Hello, I’m Donna Power, the founder of Brisbane-based charity, Project Kindy. We fundraise to provide essential support for locally-run kindergartens in rural Malawi, Africa, to give children in extreme poverty access to life-saving and life-changing pre-primary education. You can learn more about our work and our story at projectkindy.com
Have you ever come across a person who is suffering deeply, and assumed that it must keep them from getting close to Jesus? Perhaps they are illiterate? Poor? Disabled? Addicted? Homeless? How do you see the big and small struggles of others and yourself? Are they stumbling blocks to remove, impossible chains to break or extra high mountains to climb? Or are they deeper cups for receiving God’s grace?
Jesus calls us to treat the poor, the wounded, the imperfect and the disadvantaged with a holy respect. Scripture challenges us to gently approach these special children of God and offer some friendship, time, healing ointment, practical support and affirmation of their God-given dignity.
Last month, I received the story of one of our Project Kindy students in Malawi, Africa. Maureen is a very sweet kindy kid and her story starts with her mother, Zione, in a very poor part of the world. Zione was abandoned by her own mother because she was born with deformed hands and feet. Her mother’s judgement, fear and abandonment proved to be a much bigger source of suffering and disadvantage than her physical challenges. Thankfully, Zione’s father loved and looked after her. She grew up sitting next to him in the market where he sold charcoal and was well-liked. As an adult, Zione started her own micro business selling charcoal in the market, too.
The kindergarten teachers and Sisters we partner with got to know Zione when her daughter, Maureen was 1 year old. They were struck by this cute baby sitting with her mum at the market surrounded by charcoal and their hearts went out to them. The kindergarten teachers invited Zione to bring Maureen to kindergarten when she was old enough. Zione was thrilled at this offer and eagerly agreed.
In the years that followed, Zione lost her microbusiness due to the closing of the markets during COVID. Her father died years ago and without any husband or her own income, Zione suffers extreme poverty and now relies on the kindness of people in the community who knew her father. A friend of his gives Zione and Maureen a tiny room to sleep in and she is very grateful for his help. She struggles to find food each day for herself and her growing child, and relies on the kindness of people who remember her and her father from the market.
Even though she disappeared from the market, Zione never forgot the kindergarten teachers’ invitation. Last September, at the beginning of their school year, she dutifully brought Maureen to the gate of Bakhita Nursery School in Nsanama. She explained that she’d lost her charcoal business during COVID and although she was so grateful for the invitation, she wouldn’t be able to leave Maureen because she has no way of paying the $4/month fee. The Sisters reassured her that the fees would be taken care of by friends in Australia and so Maureen started her pre-primary journey.
Sr Giovanna writes that
“Maureen is a very happy child and immediately felt at home with the other kids. The mother is very happy that Maureen is in school. She brings her every day, and she is proud of her child’s progress. She says Maureen can now count 1 to 10, say “calendar”, speaks a few words of English, and knows new games and has new friends. Above all, Zione is grateful to all those who support her child.”
Kindergarten gives Maureen a chance to learn language and maths, songs and games. She enjoys a decent lunch every day which fills her hungry tummy. Maureen is dignified with a special uniform and shoes, and Zione is proud to walk her to and from kindy each day. Instead of spending their days isolated and disenfranchised, Maureen now plays wonderful games with the friendship and laughter of many children and learns new things in a safe place with caring teachers and Zione soaks up all of Maureen’s stories and new skills each afternoon.
In the Gospels there are many stories of people afflicted by pain, isolation and oppression. It seems to me, Jesus meets these people with soft eyes that look into the heart of the person as well as into the whole story of their society. He heals their broken hearts, breaks their chains and he challenges society to lift up the poor, the oppressed, the weak and the downtrodden. He loves them. He sees them. The cries of the broken-hearted are very near to Jesus’s ears and his eyes swell with tears.
He wants us to see them and love them like He does. He doesn’t want us to judge their pain, weakness, poverty or tiredness as stumbling blocks to His heart. Instead, Jesus flips our natural tendencies upside-down and calls us to count their sorrows and suffering as deeper cups to be filled with his glory, grace, light and love. Those who have struggled more, receive Him more and He is our ultimate desire.
Think of Saint Mary Magdalene. She had been possessed by evil and chaos. She had been disgraced, dislocated and destroyed. Yet, in her brokenness, she felt the power of Christ’s healing all the more profoundly. She adored Him. She followed Him. She anointed Him. She mourned Him. She stayed with Him. And Jesus gave her an incredible status as the first person He appeared to after His resurrection and made her the Apostle to the Apostles. Mary Magdalene’s suffering meant she felt His transformative love and grace profoundly and became a unique and outstanding adorer of Our Lord.
What does Jesus want of us? I would like to finish by reading from the Gospel according to John, chapters 13 and 14.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Dear Lord Jesus, please pour out your transformative love and peace into our hearts and lives. We desire to love you, to do your will and be united with you, the Father, the Holy Spirit and all believers. Keep challenging us, Lord, open our eyes to see your gift of dignity in all people and help us to cultivate a holy respect for those who are poor, suffering or struggling in some way. Help us to see our own shortcomings as opportunities to rely on your grace more. Amen.
By Donna Power