A deep pain grabbed my heart when I saw the television news ticker: "30,000 children died in Somalia in the last three months." A major cause of my pain came from a personal feeling of guilt and shame when I realized how fortunate my family is.
This week, our third daughter, who was born prematurely, came home after spending her first month of life in the hospital. From the moment she was born she received the highest level of care available here in Bethlehem. A group of expert Palestinian doctors monitored her progress every hour using the latest technology. There were multiple staff members attending to her care with beeps, rings and dings coming from every machine around her crib. Insurance was not a problem and covered 90 percent of the costs related to her long stay in the hospital. I could not have asked or prayed for anything better. However, my joy is overshadowed with pain knowing that 30,000 Somali children perished. Sorrow grips me knowing that hundreds of thousands of children across the world do not survive their first month because of a $2 vaccine that was not provided for their mothers.
My shame comes not only from a basic humanitarian feeling of compassion and responsibility; it comes from a core understanding of my faith. I believe in a Creator that makes every child born in His image. For many, this Creator is not spoken of until we want to blame someone for things gone wrong or want to praise someone for things gone right. Or perhaps it is better said when things do or don't go "our way," even if others may get hurt.
My shame comes from seeing indifferent religious leaders, who claim to be inspired by the Creator to lead the masses. I include those from my own Christian faith who fail to live by the most basic teachings of their doctrine and, worse, justify their lack of involvement in helping the needy and oppressed by creating complex theological arguments and justifications to hide behind. Some leaders are more than ready and willing to waste days in fancy hotels and retreat centers debating each other, nitpicking religious texts, attacking the sinfulness of others, defending their religious dogma, and even finding theological points for "common ground" and bridges in the interfaith debate. But when it comes to their involvement in disasters around the world, like what we are seeing in Somalia, most will not do more than mention it in a sermon, a call to God demanding Him to do something or ask congregants for a one-time financial collection for an aid organization.
As a follower of Jesus, I grew up with the "What Would Jesus Do?" statement. My older daughter wears it on a wristband: WWJD? I believe that if Jesus was here today He would head to Somalia. He would leave the temples and houses of worship and travel -- alone, with no entourage or media. He would find a way to reach the needy: feed them, heal them or, in the simplest of gestures, give compassion and care to a mother who just lost her child. He would not be looking at their religious beliefs as a justification to help or not. Jesus would not try to convert them into anything as a prerequisite or a condition to receive His help.
Those who commit their lives to following Jesus are asked to follow in His steps. Many will argue that these are hard and challenging tasks. They indeed are hard because we choose for them to be hard; if Jesus was physically here today, He would not do anything we cannot do ourselves.
I know that many, including myself, are not ready to leave everything and head to Somalia. What is the answer? The first step is to recognize and admit that, if we are religious, what determines our relationship with God is not only our faith but also how we relate to others. We must confess our shortcomings as sin and beg every Somali mother and father for their forgiveness. I believe we must act on behalf of those who are in the most need. We have a choice. We can create excuses to not do what Jesus would do, but maybe we can give a full heart's commitment and intention to do as little as 1 percent. If 100 followers of Jesus gave 1 percent, we would then have 100 percent, and that can create miracles. We need to stop blaming God for everything that goes wrong. If we live out our faith and truly live by our word instead of arguing, fighting and killing each other in the name of religion, causing even greater devastation, then tragedies like this could be quickly resolved, perhaps even avoided.
With all the challenges we live through here in Palestine and Israel, one thing is for sure: the way things stand now, my daughter is expected to grow healthy and have a life that the majority of people around the world will only dream of. In honor of her birth and future, I lay my head in the dust at the feet of every Somali father and mother begging them to forgive me and promising that I will give my 1 percent of Jesus to ensure they will not have to cry for another lost child.
What will you do? What do you think will happen if you also gave your 1 percent of Jesus to Somalia?
Sami Awad is a Palestinian Christian active in the nonviolence movement. He is the executive director of Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem. His story is told in the film 'Little Town of Bethlehem.' For more information, visit HolyLandTrust.org and LittleTownOfBethlehem.org.
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