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Sylvie Somerville, program advisor for HOPE’s Malawi savings and credit association program, recently wrote a reflection on her experience in Malawi for the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog. Reposted here with permission.

Children in Malawi

“Give me money! Give me money!”

I was on my first mountain bike ride through Malawi, high above the capital city of Lilongwe, traversing dry, dusty hills and a winter landscape dotted with villages.

I’ve been distressed by the absolute poverty of these villages many times, but this repeated cry from these children hit me particularly hard. They don’t speak English in these villages, so this is likely one of the only English phrases the kids know.

Cute, bright-eyed children. I wanted to find this moment endearing, being chased through Malawian villages by swarms of little children. This should have been a classic Instagram opportunity.

But it broke my heart.
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I need to admit something: Sometimes I intentionally look away from photos of children living in poverty. Not the really sad ones – I mean photos of adorable kids with big eyes and bright smiles. And it’s not that I don’t like kids. I love them, actually. I’m that crazy lady who inevitably asks to hold someone’s baby, whether I’m in my parents’ church or a church in a Congolese village, and I’ve been that way since I was about four years old myself (Did you just get a mental image of toddler me carrying a baby half my size?).

Guilt is one reason I look away. If you’ve had the privilege of participating in some kind of mission trip, you probably know the simple joy of playing with cheerful kids who seem to come running from every direction. Across language barriers, we laugh and take pictures and give piggy back rides. We hold hands and give hugs and swear to ourselves that we’ll never forget their names. But honestly…I’ve forgotten most of their names. Distance and time have eroded those details in my brain, and I feel a twinge of guilt when I look at cute photos.

Pessimism is another reason. Despite all the wonderful things that are happening as God’s Church moves in the world, I know that at least some of these kids will still be living in the same slums years later, living out the same cycle of hopelessness their parents walked.

And finally, I look away out of fear that those cute kids will make me lose focus. Continue Reading…