I peered out the window of the nine-seater van as it rumbled through the busy streets of Nairobi, Kenya. The air vibrated with roaring engines and chatter, and smelled of exhaust gas. I was taking in everything--the other vehicles, the concrete buildings, the metal roofs, the red dirt roads, the street stalls, and the sheer number of people. In a city populated with three to four million people, you would be hard-pressed to find a spot where you could be alone.
People flew by my window as we drove, their faces blurring together, only giving me a split second to look at any one of them before another took its place. This sightseeing continued for a few more minutes before I had to take a step back, because at some point those faces blended into nothing for me. I ended up seeing them as mere numbers. A mass. A mob. Then a voice in my heart spoke, and I remembered that each person I passed by had a life just as complex as mine, if not more so. Plus, God knew each of them intimately, listening to their cries and prayers, and He was calling to Himself that random man who was sitting on that white bucket with a green baseball cap, just as He had been calling me. That day, I remembered, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, how big this world actually is.
Throughout that two-week mission trip in Kenya, my heart and mind were full of thoughts and feelings I struggled to process. Each day was filled with new lessons, new understanding, new joys. I saw true dedication and sacrifice. I heard of miracles and sufferings. I awed at the beauty of life, and attended a ceremony of death. I learned to build bridges and ride the wave. At one point, I took a step back and had a renewed awareness of how finite my heart was. At the end of each day, I found myself filled to the brim of everything I had to reflect on, so many I could hardly keep track of them, every detail that is pregnant with meaning--and all that from just a small part of the country There was no way I could hold in myself all that the world had to show me. The capacity of my own heart is too small.
And yet, our Father in Heaven has a heart big enough to hold all the desires, needs, miracles, cries, joys, and hurts of all the nations in His heart and hands. You see, I also realized that the world is not just one singular thing. Each person we drove by on the street possesses his or her own world, fleshed out and complex. The world we are called to is actually composed of all the personal worlds of the 7.7 billion people on the planet. To think that God knows each one intimately, and then some, puts me in a state of awe of Who He is and how great He is. The thing is, my heart is full of what could be poured in; His heart is full of what could be poured out, and He is calling each of us to be a vessel for everything His bursting heart has to offer.
Mary Anne Evans, known by her pen name George Eliot, wrote the novel Middlemarch which focuses on the ordinary aspects of human life. Her lament is that we so often fail to see the ordinary, and she argues that there is really no such thing. If we take a moment to open our eyes to the noise of details and the smallest of pains, we may very well find that the most ordinary things are in fact the greatest. Alas, we so easily tune out of that awareness--but maybe for a reason.
She writes, “That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” This is also true of the burdens of the world that people turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to—there is only so much we can take. The other side of silence is a noise that we cannot contain. “Our frames could hardly bear much of it.” But there is One Who could, and does. He holds it all. And we have a part to play. We cannot possibly bear the whole world, but we definitely can bear a part of it. And God is in the business of giving each of us our share. Some of us have been given a burden for the hungry cries of a baby. Some have a burden for the fatherless, friendless, or childless. Some have a burden for the high schooler, the retiree, the congressman, or the homeless. The call is to receive the one the Lord has for you.
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias once said, “Get close to your surroundings. Get close to the world. That is where burdens are lifted. That is where burdens are given.” Rarely does one receive a calling within the four walls of one’s own room. More often than not, a calling is received outside of one’s comfort zone. That, in the words of a wonderful person by the name of Heather Tyner, is where the magic happens.