You could see it in their eyes, mainly, a look of endurance. It was the toll that poverty, drought and sheer exhaustion had taken on a nation. I was on a mission trip to Mozambique in 2002, and in that moment I rocked a baby boy named Tivo. Tivo was part of the forming generation of boys and girls, many born to HIV and AIDS-infected parents. Stricken by war, overcome by poverty and grief at their losses, women turned to desperate measures in order to feed their children. At 18 months Tivo bore all the signs of malnutrition and starvation. Abandoned by his mother, he refused to be held close. So angry at the pain and hunger that would not subside, he held himself away from me rigidly for hours until he collapsed, exhausted into a fitful sleep.
In 2002 the country of Mozambique had not yet recovered from the numerous assaults against its infrastructure: civil war, floods, drought, all amid unbelievable poverty. Nearly 15 years of fighting had temporarily displaced nearly five million people, and one million people lost their lives.
Statistically this appears as sterile numbers on a page. As I walked the streets and visited the families, I was completely undone.
Endless mountains of burning tires and garbage created a haze of smoke that made it feel as if the city itself was on fire. So many homeless. So many with HIV and AIDS. The gaunt, aimless look in their eyes tore at my soul. Since the war had claimed an entire generation or two of men, most of the families were comprised of widowed women. With a disease so rampant and destructive as AIDS, many women lost hope and dropped their children off at an orphanage, then returned to their hovel to die. The young boy that I carried on my back and rocked in my arms for hours on end would never know that I cared. At least, not this side of Heaven.
The movie, The Untouchables, might not be to everyones’ liking in terms of entertainment and yet it teaches valuable lessons about life. One of my favorite movie quotes is by Jimmy Malone, the Irish beat cop, played by the one of the darlings of my parents’ era, Scot Sean Connery.
In the very violent scene depicting Malone’s death, he is discovered by his protege, Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner) and George Stone (Andy García). Seeing Malone stopped in his tracks is heart-wrenching because it is not just the death of a friend and colleague, there is an un-premeditated passing of the mantle from one generation to the next. Enforcement of the law is no longer an assignment that Ness can walk away from. Losing Malone makes the battle become personal. Malone’s last words contain the answer to Ness’ conflict as well as a missive to become fully engaged in this fight. Malone, with a raspy voice, challenges Ness, “What. are you. prepared to do?” This is the second time they’ve had this conversation. And this time Ness is prepared to do an end run for justice.
If you remember the movie, when Ness and Malone first have that conversation, Ness is very philosophical about his involvement. He’s prepared to do anything within the law; yet the objective of his mission is to enforce the law. He soon learns that his oppponent doesn’t operate within the confines of the law, and Malone instructs him to bring a knife to a gun fight, and so forth. Somehow this movie says a lot about our western culture. We’ve been taught to color inside the lines, to drive the speed limit, to make a career with a single company, and dream about a home with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, a 52″ television, and a dog. Yet, like Ness, we are completely unprepared when it turns out that the rest of the world doesn’t think the same way. Seriously.
I can’t help but think about destiny these days, and calling. What kind of a legacy will I leave? What kind of a mark will I leave on the world? Will I have told you about the things that compel me? Will I have told you how much your Heavenly Father loves you? Will you know a journey of your own with the Father? Will you know about the orphaned children in Africa, and how they sing before daybreak? Will you weep with me as I tell you about the Mozambican babies scandalized by AIDS, left hanging on fence posts in a plastic grocery bag, abandoned by their mothers?
Engaging in this war we call life is not an assignment we can walk away from. It’s deeply personal, and our opponent doesn’t operate within the confines of the law. Yet neither do we. Our most powerful weapon is love. And it changes everything. Love beckons us to lay down our lives, sell our possessions, and live life on the edge. Dare to look. Dare to be affected.
“What. are you. prepared to do?”