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By Roseann Zimmerman

Old Order Mennonite Memoirs


February 20, 2020

Like my dad, I enjoy reading books. Like him, I tend to be critical of what I read. We might even call a book stupid, especially if it's unrealistic. But we are both influenced by what we read. We absorb every word and will talk to anyone about our latest true story, simply because we are so filled with it. Often my thoughts spill onto paper.

Because people pushed her for her story, Katie Davis wrote, even though she missed every single deadline. "Kisses from Katie" was published in 2011. From a friend, the book came to me, to challenge me, to open my eyes, to put my life in the scales. On one side of the balance was Katie, as a teenager, gone to Uganda, Africa, from her comfortable home in Tennessee to help rescue little girls from starvation. On the other side was me and what was I doing 'for one of the least of these'?

I was deeply affected by her complete devotion to her Savior and her understanding of His words in the Bible. The sight of mucus-crusted noses and ring worm on filthy children would have repulsed me but she saw herself like that in the sight of God. Her own righteousness was the filth. Through Jesus, we are loved by God in spite of our filth. Thus blinded, Katie saw only hunger for love and food.

Sometimes the extreme poverty made her feel like she was using an eyedropper to empty an ocean. As soon as she had a half cup full of water, it rained. But it was about love and giving glory to the Lord, she said, not about eliminating poverty.

In a small way, I understood. Even as I cut, sew and knot, I know I will never even come close to the 100,000 comforters Christian Aid Ministries asks for the needy. I know that the Apostle Paul said I could actually give all my goods to feed the poor, but unless I do it with love, it profits me nothing.

As her story unfolded, a growing orphanage with clean, little girls rose from the red dust. Rescued from scabies, starvation and jiggers in their bare feet, the girls loved her in return. She wrote in detail about each new daughter and I marveled. I tried not to gag. I shrank back from ever following in her footsteps, but she wrote, "I'm not brave, nor strong.... simply doing what God has called me to do, as His follower." She never hesitated to acknowledge her dependency on Jesus and her longing to be used by Him. She made sure I knew she's an ordinary person, serving an extraordinary God.

But she doesn't let me off the hook. I am conscience-smitten. I began to weigh everything I did with my time or buy with my money, on the scales called "People are dying from hunger."

After a year she returned to America and received a culture shock. Although there was an abundance of things, there seemed to be a lack of understanding and thanksgiving and no need to rely on God to heal us, fill us, guide us and rejoice with us. In America we don't seem to need God to function, she wrote. And she wants to give her life away for Christ, watching Him do impossible things, through her. She believed Jesus literally meant what he said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth......"

Hot on the heels of finishing Katie's book, I learned of a need for volunteer caregivers for a sister-in-faith at Shady Side Family House, as she recovers from a stem cell transplant. I thought of the fine print in Christian Aid's newsletter, advising us to first support our church and its programs before we give to them. I thought of Katie in Africa. I thought of my Mom who taught me to live for the good of others. I asked my husband and committed to three days in Pittsburgh. The conditions there were not deplorable. I never had to run to throw up like Katie did, in fact, I never did more than be with her and her other caregiver. We laughed together like Katie and her girls, but we never cried. Tears pushed on my eyelids, however, when I said good-bye to Laura and Sue Etta on Wednesday afternoon. Although I was excited about going home, I told Laura that I was leaving a part of my heart in Pittsburgh with her. Forty years ago when she was a new baby and I helped her mother, when I was 15, we had no way of knowing our lives would meet again in this way.

Katie Davis said, "People who read (me) assume that because I am able to express my heart well, I have it all together. This is not true." But if it's like Natalie Kusz quotes: "Writers are in the business of attempting to expose the human condition in such a way that our description resonates in the soul of other humans..," she succeeded. In other words she was willing to expose herself so her readers could relate with her. It's like cutting your wrists and bleeding all over the page.

Since reading her words, I'm wounded for life, not scarred, because scars cover old wounds with tough numbness. I never want to forget to weigh my actions in the scales called "Children are dying of hunger."


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