I just finished reading The Hunger Games. I’ve enjoyed other books by Suzanne Collins and was hopeful about this one—and it didn’t disappoint. Collins was not content with creating a nail-biter. She pushed political, social—and, for me—spiritual buttons, and it took me back to when God began a particular work on my heart.
Dave and I had been teaching at Wheaton Academy for a few years and had watched the school-wide Zambia fundraising project from its beginning. In its first year student leaders had put a huge goal in front of their peers, and they responded, raising more than enough funds to build a schoolhouse, an entire schoolhouse, for a small village in Zambia. The next goal was a medical center. Somehow, despite this big, beautiful vision, I wasn’t excited by the project. Oh, I thought it was a good idea. Getting middle- and upper-class high school students to consider others far less privileged is worthwhile. We SHOULD give. And I liked World Vision, the organization partnering with Wheaton Academy.
But I left “Zambia” chapels with an annoyance I shoved deep down. I felt guilted by the faces and tattered clothes of the children I saw projected on the screen. I wanted to give and be done. I didn’t want this to be an ongoing part of my life. I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable or broken.
God had other plans.
More and more students became passionate, and one of the most affected was a boy in my speech class. He was willing to sacrifice to help the poor everywhere: in Africa, in downtown Chicago, wherever—and one day he took his classmates on in a debate about our responsibility to the poor. As I listened, I found myself growing passionate, too. Why should I hold so tightly to all that I’ve been given? Is it really “mine”? Why did this 18-year-old kid have a better understanding of eternal values than I did?
Right about then I read the young adult book City of Ember and then its sequel, The People of Sparks. The first book tells the story of an underground city built to withstand a nuclear blast on the Earth’s surface. After several generations in it, the people of Ember must abandon their rundown city to make their way to the Earth’s surface. In the second book these people of Ember find a small town filled with other survivors. With no technology and no knowledge of agriculture, the people of Sparks are barely eking out a living, and only a few welcome the refugees from Ember. Soon, their resources stretched thin by these newcomers, most are ready to send them out into the wasteland to “take care of themselves.”
After having spent an entire book with the people of Ember, my sympathies were completely with them. “They can’t do that,” I thought. “That would be wrong. It doesn’t matter that those in Sparks have worked hard for what they have; they HAVE to share it. They only have the “stuff” because of their circumstances, because they were born above ground rather than under it. They’re acting like the people of Ember are worth less than they are.”
And that’s when God broke through the shell around my heart.
YOU have to stop trying to ignore the faces you see on the screen in chapel. You have to stop thinking that those children aren’t as important as the ones you tuck into warm beds in your own home every night. I’ve given you SO much; do You think I meant it all to be used on yourself and those you consider your own? Don’t you realize I care just as much about those tattered children as I care about the ones I’ve given to you?
That made a really big crack in the shell, but the demolition continues; it’s a long term project. For of course, I’m continually taping the breaks, trying to “protect” my heart, and God is constantly breaking through again, reminding me of HIS attitude toward HIS resources and HIS people.
And so full circle to The Hunger Games, in which the incredibly wealthy Capitol officials use their excess to oppress the Districts and keep them in near starvation. And the “regular” Capitol citizens are so consumed with entertainment and fancy food and their outer looks that they give no thought at all to the people of the Districts—except when they actually become the entertainment.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.
Yesterday Emily and I were discussing the book. “Remember the scene when Katniss is meeting her styling crew?” I asked her. “Katniss is almost repulsed by their gold tattoos, their hair colors, the ways they spend money on such unnecessary things when others are starving.”
“Do you ever wonder if that’s how people in third-world countries view us?”
So, kudos to The Hunger Games, to The City of Ember, to the Wheaton Academy students who inspire me with their willingness to be shaken out of complacency—and, most of all, to the Holy Spirit, who is not content with my hard heart and breaks through, again and again, in such incredible and creative ways.