I believe there is a difference between believing and knowing. Believing means understanding a concept through information and accepting that information as truth. In order to know something, you must experience that truth first hand. The suffering in this world will never be eliminated through better education or the actions of a government. It will only be accomplished by the combined efforts of individuals willing to sacrifice in order to make a difference.
I know that there is a difference between providing help and providing hope. After Hurricane Katrina, we heard cries of discrimination and inaction levied against the government, but even if the government had been playing its “A” game, it would never have been enough. Many of those cries rightfully came out of dispare and hopelessness. On its best day, the U.S. Government could never have provided hope in the devastation of Katrina. Sure, the government can rescue people from rooftops and provide food and shelter, but only people can provide HOPE—Hope that comes from personal sacrifice.
When FEMA called on a group of private individuals to mobilize support as a part of relief efforts, they did. With the blessing of his church, one man led the charge to provide relief in the hardest hit area of the Gulf Coast—Waveland, Mississippi. People showed up to help and soon the movement grew to encompass the distribution of money, hundreds of thousands of meals and tons of supplies, including clothing.
I know this because I was there. I worked in the clothing tent helping to distribute clothes. It didn’t feel like a big deal. But every once in awhile, someone caught my eye—like the woman who seemed more anxious than most. She was to bury her best friend the next day and all she had to wear were the clothes she had been wearing when the storm hit. She was embarrassed because she wanted to show her friend the respect she deserved by dressing up for the funeral.
We discovered six dresses for her to try and sent her on her way—all of us deeply moved by this woman’s love for her friend and the fact that we could help her. We didn’t give her a new home or a new car. We didn’t rebuild her life. What we gave her was hope. Hope that she wasn’t alone. Hope that there really were strangers in her world who were willing to help—not because they were paid, but because they cared.
Down the street, I watched the government and the big NGOs dump clothing in a parking lot and pile it high with bulldozers. Was it a more efficient way to provide? Of course. But it did not offer hope.
I know what it means to be on the giving end of hope. If we are to find a solution to famine, poverty, AIDS and the many other atrocities of this world, it will only come through the combined efforts of individuals willing to sacrifice in order to make a difference.
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