“Useless. There is no way you can use these, Clara.” I hated to have to say this. Mama can usually fix these things. But when the dog shredded her brand new flip flops, ripping the strap completely apart, there was no way to fix this except through copious amounts of duct tape. Who wants to wear that? (Don’t answer that… I realize there are websites devoted to duct tape apparel. Yikes.)

The pronouncement against the flip flops was met with copious tears, a true flood and a resistance to reality. All over a pair of shoes.

What else can be “useless?” Our dog Winston has rendered many things useless… from Legos to dolls, from buckets to fly traps. It almost makes one want to call him “useless.” But something stops us from calling another living thing “useless.” It certainly isn’t politically correct and it certainly isn’t Biblical. If we believe in a creator, who created us in His image, then certainly no human is less than remarkable.

Apparently, this is a first world perception however. In places where living is tenuous and people need to work together to provide the minimal for subsistence, those who can’t carry their own weight are, by society’s standards, “useless.” Chris and Jack Faherty, Compassion Tea co-founders, were in South Africa earlier this month visiting two clinics CompassioNow supports (in part thanks to your support of Compassion Tea!) Dr. Karin Volker has been working at the Lily Medical Centre for about four months now. She offered to take Chris and Jack around and discussed with them several of the patients she has been helping. One particular woman, in her early twenties and handicapped, has been deemed by the community as “useless.” Unable to walk, she crawled where she needed to go. Her own family had refused to help her. Because of the lack of care she had received, the woman eventually arrived at the clinic sickened with severe infections. Dr. Volker has been treating her infections and has given her a walker… the first time anyone has offered to help this woman improve the quality of her life. But Dr. Volker is frustrated too. She told Chris and Jack that she had sent the woman to a nearby government clinic. Unable to run certain labwork at Lily, Dr. Volker hoped the government clinic could do it. The government clinic had the capacity, but refused to do the labwork because “it was unnecessary.” The woman was useless; why spend the money?

Chris and Jack were taken to the woman’s house. I’m going to let their words tell the story:
“Wednesday morning we awoke to a very bright, cold day, (around 35 F). The conference center is a long cement block building with bedrooms on each side of the dark hallway. We were grateful for our warm showers but we ate breakfast wrapped in the blankets off our beds. The building never warmed up even with the windows open during the sunny afternoon. I mention this to put our community visit in perspective.
The home [we visited] was one of the round houses with a thatched roof and I wondered on the way there how they handle the cold nights having fewer resources than we did. When we went in the home there were three women and a baby, two of the women lying in bedding on the floor with the baby lying beside one of them. Apparently both of them were ill that day and were being cared for by a family member. As we looked around a few things stood out: there was no lighting other than the window, there was some crude electrical wiring, there was no furniture other than three “beds” on the floor, a small table, a large refrigerator (?) and a small electric space heater. The woman we came to see was one that Dr. Volker had told us about … who was handicapped. She has not received much help in her life as she is considered “not useful” and she had come in quite sick with infections. She was lying in one of the beds that morning and the woman there said that she was having a bad day but that she had been improving since Dr. Volker had been treating her. She pointed out a walker in the corner with a seat attached that the clinic had given them and she said this woman had been able to use it to get around without crawling. I believe the woman is in her early twenties and this is the first time anyone has offered to help her improve her quality of life.”

For twenty years, this woman has heard words that labeled her as unworthy, unlovable, hopeless. A walker, some antibiotics, and a person willing to take the time to help must add some hope to a life otherwise considered worthless.

I recently had the privilege of attending parts of the Global Leadership Summit and hearing Condoleezza Rice and John Ortberg speak. Rice spoke about her meager upbringing in the segregated south where her parents weren’t able to take her to the movies or to a restaurant. Nevertheless, they passionately imparted to their daughter that even though she “couldn’t sit at the counter at Woolworth’s” she might “one day become President of the United States.” That same child, who in the eyes of some would have been considered unworthy, potentially useless, grew up to become Secretary of State. It was a rousing moment at the Summit and I just heard Rice use it again during the RNC. Opportunity and hope are so powerful.

John Ortberg’s speech focused on research he did for his latest book Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Listening to the speech and subsequently reading Ortberg’s book, I’ve been amazed at the impact of Jesus’ life. I’ve had the privilege of growing up hearing the stories of how Jesus healed through touch or mud packs or mere words people with leprosy, lameness, blindness, excessive bleeding, and disturbed minds. But in today’s world, where we have huge institutions that lobby and fund-raise for everything from autism awareness to prison care, Jesus’ care for humanity seems par for the course. Ortberg says no. He explains the social culture of the day whether it be Greek, Roman, or Jewish. And concerned about others they were not! Ortberg explains, “Anything malformed or defective was considered by Pharisees to be unable to reflect the perfect holiness of God. Therefore, nothing malformed was allowed within the precincts of the temple” and that translated to people’s homes as well (pg. 36 Kindle version). According to Ortberg, “Sociologist Rodney Stark argued that one of the primary reasons for the spread of Jesus’ movement was the way his followers responded to sick people” (37-38). “The idea that ‘the least of these’ were to be treasured – that somehow the Jesus that they followed was present in despised suffering – was essentially a Copernican revolution of humanity. It created a new vision of the human being. People actually took Jesus at his word” (39). And therefore, Ortberg suggests “… wherever you have an institution of self-giving for the lonely (and for practical welfare for the lonely), schools, hospitals, hospice, orphanages for those who will never be able to repay, this probably has its roots in the movement of Jesus” (44).

Ortberg goes on to attribute libraries, hospitals, charities, democracy, abolitionist movements, and the rise of women’s rights to Jesus and His followers. Could these events, movements, institutions have occurred without Jesus? Possibly humanity could have gotten there eventually, Ortberg surmises. But we’ll never know because the world did have Jesus and continues to have His followers.

I can’t speak for Dr. Volker’s inspiration, but I can speak to the founders of Compassion Tea. As followers of this man named Jesus, they have publicly declared no life useless. Daily they strive to improve the lives of those in Africa deemed so and they support the people on the forefront of the fight to bring hope and health to people who are otherwise considered worthless. That is what Compassion Tea is about; we share tea in order to save lives… because no life is useless.