You have a voice.
I have a voice.
All people have a voice.
There is a lot to be said for how you use the voice God has given you.
Sometimes we use our voice to hurt others, and strip them of their God given dignity.
Sometimes we use our voice to build people up, and empower their God given gifts.
Sometimes we are told our voices do not matter.
Other times we enthusiastically applaud people when they use their voice.
Last night, I was in a conversation with a team in country about poverty and how poverty is perceived based on an American perspective, and then from the perspective of the person American perceives to live in poverty. Simply because our American definitions place people within poverty, doesn’t mean the people we apply those definitions to perceive themselves as poor. In my experience, even in countries that the world hypes as ‘most poverty stricken in the *whatever* hemisphere,’ there are always people within those countries who do not consider themselves poor, that Americans would consider poor, because their neighbor is worse off. In Haiti, when you pray before a meal, it is customary to pray for the people who do not have food to have food to eat. And in the instances that those Americans perceive as poor are asked, they do not emphasis the lack of material things that the Americans would initially notice. Instead they list things they lack such as dignity, respect…and lack of voice intermingled with hopelessness. There are a lot of ways to dig into this, but what keeps rolling around my head from the conversation last night was that those perceived to be living in poverty feel they have no voice.
I don’t ever want to be arrogant enough to think I have the ability to give someone their voice or even worse…be their voice. It shatters my heart into pieces that any person living in this world would feel others are so apathetic that they choose to not listen and give value to anyone’s God given voice.
It is incredibly appropriate that today, of all days, while I am wading through some of these thoughts I found myself hanging with my friends next door. As we found a quiet corner in the large compound with almost 80 kids and 21 visiting Americans, I sat my young 4 year old buddy on the table in front of me in their cafeteria. My other buddy was standing next to us, as I looked at him and said ‘Let’s practice numbers. Count for me.’ I raise one finger and in English, not Creole, he easily pronounces ‘1’ and proceeds to go all the way to ‘10’ without hesitation as I held up the fingers for each number. When he finished reciting in English, we said, ‘Ok, in Creole!’
‘One, two, three, four, five, six…eight…’ he recited in Creole.
Um. No, little buddy, ya missed seven.
Oh, my Lord. My older buddy and I looked at each other and busted out laughing. Completely thinking at the same time that he had counted perfectly IN ENGLISH, however, did not know his Creole numbers. We decided to give him another chance and he nailed it, and then received quiet the celebration from us! I was yelling ‘Yay!!!’ as loud as I could, and our friend started shouting, ‘Good Job! Good job!’ as he giggled and jumped with a massive smile on his face. He then planted his smiling face into my young buddy’s lap and wrapped his arms around him giving him the biggest hug. I then wrapped my arms around them both. Fully recognizing the amazing feat I had just witnessed, and so, SO proud of him.
I’ve seen his journey over the last year and a half, and I’ve seen him find his voice since he started school in September. He talks clearly, really though he doesn’t stop talking now, he sings ALL of the time…English and Creole…but most importantly he is learning to use his voice.
And when I look at him, I never want him to grow up in Haiti and feel like the voice he has worked so hard to find at such a young age is not valuable to those around him. I want him to be heard. I want him to feel like his voice counts, and heaven forbid I ever meet someone who tries to strip that voice away from him. I. Will. Take. Them. Out.
If you really think about it, don’t all voices start out this way? Every single voice that is told it doesn’t matter throughout the world, started out as a young toddler just trying to figure it out. All voices started out as equal, and the sin of the world got in the way as it always gets in the way. As the sin divides and separates, we start ranking importance.
The bottom line is the value God places on voice. Each of the prophets used thought no one would ever listen to them. God uses the voices of those the world considers lesser to guide his people into building his Kingdom. God uses each and every voice of the world, in every context, it is us that get in the way and shame and devalue them.
In Isaiah 58, God is calling out his people to stop fasting in ways that are not genuine, not unlike some that only fast during Lent because it is the ‘right’ thing to do. However, the key in the beginning of Isaiah 58 is how God is telling Isaiah to live out his calling and use his voice:
‘Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious. They come to Temple every day and seem delighted to hear my laws. You would almost thing this was a righteous nation that would never abandon its God…’
How loud was God asking Isaiah to shout? Like the voice of a trumpet blast.
One of the problems with the world is that those perceived as poor are shouting out God’s words, they are full of the Holy Spirit and they DO have a voice that is incredibly valuable. Truly, it is a voice that could purify the world for God if the world would allow it. But those with the most in the world refuse to value those voices based on an assumed definition of poverty and the egotistical posture they take when looking at those in the world with less than they have.
You have a voice.
I have a voice.
And every single person created by God has a voice.
Choose to listen. Choose to empower. Choose to build dignity.
Choose to see value in each and every voice.