It was a normal morning in the Regan household. My eight-year-old son Daniel looked up from eating his breakfast and said to me, “Dad, why doesn’t Santa go to poor countries?” Those of you who know me well know that I am not often lost for words, but for a while I didn’t know how to answer his question. This had gotten me thinking about some of my friends who live in poorer countries across the world.
It got me thinking specifically about my friends in Ghana. The first time I went to Ghana in West Africa was for the dual purpose of serving and learning more about black history. I wanted to better relate to the young people I was working with from an African culture and I hadn’t expected to fall in love with the country in the way I did. I’ve since been back many times and now count the Ghanaian people I connected with on my visits as among my closest friends. There many parts of Ghana that are wealthy but for all the people I have visited they live in poverty.
Aquila is one of these friends. I met her on my first visit, when her son was sick in hospital. Because he was the same age as my own son, seeing him became particularly poignant and every time I’ve been back to the country I’ve made sure I have some time with them. Another time Aquila showed me a photo we’d taken on my first visit – one of her daughters was sat on my lap and her young son was standing beside me. Both have since died from preventable diseases.
She pointed to others from the community in the picture that had lost their lives. It was devastating to see those beautiful smiling faces looking up from the picture, knowing we hadn’t been able to do enough to help them. As I looked into Aquila’s eyes, I couldn’t comprehend all the pain and suffering she’d lived through. Despair was written all over her face and I felt sick to my stomach. From then on, my experiences in Ghana started to change the way I saw the work we were involved in in London.
I believe those in poverty don’t just need charity (important as that is), they need people who are willing to be friends and family. When I look at people who do some amazing work in these communities I realise they don’t have a sense of “them and us” because they grasp that actually there is only us. Lila Watson said,
“if you have come here to rescue me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine then let’s work together”.
If we can live like this it transforms the way we look at social action and how we care for the poor. Social action stops being something we think we should do. Instead it becomes a heart of love that is desperate to help a brother or sister in need. When we are motivated by love we stop seeing people as mission projects or people we are helping: they become friends, people we care about, people whose lives we are involved in. That is what I want for the people XLP work with and it is my hope that the church will grasp the same thing, because part of being a Christian is getting to grips with the fact that these people who are starving and have so little money are our brothers and sisters. Jesus didn’t divide society up into rich and poor. He didn’t give special honour to those the world honoured; in fact he went to the other extreme in order to redress the balance.
We have been recently involved in a project with Aquila which has seen a new home being built for her. She has been involved in the process and I have loved looking at the photos I have been sent that show Aquila and her kids looking so happy. In that family at least there now seems to be hope. We can’t do everything by any means, but we can’t let that stop us from achieving the things we can do. Sometimes we’ll have the joy of seeing lives changed, other times we’ll know the tragedy of lives being needlessly lost. We can’t plaster on a happy smile and pretend we’ll sort everything in an instant. We have to prepared for the heartache and allow it to spur us on to achieve more. I couldn’t save all of Aquila’s children, but I have been part of a team that has set up a school for the community run by the community, which I pray will leave a legacy of hope, allowing them to see change is possible.
Why does Santa not appear to visit the poor countries? Honestly, I do not have a clue. He should, as there are kids in Ghana and all over the world who have taught me about humility, compassion, mercy and teamwork. I have read more books about suffering and the reasons why God allows it to happen than on any other subject. My conclusion is that though I can intellectually understand the reasons and have even spoken in debates about the topic, at heart level I still don’t get it, though I do reckon He suffers with those that suffer.
I am 40 next year. As many of you know, seven weeks ago I had limb reconstruction surgery which means I’m spending more time at home as getting out is difficult. Because of this, I have had lots of time to reflect on what I do and why I do it, and what I should be doing in the future. I am one of those guys who can overthink things, but when it boils down to it maybe I am just here to help Aquila and her kids. There is nothing wrong in not understanding everything. In the words of Martyn Joseph,
“sometimes it’s more important to love than to always be right”.
The clip below is filmed in Ghana. It’s not long, please take a moment to watch it; you’ll see me sitting outside Aquila’s old home with her family. The clip is taken from the DVD produced alongside my book No Ceiling to Hope, which you can get from here. We actually went to Ghana in order to film a promo DVD for the school (which you can see on my website), but this took less time than we thought so with the remaining time we also created a series of films looking at issues to do with poverty.
All proceeds go to the school in Ghana.