Dusk was beginning to dawn, that evening some weeks into my time living in South Sudan. The backs of our plastic chairs faced a hazy setting sun as I sipped at my coffee, spiced with cardamom and cayenne. In the local market surrounding us, women walked by balancing crates and large branches on their heads, and children ran shrieking through the dirt road as they played. The air was hot, though gently becoming cooler, as Joseph, sitting next to me, began to speak.
“You can’t forget what it’s about,” he said as leaned back into his chair. “Young people, they want to make money, they want to change a million lives, but that’s not what it’s about.”
It was strange, the way he spoke of young people, his unlined face not appearing much older than my 21 years. He was a native to this country, an employee of Samaritan’s Purse since 2008. Wherever new field offices popped up, he would go, help construct them, and assess the needs of the people around them. He looked at me then, holding up a single finger.
“It is about one life. If I can affect one life, if God allows me that opportunity, then my work here has meant something.”
I pondered his words, looking out at the scene before me, dust wafting in the air and men greeting groups like each member was his oldest friend. There was a purity woven into his words. If you’re striving for the millions, perhaps it’s not really about those millions. Perhaps it’s about the claim you get to make. It’s a goal that reflects on the self rather than the suffering.
But who is impressed by a single life? If after nearly a decade of service, only one person is touched, who in the world sees that as success?
“The work we do is only good if the reason we do it is great.”
I looked at him then and understood why he could call me young. The years of watching war wither away his home, his people, procured the kind of wisdom that comes only at great expense. He understood the value of a life, saw one soul the way God sees: treasured and priceless.
Do I? The question lingered as the last light from the sun faded away. Are my goals numbers, or are they people? When I listen, do I hear stories to write, or do I open myself up to share in the incomprehensible pain? Do I capture a photo because I see potential for virality or because the scene reveals a resilient beauty that I don’t want to forget?
The only lights left were the fluorescent bulbs in the open-air bar across the street. Someone was playing a radio station that kept switching between Arabic music and top 40 American Pop. Groups gathered beneath the evening air, sharing boisterous conversation in a tongue I didn’t understand.
Joseph was quiet as I finished my coffee and wrestled with answers that began a slow shift in the perception of my heart.
The Samaritan’s Purse internship program is an opportunity for college students and recent graduates to use their skills to impact the world in a tangible way. Find out more here.