He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

For several years now, I have been getting most of my international and national news coverage from the BBC News website. I must thank our dear friend and missions pastor, Julie Broderson, for steering me to the BBC. Julie recommended reviewing this news source as a way to personally cultivate a global perspective. It is unfortunate that our U.S. press is  highly “American-centric” in that it rarely reports on stories that are not in some way directly related to U.S. interests. Reading stories only about our own country tends to give us a very limited understanding of our world. So several times most days, I open the BBC News app on my phone, review the headlines and read any stories that attract my attention.

This past week, I was deeply moved by one such story. The story was from New Delhi, India where Shiv Sunny, a reporter for the Indian newspaper, The Hindustan Times, had captured a tragic photo (see below) of an 11 year old Indian boy, his outstretched right arm resting on the body of his deceased 27 year old father. With his left hand covering his tear-stained face, the young boy, head bowed, stood grief-stricken next to the stretcher on which his father’s body lay. It is a heart-wrenching photograph that caused tears to stream down my own face.

Indian boy mourning father
Indian Boy Mourning Father’s Death by Shiv Sunny.

The young father whose name was Anil was one of New Delhi’s sewer workers. He was being lowered down into a sewer when one of the ropes supporting him broke. Anil died as a result of injuries sustained in the fall.

When interviewed by the Hindustan Times reporter, the grieving son, who we will call “Ravi”, shared that he would sometimes go to work with his father and “wait outside [the sewer] guarding his clothes and shoes from thieves.”

Making this story even more tragic is the fact that Ravi’s four-month old brother had died only a week earlier. The medical cause of death was pneumonia. The real cause of death was financial; Anil did not have the money to buy the antibiotics that likely could have saved the life of his infant son.

As I reflected on this story, I wondered what would become of Ravi. How would he process his father’s death coming so soon after the death of his infant brother? Could his mother support him? Did he have other siblings? What did the future hold for Ravi?

Unfortunately, Ravi’s tragedy is not an isolated event, especially among the poor who populate the crowded slums found in cities around the world. In the slum, death or disablement by disease, accident and violence is commonplace. For children like Ravi, there are few paths that lead out of the slum. Trapped in a cycle of poverty and struggle, generations come and go with little hope of escape.

For many years, our family was terribly naive regarding the existence of such living conditions around the world. Until we saw these places with our own eyes, until we stood in makeshift shelters and talked with the families living there, until we spent a restless night in a shack situated adjacent to an open stream of raw sewage – until these experiences, we just didn’t understand. Our frame of reference did not include such places or circumstances.

Nairobi Slum House
Typical Nairobi Slum Home (photo by Bailey Littrell in 2013)

Today, our family can no longer plead ignorance. Its been nearly 20 years now since we first experienced with our own eyes the reality of poverty on a large scale. And we have never been the same. At first, we felt guilty about having so much while so many others had so little. Then came disgust – disgust of all our excess. How could we have three vehicles when millions around the world couldn’t afford any type of motorized transportation? But over time, we began to see that guilt, disgust and anger were not constructive. In fact, they were mostly destructive. We eventually learned that our best response to these tragic conditions is healthy generosity rooted in deep gratitude for the blessings we enjoy.

I hope to write more about some of the transforming encounters our family has experienced as we have sought to share with others out of the abundance with which we have been blessed. (By the way, we’ve discovered that we need to be generous with more than our money. We’ve found that people benefit more from our time and attention than from our money.) It may be a cliche but it is true: when we give, we often receive back more than we’ve given. In fact, this idea is more than a cliche; its an idea that Jesus spoke to:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” Luke 6:38

So as the giver, I benefit as much, if not more than the receiver. Giving generously and with humility and gratitude changes the giver. Giving is a great antidote to the selfishness so pervasive in our affluent culture.

Fortunately for Ravi, the story of his father’s death gained international attention. More than $43,000 was raised for the family in one day using an online crowd-funding service. The generosity demonstrated by this response is encouraging and will likely give Ravi and his family more hope for a future. But I leave you with this challenge: could you  make giving a lifestyle rather than a response to a crisis? Give regularly. Give daily. And give with God’s perspective – globally, to benefit not only those in our own communities but people, like Ravi, around the world.


Image: Indian Boy Mourning Father’s Death by Shiv Sunny.

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