With blankets piled high upon narrow wooden tables and bags of toys, shoes, and clothes all labeled neatly, indicating whether a boy or a girl should be the recipient of its contents, members of Task Force Viper were ready to give away winter necessities to patients and their families visiting the local Egyptian Hospital at Bagram Airfield. Through continued partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown, MD as well as other family and friends from home, our unit was able to share with over one hundred Afghan civilians, hoping to help them better survive one of the coldest winters on record for this region.
Many of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen claim that opportunities to visit the hospital and interact with Afghan children and families is one of the highlights of their deployment. Taking a moment to hold a baby or play with a group kids, even when the simplest conversation requires expert pantomiming skills, gives us all a chance to connect on a deeper level with this place and its people. Through the gifted work of our linguists and the help of those who know a little English, we are able to understand some of the challenges and difficulties that many people are facing here.
There are times, however, when we struggle with what we encounter in our outreach efforts. We try, often in vain, to express love and care, but it feels that all we are doing is giving a hand-out. The kids have learned just the right words to say which pull at our heartstrings, in hopes of walking away with a treasure. Visits from the American soldiers are a chance to get something. Even when we know that these kids are merely trying to survive, using whatever tactics available, it can leave a sting in our mouths. Where darkness and violence have reigned with brut force, desperate measures are just a way to endure another day.
A few weeks ago, I was surprised to find a small, canvas shoulder bag waiting for me in the mailroom. On one side of the bag, these six words were printed, “Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.” Inside the bag was a card which explained that the bag was a product of a fair trade project in India which empowers women to make a living and subsequently provide for their families, altering cycles of poverty throughout the region. My experiences in the last few years, whether in Central America or South Africa or even here in Afghanistan have taught me to have a healthy skepticism about “projects” which sound great on paper but may not be making that much of an impact in reality.
Holding this bag in my hands and reading these words from one of the Hebrew Bible’s prophets, Micah, I pondered the question, which precedes them. “What does the Lord require of you,” Micah asks. These words are the answer-- Justice. Mercy. Humility. When we do these things, we live faithfully. It is not a complicated formula which is impossible to understand. Instead, what God requires is surprisingly simple. Of course, simple doesn’t equate to easy. Living out these practices, wherever we find ourselves in the world, doing whatever work we have been called to do, is a lifelong process, some days more fruitful than others.
No doubt, the blankets and the warm clothing that we have given to the patients and children at the hospital has made a difference. But, we all know that the most well-intentioned gift is no panacea for the hardships and violence which ravage innocent lives. Our gifts are a way that we can reach out and express our love, even if, in this rugged landscape, such a gesture seems only a drop in a bottomless pit.
Yet, remembering Micah, I can’t help but acknowledge that our sharing is as much of a blessing for us as it is for those who go home with a new pair of shoes or warm winter blanket. When we give, we practice these simple acts of faith- doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Without really saying a word, we witness a love which has no end. We may never know the results of our generosity. Outcomes are not always the point. When we live faithfully, we trust that God will be there, ready to make something good from what we have offered, ready to nurture seeds of heaven wherever they have been planted, now and always.