When we pray the “Our Father”, taking the time to meditate upon the meaning of each of its phrases, we often have to remind ourselves what it means for the Lord to “give us this day our daily bread.”
For the large majority of us, it is a metaphor for trusting God to provide for our needs on a daily basis, maybe not with a lot stored up in advance but always what we need when we need it. For some of us, it is a reminder that the desperate car repair bill will somehow get paid. For others, that He will indeed find the perfect house for our growing family when the time is right. Maybe you or your spouse are waiting on a promotion that will provide a much needed income increase. Whatever it is, most of us, even though we sigh at the rising grocery bill, are not worried literally about bread, about whether or not our children will eat tomorrow.
But for my friend Esther, whom I met on my trip to Tanzania last month, this is exactly what praying for her daily bread means: begging God to literally give her enough maize in the flour sack for the ugali (the maize porridge that is the staple of the Tanzanian diet) to make the rounds of her four children, her mother and herself. In Tanzania, where one African aid organization estimates that 40,000 toddlers die each year from malnutrition, the daily bread of maize flour is literally life-saving nutrition.
The day we visited Esther’s village, Maji Chumvi, meaning salty water, children ran to meet us. Their pastor, Fr. Lijesh, explained to us that nearly 150 children attend catechism and were baptized in the community’s small mud chapel this year, but they are getting no other form of education since their village has no school.
They gathered and we sang. I took to the front of the little chapel and told those mothers what an amazing job they were doing raising their little ones, bringing them to Church, teaching them about Jesus. I told them God loved them deeply and was such a proud Papa to each of them. And I meant every word.
But I wondered if they could feel it? Really believe it? As I brushed my hands over little African heads whose hair grew in the red and blonde tones characteristic of malnourished kids, I wondered if those mothers felt loved. As I looked into chocolate ocean eyes and saw the telltale ooze of hunger, I wondered if a mother could look at hungry eyes at night and feel like God was proud of her.
When we gathered at the end of our visit to take pictures, one woman pushed her way close to me each time there was a chance, grabbed me and held on with uncharacteristic openness and affection. She was Esther. Draped in African kangas and beaming a wide smile, she grabbed me and held me close and rested her head on my shoulder.
And stole her way into my heart the instant she did so.
Esther invited us to her house after the celebration at church. A hut made from mud and sticks, furnished with an overturned bucket and one mattress, its low ceiling made it hard for us all to stand up inside. In that home, Esther let her beaming smile fade for just a moment as she told us about how she lives there with her mother Lupina and her four children, about the husband who left to find work in the city three years ago and never came back. Told us with heavy breath of the hardness of her life, of the uncertainty of her literal daily bread.
I grabbed Esther’s hand and my voice stuck in my throat as I promised her that God sees her and will send her help. It stuck not in pity but with the weight of responsibility; because God was, in fact, seeing and hearing Esther. With my eyes and my ears, God was seeing and hearing Esther’s story. Not the story of her poverty, but the story of her potential. Of all Esther wanted to be and wished she could be. Of the hopes and dreams she carries for her children. Of the brave way she wears her scars wrapped in the bright beauty of African kangas and a wide white smile even on the days she is desperately begging Him for her daily bread, her children’s daily bread.
And I promised God in that moment that I would honor His daughter Esther’s potential, that I would help her find hope and joy, and that I would do whatever He asked of me to ensure she knew her Abba Father was so, so proud of her.
As we at St. Bryce begin the work of building long-term relationship with Esther’s community, of putting faith, hope and love in action in the place called “salt water,” Maji Chumvi, we want to make sure that Esther and the other mothers in her community can pray with courage “give us this day our daily bread” and that someone will be there to answer.
We are looking for sponsors to help us purchase sacks of maize flour for families in small outlying villages of Chanika parish in Tanzania, either through a monthly sponsorship or one-time donation. We are also hoping to find some ministries, youth group,s or other groups willing to host a Bake Sale for Africa to sponsor more families’ maize supplements.
As you pray the “Our Father” today, will you remember my friend Esther, her mother Lupina, and her children in your prayer? Would you pray that Esther’s daily bread would come in the form of generosity and love from her brothers and sisters in the universal Church? Would you consider being one of them?
Copyright 2014, Colleen Mitchell