“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” –Mathew 25:40
The average Senegalese person survives on less than $1600 a year.
This means that the American world of excited five year old little boys and girls that line the halls of cheerily decorated kindergarten schools with their Thomas the Tank Engine and Hello Kitty lunchboxes, is vastly different from the world of Senegalese children. Many Senegalese children will never know what it’s like to have a first day of school. Instead of a brightly colored plastic lunch box, five year old little boys and girls in Senegal spend their long days clutching old, dented tomato sauce cans that they desperately hold out to passerby’s on the street, pleading for spare change. They stand barefoot on the filthy streets of Dakar, wearing tattered hand-me-down rags as person after person walks quickly by them-indifferent to the haunting gaze of the little girl fighting the gnawing hunger that never seems to go away, still tearfully stretching out her hand. Already at five years old, she is quite accustomed to being overlooked. In a society that teaches her from her earliest moments that she is insignificant and worthless, she is embarking on what is only the beginning of a lifetime of desperate struggle simply to survive. She is only five years old, but she has experienced more in five excruciating years than you or I ever might.
Her name is Fatima, and I pass her every day as I run through Dakar. Fatima, like countless other children that I see when I run, is always standing in the same place along the dirty road. This is her life-and it does not change. Barring drastic intervention, none of their lives will change. Many of the little Fatima’s and Muhammad’s that line the city with their tomato cans will die of malnutrition and preventable diseases before they turn eight.
To Jesus, Fatima is far from worthless. The extensiveness of His great love and adoration for her is seen in His outstretched hands on the cross. I love a God that deeply understands what it is to suffer-and who desperately loved you and I and Fatima enough to suffer for us. Looking at Fatima, it is easy to see that the world is not as God intended. We live in a broken place surrounded by very broken people that God has been redeeming one at a time since Jesus was nailed to a couple planks of wood on our behalf. When God redeems us, He gives us new hearts-hearts that mirror His own. In the face of Fatima’s suffering, what should our response be? What would your response be if Fatima was your daughter? Your sister?
Jesus tells us in the Bible that for all intensive purposes, He is Fatima. The way that we treat her is a direct reflection of how highly (or how very little) we esteem our Savior. In Isaiah 58, we see that the people in Isaiah’s day had been trying to please God by fasting in the way that they were used to, and then incredulously marveling at the fact that God didn’t seem to hear them and nothing was changing. God explained to them that the sacrifice that they had been offering was not enough-because it was not everything. God goes on to explain that He wants obedience rather than sacrifice, saying:
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
James 1:27 says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The stain of the world is not “the least of these”. It is not Fatima. The stain of the world is that we paint Fatima out of it. We hurry by her on the street-we turn the other way and pretend that she does not exist. The way that we care for her is occasional and half-hearted, on a good day. God demands our whole hearts-not just the pieces that we want to give-because He wants to transform ALL of us as He uses us to redeem the suffering the world is steeped in. Our sanctification and the redemption of the world move in tandem. How many widows and orphans do I know? How many do you know? Are we allowing God to display the gospel through us in the way that we care for “the least of these”? We cannot walk with Jesus and walk by Fatima.