What does hope look like? I know, it’s a thought, a faith element, a gut level emotion; an expectation. Hope is the expectation of better things to come. But if hope were embodied in a person, what would he or she look like?
I visited three populations of Kachin refugees who fled their villages in June 2011 because of Burma Army attacks. Two people I met answered my question.
I met a little girl. She had a bright smile, an open and inquiring face. She was self-confident and looked me in the eyes. She posed while I snapped the shutter on my camera numerous times, trying for the perfect exposure. I adjusted my f-stop. Her mom came over and saddled the child on her lap. I took more pictures. Both mother and daughter smiled so freely, so beautifully, that everything seemed sacred. I turned to my travel companion in awe and said “Brad, do you see that smile?” Brad was also captivated.
I asked the young mother how old her daughter was. With a shy smile she held her hand up between her child’s arm and gave the peace sign. “Two, she is two”, her fingers said.
This child; born in a war, her kin victimized by abuse and state sponsored violence, impoverished and held back, and in so many ways unable to reach out and take what she has the potential to achieve; this child is the face of hope.
Despite the war and all it’s trauma, she has the burning power of love alive in her. Despite the limitations she may run into, she herself is full of life, joy and tenacity. Is she too young to know better? Maybe.
I met an elderly woman. I said hello and she turned her ageless face into a grin and chuckled. I felt warmed by her grandmotherly expression, her big round eyes, and her laughter.
Her village was attacked at 330 am on June 9th, 2011 by a Burma Army battalion. She hid in the jungle until dawn, then trekked with 47 other families for three days to get where I met her on August 1st –under the shelter of a blue tarp drawn over bamboo poles that she and 140 other called home until they may one day return to their place in the mountains.
Having been through all this, she still smiles. She plays with the many toddlers running through the dirt alleys between tarp tents. She moves to comfort a brand new mother, a grieving teen, and has a kind word for the lady stirring stew beside the fire.
Hope has a face. It is young and it is old. It is the person who overcomes tremendous hardship with a soul that still sings and praises when the sun rises. In the young it may be untested, but it is pure and visible. In the old, having been tested to the core, it is one of the most rare and beautiful things to behold.
Our team (Partners Relief & Development) works hard to provide medical assistance and healthcare. We also help with food and shelter during periods of acute crisis. In addition to this life sustaining activity, we are engaged with the challenges their crisis creates for them internally.
While we endeavor to provide the essential needs the displaced people and refugees have, we are also occupied with the challenge of strengthening the fabric of their faith, their hope, their souls. That something extra that resides in the heart of humankind peeps out at us in the strangest of circumstances. For me, the place I have seen the most hope is in the place where there is least reason for it. Ironic isn’t it?
These two are hope. This child; this elderly woman, born into a war, their kin victimized by abuse and state sponsored violence, impoverished and held back, and in so many ways unable to reach out and take what they have the potential to achieve; this is the face of hope that cannot be crushed. Lord, grant me the sort of hope that thrives in the darkest places, in my darkest moments. Amen.