Like most international adoptive parents, we ate up anything that had to do with Africa. Especially, if it had anything to do with Ethiopia, we bought it: t-shirts, coffee, bracelets, baby blankets, baby clothes, jackets, headbands, wristbands, and even cookies that were in the shape of Ethiopia. Right before we were leaving to go to Ethiopia to pick up our daughter Zoie, Kari and I attended an event featuring a Rwandan pastor.
Unfortunately, I don’t really remember anything he said during his presentation, but what he said afterwards … I have never forgotten. After he wrapped up his message, Kari and I made our way up to the front of the auditorium to where he was standing- there was already a long line of people waiting for their chance to talk to him.
We waited patiently as the crowd thinned out and then we finally got our chance to meet him. Kari and I wanted to tell him “thank you” for the work he is doing for orphans and that we would be heading soon to Ethiopia to pick up our daughter. As our conversation was wrapping up, he turned towards me with a serious look on his face; he put both of his hands on my shoulders and pulled me in closer to him.
At first, I didn’t know what he was going to do, but his eyes were locked in on mine with the intensity of a Marine Drill Sargent. He said the most powerful words that forever changed the way I looked at the needs of orphans, widows, and the oppressed.
We are well aware of Rwanda’s devastation by the 1994 genocide that resulted with an estimated loss of 800,000 people. It left thousands of children with the loss of one or both parents and no place to call home. It left severe scars, not just physically, but also emotionally. If anyone could give advice on Africa, this gentleman was qualified as a pastor who has ministered to thousands of orphans.
As he began to speak, his voice was very gentle, but his words were filled with a deep conviction. Since that moment his statement has shaped our Simply Love ministry and every mission trip we have led the past four years.
He told me that when I visit orphanages, widows, and minister to communities; the greatest thing I could do for Africa is …touch.
For me, touching (in a healthy way) a total stranger can be a bit awkward. I’m not a natural touchy kind of a guy. I feel much more comfortable giving a “head nod” as my touch, than a hug or a pat on the back. But, Jesus modeled TOUCH! He was always touching people: blind, lepers, sick, children, women, men, demon-possessed, rich, poor, depressed, angry, bitter, and even dead people. Even science has validated the importance of touch.
According to studies, touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health. Touch even works in helping us win basketball games. ABC News recently did a special on the power of touch and how it can boost performance. According to two social psychologists from UC – Berkeley, whom both happened to be big fans of basketball themselves, recently analyzed 90 hours of televised professional play.
They looked at every team and every player in the league, taking note of what of they determined to be 15 kinds of touch, including hugs, high fives and even flying shoulder bumps. Their conclusion: teams that touch the most, won the most. If touch can even help us win at sports, imagine what our hands and feet can do in the life of one who has no hope.
On day one of us arriving in Ethiopia, the first place our adoption agency took us to was a women’s hospital called, Fistula. (You can check out a documentary called about Fistula, A Walk To Beautiful here.) This world-renowned hospital is a place for women who have fistula (you can look it up here).
To start our tour the hostess gave us a little background on fistula and what the women at the hospital had to endure living with fistula. Many have been abandoned by their husbands, rejected by their communities, and forced to live in isolation. Fistula was a place that gave “life” back to those who were deemed ugly, dirty, and even cursed. Our hostess then led us into the hospital ward where all the women were laying with IVs etched into their arms.
There were about 100 women staring at us and I remember sarcastically asking myself, “Why am I here?” But, five steps later the thought of TOUCH came to my mind. I then wondered when was the last time these women had a man smile and touch them in a loving, healthy way to let them know they are worthy, valuable, a child of the King. Now, it was game time. This was the moment during the tour we could talk to the girls.
As I approached my first lady who was lying in her hospital bed, I gathered up enough courage to go up close to her and touch her hand. As I touched her hand and smiled, she lifted up her other hand and put it around my neck to lower my cheek closer for her to kiss me, kiss me, and kiss me. I got three kisses!
One cheek, the other cheek, and back to the other cheek. As I came up for air I thought, “Wow! This women needed some touch!”
As I looked down at her beautiful face, I saw a smile and she and the other girls close by were giggling like teenage girls. Our sweet hostess must have saw the sweat coming off of my brow because she came over quickly to explain to me that they don’t get many male visitors. So, needless to say, I was spoiled. I received a lot of kisses that afternoon and I saw the power of touch in their lives and my life. I loved every moment of it.
As Jesus healed the leper he had pity on him, so he reach out and TOUCHED him. Most of Jesus miracles were done just by his spoken words, but He chose to heal by touching this unclean, unworthy, grimy, filthy, undeserving, disgraced leper by the world’s standards.
He didn’t need to, but there were 12 men who needed to see the power of touch. To be the hands and feet of Jesus, are you willing to give a meaningful touch to a leper, an orphan that lives on a trash dump, or a homeless women on the street corner that’s says, you are loved?