I wrote this essay a number of years ago when I had traveled to South Africa for a Habitat Blitz Build. I’ve been thinking about how we relate to others this week in response to all the news about violence to our neighbors. I’m so glad I met Nana; even though she lives halfway around the world, she’s my neighbot.
We stood near the front door to dedicate the Habitat house we had worked on over the past week. Nana, our homeowner who had worked with us, shed tears as the reality of the situation hit her. This building was now her home. A place to share meals with friends and to raise her child. We all shared our well wishes for Nana.
Tears flowed freely, and our throats caught. The pain I felt from the week’s work didn’t seem to matter anymore. My eyes wandered to the other nearby houses built during that week. Dedications were happening there, too. One hundred gatherings happening at that moment asking God to bless the homes and those living in them.
Hope. Hope for the future. Hope for the good things that would come because of the week we spent working. Hope that it would give someone a new start.
When I recall my trip to Durban with Habitat for Humanity, I am astounded most by the sense of hope I saw in the people I met there, and especially the hope among the poor and disenfranchised. Even though their situation was very bleak, most everyone I met showed only their hope for the future. They weren’t paralyzed by what they faced—unemployment, crime, HIV/AIDS—rather, they looked at it all head on and still saw possibilities.
How this is possible is mind-boggling. How anyone can live with devastation and still have hope in the future—and in God—is completely beyond me.
Hope is something many Americans are in short supply of. I have everything I could possibly need and then some, yet I am told that I always need more. If your life isn’t happy, buy a new car, a new house, a new boat, a new wardrobe.
Our hope is built in the things we hoard.
And yet here is Nana, moving into a four-room house without closets. She knows her son’s generation isn’t expected to live more than another 30 years, and yet she’s full of hope. And more than that, she was generous with her hope. She showed us again and again that there is more joy in giving than in taking it all for yourself. More to be found in opening your hand than in clenching your fist. There is great blessing to be found in being generous.
Hope, you see, comes through a trust that God can work in this world even when it looks dismal. That hope is experienced in building a home or in sharing a meal or in hugging a friend. It comes in the tears of woman entering her new home for the first time. It comes in giving rather than receiving. It comes not in taking all you can but in holding out your hands in love.
That hope came to me when I was in South Africa, and I will never forget it. It is the same hope I experience every time I pick up a hammer for someone else.