In Hebrew culture, there is a beautiful practice of sitting shiva. When someone passes in a family, friends can gather to mourn alongside each other. They sit with the family in their grief. Somehow a grief that feels too big lightens when someone is by your side. There is also a concept within Hebrew tradition of creating shalom: a state of harmony, of health, of completeness, of restoration in all relationships.
When a neighbor is suffering, we as believers are called to be present. We can remind our neighbor of the Good News—that God already has the victory. We can also simply sit shiva with our neighbor and this simple presence can begin the healing. We can also join with the neighbor in building shalom as we work to restore health, wellness, and harmony.
When Ebola began to spread in Liberia (Western Africa) last year, so did fear. People did not have the information or tools to respond. Since health facilities are few and often hard to access, they feared falling victim to Ebola and worried about where they would go. Schools were closed and people did not leave their homes.
Nyanda Biaty Durwoko, Edify’s Christian Transformation Officer in Liberia, remembers when the Liberian Ministry of Health released information and people started to take action. Foundation for Women (FFW), Edify’s lending partner in Liberia, decided to respond in very practical ways with simple actions that reminded people they were not alone and that there was a light ahead. FFW reduced to a skeleton staff to maintain operations in the office. Some staff went out to the communities to be present with people in their suffering, anxiety and fear and to practically work toward building restored peace and health.
The staff was available for people in very practical ways, encouraging them to wear long sleeves (a challenge in hot weather), to wash hands and to regularly check their temperature. In order to stop Ebola from spreading, everyone needed to be careful and intentional about their hygiene. The government mandated that every household should have a hand washing station, but this was cost prohibitive for many families. FFW provided over 500 households, many of them loan clients, with a bucket, Clorox and soap so that they could keep their hands clean.
When schools re-opened, Edify and FFW also responded to people’s emotional devastation. They used a curriculum developed by David C. Cook to encourage children to move past their sorrow and the terrible things they had seen and live into hope.
Edify continues to encourage best health practices in schools. FFW continues to work with the school loan clients with much understanding and grace so that they can start again to repay their loans. Edify and FFW continue to give thanks that all employees and school staff and children were spared during the crisis. Liberia has not fully recovered and there is much work to be done, but God will finish what He started.
God does not avert his eyes during suffering. He will have his Glory in the situation. Often, he sends his hands and feet to love, to sit shiva, to build shalom. He may not call us to understand suffering, but he calls us to respond to it. Often, it is through suffering that we best learn the lesson that we belong to one another as we all belong to God.
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