The Power of Presence
In the Western world, we often struggle to show our appreciation or care for others and rely too much on gifts to speak for us. However, people in lower-income countries have taught me much about the care and love for others beyond material goods.
I will remember being in the refugee camps in Guinea with the hundreds of thousands of people who fled the civil war in Sierra Leone in the late ’90s and early 2000s. On one such occasion, I had made my way from Guinea’s capital, Conakry, with a medical team to the refugee camps lining the Guinea/ Sierra Leone border.
It was the end of the dry season and soon the rains would start. As we entered, the medical team was sent straight to the clinic and I was told to trek across the camp back to an area where hundreds of people were gathered.
Trudging through loose dirt higher than my ankles, I could only imagine the mud this would become in a few weeks. How could the tents and flimsy structures in which the people had to live possibly handle the never-ending rain? This in turn would likely spell illness of all types and even death running through the camp.
I must admit, I was complaining to God about this as I walked toward the appointed place that morning. Many of these people had been my friends in Sierra Leone for years and it was painful to see the conditions they and the others there were now facing.
In the distance, I heard some singing, but deep in my thoughts of despair, I thought I was just imagining it. Then, as I got closer, I clearly heard these words being sung with joy, “What a Mighty God We Serve!”
I was stopped in my tracks.
This, I thought, is “faith” as the writer of Hebrews said, that “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
I felt remorseful for my own lack of hope and struck wondering what I had to give when those living amidst the deprivations of the refugee camp were bringing me hope.
When I reached the gathering point, I was asked to say a few words and I commented to them on what strength and faith I witnessed in them. I really had not brought anything new; I felt like I had nothing to offer them, nothing to give—except, as people came up to talk to me later, over and over I heard these heartfelt words from men, women, old and young: “Thank you for coming; we thought we had been forgotten.”
That day, in the middle of a refugee camp, standing empty-handed among my recently displaced friends and others in the same situation, I learned about the Power of Presence. Sometimes the greatest way to show our love and care for others has nothing to do with what we can bring and everything to do with simply being present and coming alongside others with love.
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