefully I hiked down the winding path to the van.
“When the driver saw the seriousness of the situation, he gunned the engine, winding us through the traffic in our makeshift ambulance. A nurse greeted us at the emergency entrance of the large, white government hospital. Upon seeing the boy, she shook her head. ‘No hope, no hope.’ Ignoring her diagnosis, I signed the necessary forms to admit the gravely ill boy for treatment. Then, Elaine and I returned to our flat, leaving Surakata in the hands of God and the hospital staff.
“Six weeks later, the hospital released the young boy. I visited his home and emphasized the doctor’s advice to his mother. ‘Surakata can’t fetch water from the river or carry firewood. Making him do heavy labor of any kind will kill him. His older sister can bring food home from the center for him each day.’ His mother nodded and said, ‘I promise to let him rest. My husband left us last year. It is difficult to get the chores done, but the other children can help. I want my son to live.’
“I stared at her, trying to phrase my next words. I knew Surakata had participated in the center’s program for almost six months. ‘When Surakata first became sick, why didn’t you tell someone at the center? Why didn’t you do something?’ She looked guilty and hung her head. ‘He was sick before, but he always got well. I gave him the herbs, but this time they didn’t help. He burned up with fever. He got sicker.’ ‘We told you to come to the center whenever you have a problem. Why didn’t you come?’ The mother shook her head. Sickness was a way of life in her village. ‘I didn’t want to bother them. I thought the herbs would make him well.’
“Exasperation welled up in me as I watched the reaction of Surakata’s mother. ‘Why didn’t you take him to the hospital? Why didn’t you catch a bus to the government hospital? Treatment is free only a few miles away!’ Her sad eyes met my gaze as she softly replied, ‘I would have taken him, but I didn’t have two rupees.’ Suddenly I understood. The bus fare to the hospital was one rupee each way. Surakata almost died because his mother did not have eight cents for bus fare.
“Shortly after this incident we returned to the U.S. for a short visit. One day I stood on a street corner watching two boys buy ice cream cones. They each received a double-dipper cone and a dime in change. One of the dimes slipped out of the boy’s hand and rolled under a parked car. He looked at his friend, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away. Retrieving the dime was not worth his effort. I thought of how Surakata almost died for the lack of eight cents. I wondered how many other children would die in poverty from a lack of bus fare to the hospital.” (Adapted from You Start With One by Deo Miller)
Surakata’s health, future, and even life depended upon less than a dime—an amount so small that many of us, like the boy at the ice cream stand, wouldn’t even go to the trouble to pick it up from the street. To Surakata, those few cents could have made his life totally different. If only someone would have had a heart for him.
Before you respond with any guilt feelings about living in abundance while the world is full of Surakatas, let me tell you another little story. At a fundraiser banquet for a humanitarian organization, a businessman reached across the table to grab a roll out of the breadbasket. As he stretched his arm, his sleeve pulled up just enough to expose his expensive watch. One of the other guests at the table made a comment about how many hungry children could have been fed with the cost of the watch. The businessman responded by unashamedly telling how many families would be fed with the contribution that he had made that very evening. You see, life doesn’t have to be an either/or decision; it can be—and in fact was designed to be—a both/and situation. Both the Old and New Testaments confirm that God’s desire is to give us both seed to sow—resources to give away—and bread to eat—sufficiency for our own needs and desires. (Isaiah 55:10, II Corinthians 9:10) In other words, God is big enough to bless us while making us big enough to bless others.
Now that we’ve mentioned the banquet at which the businessman and the other guest got into a rather interesting conversation, let’s just imagine what it would be like to have a really, really large banquet and invite not just your friends—but the whole world! Well, of course, it would be impossible to get all seven billion of the folks on planet Earth together at one place for one large meal. But let’s suppose that we were to choose one hundred guests to come represent the rest who could not join us. If we did this, our banquet room would be filled with fifty-seven Asians, twenty-one Europeans, fourteen from the Americas, and eight Africans. More than half of the guests would be less than thirty-five years old. Less than one-third of them would be white. Only one person in the whole room would have a college education, and only seventy of these sitting down to the meal would be able to read the menu for the meal—assuming that it were made available in their languages.
Gazing over the room, we would notice a marked distinction among the guests. There would be six guests—all from the United States—who seem to be substantially better off than the rest. In fact, those six individuals would actually own more than all the rest of the diners combined. It would certainly be obvious from their appearance that at least eighty of our guests have grown up in substandard conditions including homes without proper heating and plumbing—or even without a home at all. A large portion of our guests would be sick—in fact, one will die before the meal is over. A number of the women—including many teenage girls—will be pregnant; and at least one will give birth while our dinner is being served.
But the most dramatic thing we will observe will be the reaction of the guests to the food and the service at this particular banquet. You see, at tonight’s banquet we are going to serve each guest the same food he is accustomed to eating! At one table, we will find a few healthy, well-dress guests who are handed menus that look more like catalogs listing every kind of imaginable dish: fresh fruits, vegetables of every kind, pizza, hamburgers, seafood, roast beef, chicken, and steak. In addition, they are handed dessert menus from which to choose ice cream, cake, and pie. Yet, this isn’t all! These guests have brought their dogs and cats with them, so a variety of pet foods is also offered. As those at this table enjoy their meals, they laugh and joke about needing to lose weight and find a good diet program—all the while, seeming oblivious to the rest of the guests. All throughout the meal, the waiters repeatedly return to their table with more and more servings. Finally, the table is heaped with more than the party could possibly eat. Still unaware of the others in the room, they instruct the server to rake the leftovers from the table into the trash.
Most of the rest of the tables are not handed a menu; the guests are simply offered whatever comes out of the kitchen—in most cases a simple plate of rice. Sometimes, beans or cooked vegetables are mixed in with the rice. Occasionally, some chicken or fish is blended in. Very rarely does any pork or beef appear with these dishes. Not only are these guests treated differently in what they are served, they are also served in a dramatically different way. Rather than having a large table with soft chairs and a waiter to care for their needs, they are crowded together around a simple table and told to serve themselves.
For the most part, there is sufficient food to go around, but about one-fifth of the total guest roster will arrive hungry—and leave hungry. In fact, at least eight of those present are suffering from chronic malnutrition. Some of these unfortunate guests are not even offered a place at the table, but are told that they are to dine on scraps that are dropped by the other guests. To them, an all-you-can eat buffet means a trash bin or a garbage dump. Even more rudely, they are barred from the scraps of the first table where as much was thrown away as was eaten; rather, they are forced to beg from the patrons who are barely being served enough for themselves.
As if these discriminations were not enough, we take one last survey of the banquet hall to notice that at least twenty of our guests have been served dirty glasses full of off-colored water with questionable items floating in it. Polluted and disease-contaminated as it is, that is all these guests are offered to slake their thirst.
Atrocious! Unthinkable! Unimaginable! Yes, it is. But it is also true. This is exactly the way the human family lives and eats each day. This is a picture of the world if it could be reduced to just one meal together.
The greatest horror of this banquet is that there is plenty of food available for everyone, yet most of the guests were not fed properly. The same is true about the real world: statistically, there is more than enough food to adequately feed the world’s population. Even as the world’s population explodes, the ability to produce food is expanding faster than the human family is growing. The truth is that world hunger is more of a distribution problem rather than supply problem. If the world’s food supply were properly dispersed, everyone on the planet could enjoy a delightful meal every day.
There are many reasons for food shortages in various parts of the world. In some places, it is drought; in some spots, it may be flood; in other areas, it may be earthquakes; in still other places, it may be hurricanes or other storm systems; occasionally, volcano eruptions or other natural traumas may be a fault. But in most of the world, deprivation comes from human-imposed shortages. Wars, ethnic cleansings, corrupt governments, and plain and simple greed have kept the needed supply of food out of the hands and mouths of the masses—resulting in human-induced famine.
My travel log of my first experience in the deteriorating Soviet Union just at the end of the Communist regime records my reaction as a member of the free world encountering the ravages of man-made hunger.
The shortage of goods was apparent everywhere. Outside every shop, we saw lines of at least thirty to forty people waiting their chance to buy goods. It was sad to see the little package each person was holding in his hand when exiting the shop after having waited so long to get in. In addition, each shop carried only one or two items, so the people had to wait in line after line to buy first meat, then milk, then bread, then eggs—all of which were rationed in unbelievably small quantities. Even in what could be considered a nice restaurant, we found that many items on the menu were simply not available and that the napkins had been cut in tiny squares so that one napkin could be stretched to service a full table of guests.
The depravity in the land was simply a result of political oppression, not from any natural disaster. Jesus told a parable that emphasized that our response to the hurting and hungry of the world is the yardstick by which He measures those who claim to be believers.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-46)
In another parable, Jesus illustrated the tragedy of lacking the heart to help the poor who show up at our worldwide banquet.
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (Luke 16:19-25)
Let’s think about the lesson we can learn from the parable of the separating of the sheep and goats and combine it with some points we’ve already discussed concerning David’s heart attitude. Remember that we determined in a previous section of the book that repentance prayer after committing adultery with Bathsheba was that he had sinned against God and God alone. (Psalm 51:4) Although David had violated a virtuous woman and killed an innocent man, he saw only God as his victim. The point that Jesus made in the parable is that when we do evil or good to even the least human, we have actually acted either for or against Him. We must learn to treat all men with the same love and respect that we would give to Jesus if we could physically encounter Him in each circumstance in life.
We speak of people who have a kind heart or those who have a hard heart. We sometimes say that we are disheartened or downhearted. When we are startled or enjoying a thrilling roller coaster ride, we might say that our heart leapt into our mouths. We often talk about people who have had a change of heart. Our physical hearts continue to beat every minute of our lives, pumping the life-giving blood throughout our bodies. In the same way, the heart of compassion must continue to beat throughout the year, not just around special holidays. We must have a heart for the world that is permanently transplanted into us. In the Bible, the prophet Ezekiel spoke of an emotional heart transplant by saying that God would take out a stony heart and replace it with a heart of flesh. This should be the objective of our concern as well—that we might have a new heart that is constantly caring for the hurting people around us and around the world.