When Your Power Isn’t Loud

Sarah Martindell

My pastor and I drove on the left side of the road, heading to a place I didn’t want to go. The fact that we were driving on the left reflected how out-of-my-element I felt. We were in South Africa, where I was working as a church’s summer intern. For the first time, I would be visiting a clinic for people with AIDS.

Along the way, I asked what ministry with people who have AIDS is like. What would we find when we arrived at the clinic? “Sometimes I don’t want to go in,” my pastor admitted. “Sometimes I need to pray first.”

With his words echoing in my mind, I tried to brace myself for what I would see in the clinic; but how could I prepare for the sight of such suffering?

quilted Tree 2 DSCN0064Emaciated people with large eyes lay in their beds. My pastor led the way as we walked slowly through the room, greeting people in hushed tones. He pointed to a little boy, who couldn’t have been more than three years old, and informed me, “He’s HIV positive.” I stared at the child as he played. These were not statistics on a page. They were real people, and they were dying.

What could I possibly do in the face of such sorrow? What can any of us do? The questions seem unanswerable, paralyzing us with helplessness. Yet, as the summer went on, I learned some of the answers. Now, looking back, I can see how God empowers us in surprising ways.

Part of my internship involved working with the local youth. I developed a friendship with a girl who was orphaned when her parents died of AIDS. Looking at her, you wouldn’t have known she was HIV positive. She was like any other teen: She went to school, enjoyed fashion, played with her pets, and texted too much. She was the same as the other members of her youth group: a volunteer for the praise band, a drama leader for vacation Bible school, and the first in line at snack time. I tried to treat her as I did everyone else; and yet inside, I felt the sorrow I’d felt at the AIDS clinic. I still cried out to God, “Why?”

Could I take away her disease? No. Could I give her what she wanted: to be a normal teenage girl and to daydream about a future of romance, marriage, motherhood, and old age? No.

So I gave what I could. I listened as she read aloud the fiction story she was working on. We sang Lianne La Havas songs together. She braided my hair. We watched a scary movie and ate s’mores. She talked about her adoption. We discussed racism and God and what she wanted to be when she grew up. We were friends.

Sometimes what looks like friendship is as magnificent as a miracle. In the face of global challenges, we often feel helpless. But God gives us a quiet power that sits with a person for a while. The power is in listening, praying, paying attention, putting a hand on someone’s shoulder, and taking one small step toward healing the world.

God Almighty, give us the power to love our brothers and sisters as you love them. Give us hope in the sure knowledge that you are right here with us. Amen.



Read 1 Corinthians 12:4–7, and think about what you have the power to do.

  • Maybe you can’t eliminate illiteracy, but you can read to one child one afternoon a week.
  • Maybe you can’t stop the violence in war-torn African countries, but you can help one refugee family learn the ropes of your city’s bus system. (For other ideas and resources, check out CWS).
  • Maybe you can’t eradicate discrimination against Hispanic immigrants, but you can teach one person English as a second language.
  • Maybe you can’t find a home for every homeless family, but you can help your church provide shelter for a few families every few months. (For more ideas, explore the work of Family Promise).
  • Maybe you can’t take away the loneliness a lot of senior citizens feel, but you can bring your musical instrument to a nursing home and play a few songs for them.
  • Maybe you can’t heal the pain of a church member who has lost a parent, but you can offer to babysit for her or to clean her house.
  • Maybe you can’t figure out what to do, but you can say one prayer. Pray for the people you want to help, and pray that God will show you how.

Photo: Tree outside the clinic decorated with squares knitted all over the world to raise both awareness and funds for the AIDS center courtesy of Sarah Martindell

Sarah Martindell (28) has written for devozine for half her life and is now working on her Master of Divinity. God has called her to Utah, Alaska, Namibia, South Africa, and other adventurous places on her journey of serving the Lord.

—from devozine (September/October 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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