This is a special word to any who are returning from a short-term mission trip this summer. I learned it a number of years ago from Jose, a brother who served as my translator for an intense week of ministry together at a Youth Camp near the city of Pinar del Rios in western Cuba. We had spent many hours together that week as he not only translated for me but educated me on Christian living in Cuba with all of its challenges and opportunities. When we were parting ways at the airport as I prepared to fly home, Jose looked me in the eyes and said “Please, don’t forget us.”
Jose was experienced with USA ministers like me coming into Cuba, ministering as a guest speaker, and then leaving never to be heard from again. He knew that, after we added the exotic ministry location of Cuba to our resumes and bio sheets, we forgot about the people with whom we had ministered. I purposed to stay in touch with Jose; his plea rebuked my tendency to move too quickly on to the next thing.
But his plea was not just a rebuke concerning my Cuba experience. It exhorted me concerning many of the things that come and go through my life. I confess that my prayer life, my generosity, and my acts of compassion sometimes seem to suffer from a variation of ADD. With all respect to this serious disorder that affects thousands of children, the words – attention deficit – seem to describe my way of responding to the needs of the world in which I live.
In 2015, thousands were left homeless after the earthquakes that struck the nation of Nepal, but within several months, I’d all but forgotten these suffering people. I’d breathed my prayers; I’d given my special financial gift; and I moved on. I think the same could be said of my responses to past disasters in Guatemala or Haiti or Sri Lanka or even with refugees from Syria or South Sudan. After a response of prayer, generosity, and even some sort of action (coordinating a clothing drive, organizing a fund-raiser, etc.), I move on. I forget.
I remember reporting in 1986 on the effects of the East Africa famine, two years after massive efforts in 1984 raised millions of dollars. When I described the situation in East Africa, one parishioner responded, “But I thought we gave in response to that need.” In other words, I thought we fixed that problem. The chronic needs that follow a crisis – especially in the poorer world – can be quite exhausting.
All of us know how tough it is to stay connected to these overwhelming needs even if we want to. We’re deluged with many more relationships and needs than Paul the apostle was when he insisted that “I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3). The next crisis occurs demanding our response. Or the church board insists that “the needs here at home” are more in need of our attention.
I don’t know that I’ve solved the problem of forgetting Jose. And I still struggle with my ADD prayer life – especially as it pertains to my responses to global crises. But I have determined to try not to forget. I write ongoing prayer for these crises into my prayer journal long after the immediate event is no longer being covered by CNN. I look three or six months ahead in my weekly planner and write notes like “Nepal earthquake” or “Sri Lanka/tsunami” or “Jose in Pinar del Rios” – simply to force myself to pause and remember an issue, an event or a brother/sister in my Christian family that is crying out, “please don’t forget us.”