On Monday night I took a short flight from Kisumu to Nairobi, and then took a red-eye flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam. I had a layover in Amsterdam before I flew to Toronto, where I’ll be spending a few days exploring the city with my parents before speaking at a youth conference this weekend.
During my Amsterdam layover, I went to a coffee shop in the airport and ordered a large Americano — the first real espresso/coffee I had in more than three weeks. (On the island where I stayed in Kenya, everyone drank black tea. Coffee wasn’t really a “thing.”)
I sat there at the coffee bar, savoring each sip of my drink, checking in with myself, reflecting on the past three weeks, wondering how to evaluate my latest venture.
The problem was, I didn’t know what metrics to use.
I had a long, running mental list of the good things that happened during my trip.
I got a new stamp in my passport (I’d never been to Kenya before), so that was cool.
I had the opportunity to see Lake Victoria, the largest lake in the world.
I did health screenings on 120 kids, most of whom are orphans whose parents died of AIDS.
I took medical supplies to the school for orphans that will probably last them two years.
I trained the staff on how to provide basic First Aid, and how to treat diseases they see often, like pinworms and malaria.
I had the unique experience of living at a homestead with no electricity or running water, where I helped the women cook over an open fire and do loads and loads of laundry by hand.
I introduced some of the kids to pop music (they especially loved Geronimo and My House), we had some epic dance parties, and we watched Finding Nemo and Toy Story.
Except for some interpersonal drama within the family I stayed with, and except for contracting malaria (again) and typhoid, over all it was a good trip. I’m glad I went. I feel like I did as much good as I could do there, at least for now.
And yet, as I sat there contemplating the trip, I had to acknowledge that part of me felt disappointed and incomplete.
Kenya has 44.8 million people and I only cared for 120. The supplies will eventually run out. My friends and I were able to contribute enough money to cover several months’ worth of meals for the kids, but the funds won’t last forever.
When I looked at the numbers, it didn’t even seem fair to say my efforts were a drop in the bucket. Maybe, at best, my efforts amounted to a single water molecule. Two hydrogens, one oxygen, not even visible to the naked eye.
I did as much good as I could do, but when I look at it by standard metrics, it was hardly anything.
So did it matter that I went? I wondered. Did it matter that I spent a month of my life in Kenya, made financial sacrifices and took physical risks to go there?Did it matter that I walked until I got bruises on my feet, that I contracted malaria and typhoid?
And if it mattered, why?
As I sat there at the coffee shop with my Americano and a lot of questions, I Corinthians 13 played through my head.
The author starts by posing the question: If I do a lot of good with my life, if I make sacrifices, if I use my skills to help others, if I give all my money away, if I even give my life away — what makes any of that, all of that, matter? (Ok, that’s a rough translation, but you get the point.)
These are questions all of us are forced to ask at some point:
What makes our sacrifices matter? What gives our choices meaning? What’s the metric by which we should live — and evaluate — our lives?
In the end, the author of I Corinthians 13 concludes that it’s not what you do that matters, but why you do it.
In the end, it all comes down to love.
Whether you give away a million dollars or a nickel, whether you win a humanitarian award or change a dirty diaper, whether you win a Grammy or sing a lullaby, whether you fly across the ocean or walk across the street, whether you cure cancer or bake muffins or paint a seascape or weed your flower garden or work a case pro-bono…….whether your actions seem big or small, the question is not, What did you do — but Why.
Whatever you did, was it out of love — because you loved others or, in other cases, because you knew how deeply you were loved?
When I look at what I did in Kenya, the need and the numbers are overwhelming, dissatisfying, even somewhat depressing.
But when I look at why I did it, I can say this.
Everything I did — I did it for the love.
And going forward, I am praying for new eyes to see the world the way God sees it, to live in Divine Love’s radical economy — where the widow giving her last mite, and the Samaritan kneeling in the dirt next to his wounded neighbor and the sinner on his knees humbly pleading for grace are nearest and dearest to the Father’s heart.
Going forward, I’m hoping to live my life, in big ways and small, so that at the end of it all, I can honestly say…
All of it. I did all of it for the love.