By April Graney (MABS, 1999) and her husband, Tom, serve at New Life Ranch, a Christian summer camp and retreat center in Oklahoma. Her passion is loving Jesus and helping parents pass along God’s heart for the world to their children. She is the author of The Marvelous Mud House.
The smell of exhaust dizzied my head, and the sounds of traffic flooded my ears. Our bus sat on a street in Nairobi, Kenya, waiting for the congested roads to flow again.
Young peddlers with desperate eyes offered trinkets for sale through the bus windows. We moved a few feet ahead, and then I saw them. Around twenty young boys huddled together in the median, dejected, stone-faced, and sniffing paint. “Lord, what can I do?”
It was the middle of the week. Instead of sitting in a classroom, these school-age boys sat on display for everyone inching past in traffic to see. Yet, no one did anything. People continued to walk and drive past them.
I imagined how I would feel if my own five children, who now sat around me securely on the bus, found themselves on that median. Would I want someone to help them? I would surely feel distraught! The intersection cleared, and our bus moved on. I promised myself not to forget. I told myself I would tell their story. I asked, “Lord, what can I do?”
Eyes Wide Open
I grew up in a middle-class Christian family in suburban America. My paternal grandfather graduated from DTS. He also served as a pastor. My maternal grandparents worked as missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators. I grew up hearing and knowing the gospel.
My church and my family supported missionaries all around the world. I benefitted from Christian conferences, concerts, summer camp, and went to a Christian school for most of my education. Don’t get me wrong, I feel incredibly blessed, but I also know I lived a sheltered life. The poverty I witnessed growing up included the occasional hitchhiker my dad would pick up, and I had experienced some exposure to inner-city ministries on the one or two of the youth group trips we took.
But when my husband and our five children went to Kenya to visit my missionary brother and his family, we entered another world altogether. With eyes wide open, we drove past the largest slum in Kenya, trash dumps where people made their homes and livelihood in. We saw people bathing in puddles, hauling water from mountain streams, and children in tattered clothing carrying young siblings. I came home burdened by what I saw and asked the Lord, “What can I do?” Because of our experience in Kenya, my Bible all of a sudden read differently to me. I started noticing a new theme: God’s heart for the poor.
Beginning with the Fall of man, all of creation groans under a cursed darkness. Sin, sickness, and suffering came from the Fall. From the moment Adam and Eve left the Garden, the disastrous effects of the Fall led to spiritual and physical poverty. Then, as the Lord called the nation of Israel to live as the people of God, he intended to bring an end to the curse, a restoration of creation, reconciliation to himself through the promised Messiah of his people. He gave the Israelites laws to obey. He commanded them to care for the sojourner, the poor, and the needy (Deut 15). He refused to accept their sacrifices when injustice, oppression, homelessness, and hunger occurred in their land (Isa 58). Creation continued to fall away from God.
Finally, on the Sabbath in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, read from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19).
Jesus came to give his life to change the effects of the Fall, to offer his body as a sacrifice, a redemption for our souls, and to restore us. He came to reverse our spiritual poverty. Once reconciled into a relationship with God through faith alone in Christ, our Father calls us to act. So that as a result of our restoration, we would continue to ask, “Lord, what can I do to build your kingdom?”
In Mark 12:30–31, Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” We continue to live in a fallen world in need of restoration. As believers, we should exist to shine like bright lights pushing back the darkness, pushing back the effects of the Fall in our communities and in the places God has placed us. We have received gifts and a calling to creatively use our talents to change the world by sharing the gospel, and by loving God and our neighbor.
When I came face to face with the people living in poverty in Kenya, I no longer could escape the truth that they are my neighbors.
What Can I Do, Lord?
After our return from Kenya, our family decided to act. We would sponsor a young man to help him continue his education. We sent a message to George’s mother through my sister-in-law, Vanessa. And I received a message back from her that said, “April, I wish you could have seen [his mother’s] reaction. She was jumping up and down and was crying for joy that God had answered their prayers. George had been asking her how they were going to pay for the school fees, and she continually encouraged him to work hard and pray for the Lord to provide.”
I couldn’t sleep that night as I thought about this mother and her son. So I got up in the middle of the night and wrote the first draft of a children’s book, The Marvelous Mud House.
In that moment, the Lord answered my prayers. I had asked him, “What can I do? Lord, please show me what my one small part in this global need can be.” As a mother of five children who loves to write and has always loved reading great literature to my children, God called me to write a children’s book that might help other families choose to reach out and make a difference in the world through child sponsorship.
The Body of Christ in Action
Many parts make up the body of Christ, each with various gifts and talents, in places of ministry and callings. The Word tells us in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This means that every believer has a unique role in the kingdom of God!
I have a talented artist friend. Seven years ago, Rich Davis and his wife, Angie, started inviting fifth and sixth grade kids into their home every Wednesday evening. Since then, they have gathered together to creatively brainstorm and follow through with ways they can reach their neighbors with the gospel. They visit sick and elderly neighbors, visit police stations and nursing homes, and draw Scripture verses in chalk on sidewalks. They also make cookies and wrap Christmas gifts for lonely widows. They not only learn about Jesus, they also learn how to live like Jesus. They keep asking the question, “Lord, with the gifts and talents you have given us, how can we creatively live like Jesus?”
My friend Kerri Brown works as a wrangler who loves horses and kids. Twenty years ago, she left her job as a teacher to start a still-thriving ministry at our camp that uses horsemanship training paired with Christian mentoring to reach out to at-risk students in our community.
My daughter takes ballet classes from a godly woman who transforms their recitals into gospel-proclaiming performances of worship. Another person prepares and serves food to the poor and homeless in our community. Today many radio programs get produced and broadcast to countries whose governments radically oppose the gospel.
These examples display to me the creativity and innovation of the mind of God. When his people continue to ask him “What can I do?” he guides their steps and directs them in unique and powerful ways to serve him. What a creative God we serve!
I often speak to students in schools and churches about The Marvelous Mud House and our experiences in Kenya, and the resulting transformation that took place in my heart. Some of these students may never travel across continents or see the extreme poverty that I witnessed, but the application for all believers still remains.
We are blessed so we can serve as a blessing. The Lord places us in our neighborhoods and communities, our schools and places of business so that our eyes and hearts would remain open to the needs around us. So that no matter where life finds us, we, his children, should never stop asking, “Lord, what can we do?”
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This article was previously published in DTS Magazine online. To find more resources, please visit DTS Voice.